Another tool against blight

The city of Medford's new ordinance requiring property owners to register vacant houses and maintain them is a good move. Whether it will be effective in all cases remains to be seen.

The City Council approved the ordinance last week. Enforcement will begin Oct. 1, after registration forms are available.

Property owners will be required to register with the city if a house is to remain vacant longer than 10 days. There is no fee to register, but owners could face fines of $250 a day if they fail to respond when warned to clean or repair the property.

That's a reasonable attempt by the city to prevent the negative effects of houses that are both vacant and neglected.

Not only are such properties eyesores, they can pose public health hazards if swimming pools or hot tubs are left filled with stagnating water. In addition, a weed-choked, garbage-strewn property reflects badly on its neighborhood, affecting the value and the marketability of nearby homes.

So far, police haven't encountered squatters moving into vacant homes, but that has been a problem elsewhere in the county.

At a time when the housing market is only just beginning to emerge from a major downturn, owners who want or need to sell need all the help they can get. What they don't need is a house next door or across the street that appears abandoned.

The record number of foreclosures in the past year has contributed to the stock of unoccupied homes locally. It's not clear how many of those are not being maintained, but police say they have identified about 400 vacant houses in the city.

People's Bank of Commerce's chief financial officer welcomes the registry ordinance, saying banks want to be good corporate citizens. While that's certainly true for People's, a local bank, it may be less so for national lenders who have little or no physical presence here. City officials had to spend eight months tracking down lenders responsible for one neglected property on Delta Waters Road.

It is certainly in a lender's interest to keep its foreclosed properties looking presentable. Eventually those houses will sell, and the lender stands to get a better price for a house that looks like someone might want to live there.

City residents can and should help with this situation by reporting vacant houses in their neighborhood. Call 774-2061.

Property owners should do their part by taking steps to register their properties rather than waiting for the city to track them down. It's the neighborly thing to do.

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