April 30, 2012 – Chris McLaughlin
Banks that made reckless home loans in south Florida have been tiptoeing away from foreclosures in a tactic designed to cut their losses. The result: Orphaned, dilapidated homes dot the landscape from Kendall to Lake Worth. There are no owners willing to claim and care for them. A months-long Sun Sentinel investigation of property code violations involving abandoned homes uncovered case after case in which banks launched foreclosure lawsuits but then stalled or avoided taking ownership. In effect, the banks legally sidestepped responsibility for the empty homes, causing great harm to neighborhoods. The real estate industry calls such properties “bank walkaways.” They are no longer maintained by their legal owners, whether they were investors bailing out of unwise deals or families in financial ruin who decamped. Nor are they being tended to by lenders, which have halted foreclosure proceedings because the remaining equity in the properties is deemed inadequate to cover the banks’ costs to reclaim title and maintain, refurbish and sell them. The practice has contributed to South Florida’s foreclosure “limbo” problem in which thousands of vacant homes are stuck in unsettled court proceedings for years.