[HISTORY: Adopted by the Township Committee of the Township of Little Egg Harbor 9-11-2014 by Ord. No. 2014-14; amended in its entirety 11-12-2020 by Ord. No. 2020-15. Subsequent amendments noted where applicable.]
It is the purpose and intent of the Committee to establish a process to address the deterioration, crime, and decline in value of Township neighborhoods caused by property with foreclosing or foreclosed mortgages located within the Township, and to identify, regulate, limit and reduce the number of these properties located within the Township. It has been determined that owner-occupied structures are generally better maintained when compared to vacant structures, even with a diligent off-site property owner. Structures owned by individuals who are economically strained and unable to meet their mortgage obligations are often not properly or diligently maintained, which contributes to blight, declined property values, and has a negative impact on social perception of the residential areas where they are located. It is the Committee's further intent to establish a registration program as a mechanism to help protect neighborhoods from becoming blighted through the lack of adequate maintenance of properties that are in foreclosure or foreclosed, and to provide a mechanism to avert foreclosure actions through timely intervention, education, or counseling of property owners.
The following words, terms, and phrases, when used in this chapter, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning.
- Shall mean that the mortgagor has not complied with the terms of the mortgage on the property, or the promissory note, or other evidence of the debt, referred to in the mortgage.
- ENFORCEMENT OFFICER
- Any law enforcement officer, building official, zoning inspector, code enforcement officer, fire inspector, building inspector, or other person authorized by the Township to enforce the applicable code(s).
- EVIDENCE OF VACANCY
- Any condition that on its own, or combined with other conditions present, would lead a reasonable person to believe that the property is vacant. Such conditions may include, but are not limited to, overgrown and/or dead vegetation; past-due utility notices and/or disconnected utilities; accumulation of trash, junk or debris; abandoned vehicles, auto parts and/or materials; the absence of furnishings and/or personal items consistent with habitation or occupancy; the presence of an unsanitary, stagnant swimming pool; the accumulation of newspapers, circulars, flyers and/or mail; statements by neighbors, passersby, delivery agents or government agents; and/or the presence of boards over doors, windows or other openings in violation of applicable code.
- FORECLOSURE or FORECLOSURE ACTION
- The legal process by which a mortgagee, or other lien holder, terminates or attempts to terminate a property owner's equitable right of redemption to obtain legal and equitable title to the real property pledged as security for a debt or the real property subject to the lien. The legal process is not concluded until the property obtained by the mortgagee, lien holder, or their designee, by certificate of title, or any other means, is sold to a nonrelated bona fide purchaser in an arm's length transaction to satisfy the debt or lien.
- The creditor, including but not limited to, trustees; mortgage servicing companies; lenders in a mortgage agreement; any agent, servant, or employee of the creditor; any successor in interest; or any assignee of the creditor's rights, interests or obligations under the mortgage agreement; or any other person or entity with the legal right to foreclose on the real property, excluding governmental entities as assignee or owner.
- Every person, entity, or mortgagee who alone or severally with others has legal or equitable title to any real property as defined by this chapter; has legal care, charge, or control of any such property; is in possession or control of any such property; and/or is vested with possession or control of any such property. The property manager shall not be considered the owner.
- PROPERTY MANAGER
- Any party, located within the State of New Jersey, designated by the owner as responsible for inspecting, maintaining and securing the property as required in this chapter.
- REAL PROPERTY
- Any residential or commercial land and/or buildings, leasehold improvements and anything affixed to the land, or portion thereof identified by a property parcel identification number, located in the Township limits.
- REGISTRABLE PROPERTY
- Any real property located in the Township, whether vacant or occupied, that is subject to an ongoing foreclosure action by the mortgagee or trustee, has been the subject of a foreclosure action by a mortgagee or trustee and a judgment has been entered, or has been the subject of a foreclosure sale where the title was transferred to the beneficiary of a mortgage involved in the foreclosure and any properties transferred under a deed in lieu of foreclosure/sale. The designation of a foreclosure property as "registrable" shall remain in place until such time as the property is sold to a nonrelated bona fide purchaser in an arm's length transaction or the foreclosure action has been dismissed.
- A web-based electronic database of searchable real property records used by the Township to allow mortgagees the opportunity to register properties and pay applicable fees as required in this chapter.
- SEMIANNUAL REGISTRATION
- Six months from the date of the first action that requires registration, as determined by the Township, or its designee, and every subsequent six months the property is registrable. The date of the initial registration may be different than the date of the first action that required registration.
- UTILITIES AND SERVICES
- Any utility and/or service that is essential for a building to be habitable and/or perform a service necessary to comply with all Township codes. This includes, but is not limited to, electrical, gas, water, sewer, lawn maintenance, pool maintenance, and snow removal.
- Any parcel of land in the Township that contains any building or structure that is not lawfully occupied.
This chapter applies to foreclosing or foreclosed property within the Township.
The Township, or its designee, shall establish a registry cataloging each registrable property within the Township, containing the information required by this chapter.
Any mortgagee who holds a mortgage on real property located within the Township shall perform an inspection of the property upon default by the mortgagor as evidenced by the filing of a foreclosure action.
Property inspected pursuant to Subsection A above that remains in foreclosure shall be inspected every 30 days by the mortgagee or mortgagee's designee. If an inspection shows a change in the property's occupancy status, the mortgagee shall, within 10 days of that inspection, update the occupancy status of the property registration.
Within 10 days of the date any mortgagee files a foreclosure action, the mortgagee shall register the real property with the Township registry, and, at the time of registration, indicate whether the property is vacant, and if so shall designate, in writing, a property manager to inspect, maintain and secure the real property subject to the mortgage in foreclosure when legally possible. A separate registration is required for each registrable property.
Initial registration pursuant to this section shall contain, at a minimum, the name of the mortgagee, the mailing address of the mortgagee, email address, telephone number and name of the property manager and said person's address, email address, and telephone number, regardless of whether it is occupied or vacant.
At the time of initial registration, each registrant shall pay a nonrefundable semiannual registration fee of $500 for each registrable property. Subsequent nonrefundable semiannual registrations of properties and fees in the amount of $500 are due within 10 days of the expiration of the previous registration. Said fees shall be used to offset the costs of 1) registration and registration enforcement, 2) code enforcement and mitigation related to defaulted properties, 3) post-closing counseling and foreclosure intervention limited to owner-occupied persons in default, which may not include cash and mortgage modification assistance, and 4) for any related purposes as may be adopted in the policy set forth in this chapter. Said fees shall be deposited to a special account in the Township's department dedicated to the cost of implementation and enforcement of this chapter and fulfilling the purpose and intent of this chapter. None of the funds provided for in this section shall be utilized for the legal defense of foreclosure actions.
If the mortgage and/or servicing on a property is sold or transferred, the new mortgagee is subject to all the terms of this chapter. Within 10 days of the transfer, the new mortgagee shall register the property or update the existing registration. The previous mortgagee(s) will not be released from the responsibility of paying all previous unpaid fees, fines, and penalties accrued during that mortgagee's involvement with the registrable property.
If the mortgagee sells or transfers the registrable property in a non-arm's-length transaction to a related entity or person, the transferee is subject to all the terms of this chapter. Within 10 days of the transfer, the transferee shall register the property or update the existing registration. Any and all previous unpaid fees, fines, and penalties, regardless of who the mortgagee was at the time registration was required, including but not limited to unregistered periods during the foreclosure process, are the responsibility of the transferee and are due and payable with the updated registration. The previous mortgagee will not be released from the responsibility of paying all previous unpaid fees, fines, and penalties accrued during that mortgagee's involvement with the registrable property.
If the foreclosing or foreclosed property is not registered, or the registration fee is not paid within 30 days of when the registration or renewal is required pursuant to this section, a late fee equivalent to 10% of the semiannual registration fee shall be charged for every thirty-day period, or portion thereof, the property is not registered and shall be due and payable with the registration.
This section shall also apply to properties that have been the subject of a foreclosure sale where title is transferred to the mortgagee as well as any properties transferred to the mortgagee under a deed in lieu of foreclosure or by any other legal means.
Properties subject to this section shall remain subject to the semiannual registration requirement and the inspection, security, and maintenance standards of this section as long as the property remains registrable.
Failure of the mortgagee and/or property owner of record to properly register or to modify the registration to reflect a change of circumstances as required by this chapter is a violation of this chapter and shall be subject to enforcement by any of the enforcement means available to the Township.
If any property is in violation of this chapter, the Township may take the necessary action to ensure compliance with and/or place a lien on the property for the cost of the outstanding obligation and any additional cost incurred to bring the property into compliance.
Registration of foreclosure property does not alleviate the mortgagee and/or owner from obtaining all required licenses, permits and inspections required by applicable code or state statutes. Acquisition of required licenses, permits and inspections or registration of rental property does not alleviate the requirement for the property to be registered under this section. The mortgagee and/or owner is expected to update the status of the property in the event of a mortgagee-managed rental.
Properties subject to this chapter shall be kept free of weeds, overgrown brush, dead vegetation, trash, junk, debris, building materials, any accumulation of newspaper circulars, flyers, notices, except those required by federal, state or local law, discarded personal items, including, but not limited to, furniture, clothing, large and small appliances, printed material, or any other items that give the appearance that the property is abandoned.
Registrable property shall be maintained free of graffiti or similar markings by removal or painting over with an exterior-grade paint that matches the color of the exterior structure.
Front, side, and rear yards, including landscaping, of registrable property shall be maintained in accordance with the applicable code(s) at the time registration is required.
Registrable yard maintenance shall include, but not be limited to, grass, ground covers, bushes, shrubs, hedges or similar plantings, decorative rock or bark or artificial turf/sod. Acceptable maintenance of yards and/or landscape shall not include weeds, gravel, broken concrete, asphalt or similar material.
Maintenance shall include, but not be limited to, watering, irrigation, cutting and mowing of required ground cover or landscape and removal of all trimmings.
Pools and spas shall be maintained so the water remains free and clear of pollutants and debris and shall comply with the regulations set forth in the applicable code(s).
Failure of the mortgagee, owner, and transferees to properly maintain the property as required by this chapter may result in a violation of the applicable code(s) and issuance of a citation or notice of violation in accordance with the applicable code of the Township. Pursuant to a finding and determination by the Township Sheriff, Magistrate or a court of competent jurisdiction, the Township may take the necessary action to ensure compliance with this section.
In addition to the above, the property is required to be maintained in accordance with the applicable code(s) of the Township.
Properties subject to this chapter shall be maintained in a secure manner so as not to be accessible to unauthorized persons.
A "secure manner" shall include, but not be limited to, the closure and locking of windows, doors, gates and other openings of such size that may allow a child to access the interior of the property or structure. Broken windows, doors, gates, and other openings of such size that may allow a child to access the interior of the property or structure must be repaired. Broken windows shall be secured by reglazing of the window.
If a property is registrable and the property has become vacant or blighted, a property manager shall be designated by the mortgagee or owner to perform the work necessary to bring the property into compliance with the applicable code(s), and the property manager must perform regular inspections to verify compliance with the requirements of this chapter and any other applicable laws.
In addition to the above, the property is required to be secured in accordance with the applicable code(s) of the Township.
When a property subject to this chapter becomes vacant, it shall be posted with the name and twenty-four-hour contact telephone number of the property manager. The property manager shall be available to be contacted by the Township Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., legal holidays excepted. The sign shall be placed in a window facing the street and shall be visible from the street. The posting shall be no less than 18 inches by 24 inches and shall be of a font that is legible from a distance of 45 feet. The posting shall contain the following language with supporting information:
The posting required in Subsection E above shall be placed on the interior of a window facing the street to the front of the property so that it is visible from the street, or secured to the exterior of the building/structure facing the street to the front of the property so that it is visible from the street, or if no such area exists, on a stake of sufficient size to support the posting in a location that is at all times visible from the street to the front of the property but not readily accessible to vandals. Exterior posting shall be constructed of and printed with weather-resistant materials.
Failure of the mortgagee and/or property owner of record to properly inspect and secure a property subject to this chapter and post and maintain the signage noted in this section is a violation and shall be subject to enforcement by any of the enforcement means available to the Township. The Township may take the necessary action to ensure compliance with this section and recover costs and expenses in support thereof.
The provisions of this chapter are cumulative with and in addition to other available remedies. Nothing contained in this chapter shall prohibit the Township from collecting on fees, fines, and penalties in any lawful manner or enforcing its codes by any other means, including, but not limited to, injunction, abatement, or as otherwise provided by law or ordinance.
All registrable property is at risk of being a public nuisance and if vacant or blighted can constitute a public nuisance, the abatement of which pursuant to the police power is hereby declared to be necessary for the health, welfare, and safety of the residents of the Township.
If the Enforcement Officer has reason to believe that a property subject to the provisions of this chapter is posing a serious threat to the public health, safety, and welfare, the Code Enforcement Officer may temporarily secure the property at the expense of the mortgagee or owner and may bring the violations before the Code Enforcement, Committee or Special Magistrate as soon as possible to address the conditions of the property. Nothing herein shall limit the Township from abating any nuisance or unsafe condition by any other legal means available to it.
The Sheriff, Code Enforcement, Committee or Special Magistrate shall have the authority to require the mortgagee or owner affected by this section to implement additional maintenance and/or security measures, including, but not limited to, securing any and all doors, windows or other openings, employment of an on-site security guard or other measures as may be reasonably required to help prevent further decline of the property.
If there is a finding that the condition of the property is posing a serious threat to the public health, safety, and welfare, then the Sheriff, Code Enforcement, Committee or Special Magistrate may direct the Township to abate the violations and charge the mortgagee or owner with the cost of the abatement.
If the mortgagee or owner does not reimburse the Township for the cost of temporarily securing the property, or of any abatement directed by the Sheriff, Code Enforcement Officer, Code Enforcement, Committee or Special Magistrate, within 30 days of the Township sending the mortgagee or owner the invoice, then the Township may lien the property with such cost, along with an administrative fee as determined in the Township's fee ordinance to recover the administrative personnel services. In addition to filing a lien, the Township may pursue financial penalties against the mortgagee or owner.
The Township may contract with an entity to implement this chapter, and, if so, any reference to the Enforcement Officer herein shall include the entity the Township contracts with for that purpose.
Whoever opposes, obstructs or resists any Enforcement Officer or any person authorized by the Enforcement Office in the discharge of duties as provided in this chapter shall be punishable as provided in the applicable code(s) or a court of competent jurisdiction.
Any Enforcement Officer or any person authorized by the Township to enforce the sections here within shall be immune from prosecution, civil or criminal, for reasonable, good faith entry upon real property while in the discharge of duties imposed by this chapter.
Any person, firm or corporation found to be in violation of any of the provisions of this chapter shall, upon conviction by a court of competent jurisdiction, be subject to a fine of $1,500 for each day of the violation.