The number of foreclosures in the late 2000’s was very, very high. Californians probably haven’t seen this many foreclosure sales since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
Besides the economic upheaval experienced by families in foreclosure, some owners of neighboring properties found that their own properties were being negatively affected by “foreclosure blight.” If a foreclosed property is left vacant and not maintained, the yard can quickly get out of hand. Because the foreclosure process takes several months to complete, and because lenders are often delaying foreclosure during workout or short-sale negotiations, a vacant property can quickly become an eyesore. Properties sold at foreclosure sale can be purchased by investors who don’t move into the property, but who instead hold the property vacant for investment purposes. Because these owners don’t actually live in the property, they sometimes have an economic disincentive to maintain such properties.
Recognizing that such properties can have negative effects on neighborhood property values, the California Legislature passed a law in 2008 that gives local government the power to address such problems. Normally, a homeowner isn’t required to cut his or her grass. And before 2008, there was no law that required a homeowner to trim or prune trees or shrubs so long as sidewalks, roads, and neighboring properties aren’t directly affected and so long as the public health and safety isn’t negatively affected. But in 2008, the California Legislature passed Civil Code section 2929.3. That law provides that persons who purchase a property at a foreclosure sale must maintain that property so long as it remains vacant. If the owner of such property fails to maintain it, then the city or other local governmental entity can assess fines of up to $1,000 per day for each violation.
That’s a substantial fine for not cutting your grass. If you leave your grass uncut for 30 days, you could end up paying a fine equivalent to the cost of installing a small swimming pool. Leaving your lawn or your shrubs uncut for two months could cost you the price of a really nice swimming pool – or a great European vacation.
The statute requires that such owners “maintain” the exterior of their vacant properties. The new law doesn’t given a detailed description of the maintenance that must be performed, but the law does state that “failure to maintain” includes a failure to trim excess “foliage” that diminishes the value of neighboring properties. “Failure to maintain” also includes failure to keep trespassers or “squatters” off the property. And the owner will also be in violation if there’s standing water that results in mosquito breeding.