Flossmoor hires company to track vacancies, foreclosures

Flossmoor currently has 176 vacant, foreclosed and pre-foreclosed properties out of about 4,000 houses in the community.
 
The numbers may seem small, but officials say tracking down the owners of these properties has been time consuming and at times overwhelming for village staff.
 
The Flossmoor Village Board, on Sept. 3, approved a two-year contract with Florida-based Property Registration Champions, LLC, known as ProChamps.
 
ProChamps researches, tracks and registers vacant and foreclosed properties and collects registration fees. The company does not charge municipalities directly for its services, but it collects one-third of all registration fees. 
 
Property owners will be charged a $300 fee twice per year to keep their properties registered for the duration they are vacant or foreclosed. In each of those collections, the company retains $100 and the village retains $200.
 
In June 2018, Flossmoor established a registry for vacant properties and set up a program under which property owners were required to register vacant buildings and provide contact information. The cost for owners to register vacant buildings in the initial program was a one-time fee of $150. 
 
At the Sept. 3 meeting, board members voted to amend the municipal code to reflect the new services and fees with ProChamps. 
 
Scott Bugner, Flossmoor's director of inspectional services, said that while the initial program has had some success, enforcing all registrations without outside help has been nearly impossible.
 
“We’re mainly a reactive force where we go out there and look for vacant properties or properties that are falling into lack of maintenance,” he said.
 
He estimates the village is missing about half the registrations it should be collecting.
“Even when we do find these properties, we’re spending an enormous amount of time trying to track these property owners down,” Bugner said.
 
Bugner said the semi-annual fee would not only help cover the costs of property code enforcement and follow-up, but it also may encourage property owners to put their buildings back on the market sooner.
 
Stan Urban of ProChamps said Illinois has the largest number of foreclosures and vacancies in the Midwest; for example, Calumet City has over 900 active foreclosures and 800 vacant properties.
 
“Your town is nowhere near that, but whether you have one or 1,000 foreclosures, it’s important,” he said.
 
The company began in 2009 and has more than 400 municipal partners nationally, including Homewood. 
 
Urban said the company provides a web-based program that gives village staff access to the names, addresses, phone numbers and emails of the banks that hold the mortgages as well as the property managers, asset managers and registration companies.
 
The company checks Cook County courthouses twice per day for foreclosure filings and investigates the names of banks listed. Urban said registering foreclosed properties in addition to vacant ones is important in staying proactive.
 
“Why wait until it’s vacant to track down the owners?” he said.
 
The company also searches available databases to find vacant properties, such as rental property databases. 
 
If a property is found to have been vacant for 60 days or longer, ProChamps will send an electronic notice asking the bank or owner to pay the fee. 
 
If the bank or property owner does not pay the fee as requested, it is then up to the village to take action to enforce the property code. Urban said the company has an 85 percent collection rate.
 
“Staff has the database that they will see who we contacted that didn’t pay,” Urban said. “At that point, we strongly encourage you to file a judgment against the property.”
 
Urban said their services could be completed by village staff just as easily, but having an outside company do them will free up valuable time.
 
“It’s not that we can do it faster; that’s all we do,” he said. “So it is faster because of that.” 
 
Trustees agreed that partnering with ProChamps would allow village staff to focus on other duties and that tracking down vacant property owners is essential for improving the aesthetics of the community. 
 
Trustee Brian Driscoll said he is excited to work with the company.
 
“I think it’s going to speed up everything as far as what we’re attempting to do with our vacant housing,” Driscoll said.
 
Trustee Gyata Kimmons said he believes this service is important despite Flossmoor having a relatively small number of vacancies.
 
“The reality is we have a small staff, and we appreciate a third party coming in and being proactive,” Kimmons said.
 


 

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