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Bank fines to boost vacant home inspections

Flush with cash from new fines levied on lenders, Chicago’s Department of Buildings plans to hire three more inspectors to catch up on a backlog of 311 complaints about vacant properties. City inspectors still have not inspected 6,500 complaints from last year. With the additional staff, the Department of Buildings hopes to clear the backlog by October.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd) both praised the results of Chicago’s revised vacant properties ordinance at a Bronzeville community center on Friday. Emanuel cited new figures showing that in the first quarter of 2012, lenders paid $619,000 in fines for failing to keep vacant properties up to city code. “We’ve also doubled the amount of listings of vacant properties,” Emanuel added. “Before, they weren’t being listed, so you didn’t know who to go after. Now we’re holding them accountable to keep up the property that’s vacant.”

The revised ordinance requires lenders to register vacant properties for a $500 fee when their owners don’t, and to maintain those properties. Previously, Chicago only required owners to register properties that they leave vacant, but few actually did. The revised ordinance is being challenged in federal court by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In addition to the mounting number of vacant properties that have resulted from the foreclosure crisis, the 18-member team of building inspectors has suffered serious setbacks from on-the-job injuries. “It is a dangerous job,” said Michael Merchant, Commissioner of the Department of Buildings. “Recently I had one go on duty disability because he opened a door and two pit bulls jumped on him.” Five of the team’s inspectors are currently out on medical leave. 

Chicago Vacant and Abandoned Buildings Reported from 311 Service Calls
(as of May 1, 2012)
Source: City of Chicago Data Portal

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