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By Joy Belgiovine
With the economic downturn, many towns are faced with what officials describe as “zombie properties” – or those that fall into the gray area between the homeowner and the bank that foreclosed on the home. Foreclosures take time, and during this process, many of these homes or businesses are left abandoned and unkempt. The burden is being placed on local governments to preserve the standards of their towns and secure their property values.
The Township of Rochelle Park has recently begun cracking down on neglectful property owners who are not adhering to code enforcement regulations.
“We take code enforcement very seriously, “said Rochelle Park Committeeman Frank Valenzuela.
Valenzuela is passionate about the cause, holding a state license as a housing code official and previously serving as the code enforcement official in Closter and as the local housing inspector in Palisades Park.
After several neighbors complained about unsightly conditions at a home located at 114 Howard Ave., the township was met with several roadblocks. Valenzuela explained that while the taxes on the property were being paid by a third party, the owner had not responded to any of the code violation notices, and the bank that held the mortgage had been taken over by another bank.
“The grass and debris on the property was at least 3 feet high,” said Nick Melfi, the township’s code official.
According to the Rochelle Park Police Department, several violations including exterior sanitation and debris in driveway were issued to the owner on record, and he failed to appear for the scheduled court date. He was brought to the Rochelle Park Police Department after Bergen County Police Department officers discovered that he had outstanding warrants during a routine traffic stop. He was taken to the Bergen County Jail in lieu of bail for the two warrants.
“It may take time, but we will make sure our residents are compliant with these codes. There are consequences,” Valenzuela said. “We will utilize all the resources and tools at our disposal to make sure the owners, and in certain cases, the banks, are held accountable for maintaining their properties.”
The township committee voted on Aug.14 to hire an outside landscaping service to perform some routine property maintenance at 114 Howard Ave., and a lien was placed on the home to recoup the costs.
“All summer long, we’ve probably sent out hundreds of notices,” Melfi said. “And for the most part, everyone complies, but there are a handful who don’t. We are hoping that by being proactive we send the message that we are serious about code enforcement in Rochelle Park.” Melfi explained that the intent is not to punish residents, but to maintain and raise the standards of the neighborhood. Warnings are issued prior to any fines being levied.
Rochelle Park’s codebook can be accessed on the township’s Web site, www.rochelleparknj.gov.