The city council earlier in the week approved the hiring of a Rochelle Park based law firm to put teeth into an abandoned properties ordinance it passed earlier in the year. The law firm of Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader will charge the city $1,100 per property to pursue legal action against neglectful property owners.
“Our goal here is to go after abandoned properties, the ones that are a problem, not the ones, where people are living in them,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman. Tavarez sought clarification from the administration of Jose “Joey” Torres after the city’s law director stated few weeks ago that those, who have missed a single tax payment could be added to the abandoned properties list.
There are six or seven criteria the abandoned properties ordinance sets forth in order to determine whether a property is abandoned, said law director Domenick Stampone. “All of these conditions begin with the pre-condition that the building is abandoned,” said Stampone clarifying his previous remark.
“This would never be about a property that missed a tax payment but is occupied,” said Stampone. “It has to be vacant.”
“We have to look at the definition of abandoned and it is very simple one: no one is living there, the property is empty, there are no utilities, and it is boarded up,” added Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
Acting business administration Nellie Pou further added that the city has little interest in going after property owners in good standing. She said Torres’ neighborhood stabilization program is designed to force neglectful property owners to fix their act and maintain their possession.
Pou said the over more than one-thousand properties that are on the list most of them are owned by banks. A large number of which are not maintaining their properties, allowing weed overgrowth, cracked sidewalk, and graffiti to overtake the property.
The business administration said since the ordinance’s passage the banks have taken notice. “We’ve seen now activity more so than ever before from these lending institutions,” said Pou. “We’re happy to see some of these things are being addressed because they are being forced to do that.”
She said now the banks know, if the property is not being maintained as it ought to, the city will take it over.
The city has dispatched letters to neglectful property owners telling them to fix their act. The letter precedes legal action from the city. The law firm will take property owners, who allow their properties to fall apart to court, and ultimately foreclose on the owners.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, asked Stampone about the selection process that resulted in the contract being awarded to the Rochelle Park based firm. McKoy said there are plenty of local firms, why weren’t any of them on the list.
“It was advertised in the same manner any other legal services solicitation is advertised,” responded Stampone. Four firms responded — the selected law firm had the lowest price, according to city documents.
He said the selected firm has extensive real estate experience in land use and in foreclosure.
“I can’t understand why our legal department cannot take care of the abandoned properties,” commented Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman.
Stampone said there are over 1,100 properties. “Rather than be bogged down, where we’re working on one or two, we have a firm that dedicates itself to this kind of work,” answered Stampone.
The council gave its approval during Tuesday’s regular meeting.