Mesa is considering new regulations designed to ensure that banks will clean up abandoned properties that have fallen into disrepair and become a blight on the community.
While the lenders already are required to maintain the homes, it's common for nobody to care for them from the time a homeowner walks away and the time the foreclosure is completed.
The city tries to send complaint letters to the owner, but it can take weeks or months to determine who holds the title and who should be held accountable.
A new registry of abandoned properties would require lenders to notify the city any time a loan is in default. The city would then immediately know who is responsible in the event the property falls into disrepair and gets complaints from neighbors.
Mesa would become one of about 300 communities across the nation to enact similar rules in the wake of a real estate crash that has left many neighborhoods frustrated with abandoned properties.
"The city shouldn't have to play Sherlock Holmes on every complaint to figure out whose on first, to know who to serve a notice of violation to," said Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh. "That's created a lot of frustration for our staff and for the neighbors."
The problem can range from weeds and graffiti to people breaking into abandoned homes.
"Pools turn green and now we have a health hazard," said Councilwoman Dina Higgins.
Higgins recalled how the city once scrambled to find the owner of a home where a man had died inside days earlier. The property was in foreclosure and the city couldn't do anything to clean up the home until after figuring out who legally controlled the property. The city worked hard to find the responsible party because of the nature of the concern, Higgins said, and identified somebody within hours.
On more routine issues, the tracking can take longer, said Christine Zielonka, Mesa's development services director.
"We've seen up to four months, constantly trying to make calls," Zielonka said.
The city registry would require a mortgage company to inspect homes monthly to ensure they comply with city codes. They'd also have to display a sign on the property with contact information.
Mesa's Community & Neighborhood Services Committee was set to review the proposed regulations last week. But Higgins, who is the committee's chairwoman, postponed a meeting to have city staff refine a report on the plan. The group is expected to review the regulations in August.
The city may consider a pilot program in that time to see if it can improve property maintenance without formal rules. Higgins said she'd like to see if that alone would get results.
"I'm always open to voluntary compliance instead of regulation," she said.