Wednesday, August 17, 2011

AG Coakley Brockton Visit Highlights Copper Stripping Problem

Attorney General Martha Coakley Monday met with local officials and visited a three-family property in Brockton that was stripped of copper to highlight the need for legislation to address the illegal stripping and dealing of metal in the state.
The abandoned property is in the process of being repaired and renovated by Neighborhood Housing Services of the South Shore.
Coakley and state Sen. James E. Timilty filed a bill in January called An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing which aims to address the illegal stripping and dealing of metal through the creation of a central Secondary Metals Computer Registry and an Abandoned Property Registry.
During the visit, Coakley toured the property to observe the damage caused by copper stripping. She was joined by local officials and legislators including Timilty and Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti.
“This property highlights the serious issues that come with the stripping of metals from vacant properties,” Coakley said in a prepared statement.
“Metal stripping adds costs to the rehabilitation of these properties and can pose public safety threats due to gas leaks and structural damage caused by pipe stripping. Our legislation will provide law enforcement and communities with the tools they need to address metals dealing and continue to revitalize their neighborhoods,” she said.
Sen. Timilty, D-Walpole, said in a prepared statement he is proud to co-sponsor the bill with Coakley and Senate President Theresa Murray.
“My office has heard from historical societies, veterans groups, utility companies, sculpture artists, police chiefs, the brewers guild, and many others who support (the bill)," Timilty said.
"These much needed regulations intend to curb metals theft by going after those who profit from stolen goods, while protecting the legitimate secondary metals industry,” he said.
In the last few years, Coakley’s office has seen an uptick in reports of abandoned properties.
The mortgage foreclosure crisis has caused many properties throughout Massachusetts to be abandoned.
Many of these vacant properties pose a threat to public safety due to building code violations, dilapidation, and criminal activity such as theft, drug dealing, and arson.
Many of these properties have been significantly damaged by acts of vandalism, including the stripping of copper and other metals, which are then resold on the secondary market.
The City of Brockton has worked to sell, rehab or repair vacant and foreclosed properties.
Over the past three years, the Highland Goddard Street neighborhood of Brockton has seen a transformation.
When the City began neighborhood walk throughs and clean ups three years ago, there were 15 vacant homes in foreclosure.
Thanks to the efforts fo the City and non-profit and for-profit developers, today there are none.
Based on the experience of Coakley’s Abandoned Housing Initiative, two of the largest obstacles to revitalizing vacant residential properties in Massachusetts are the cost of rehabilitation and identifying the parties responsible for the property. The AG’s Abandoned Housing Initiative uses the state sanitary code’s receivership statute to assist cities and towns in rehabbing many of these problem properties. According to rehabilitation experts working with the AG’s office, the stripping of copper can cause up to $15,000 worth of damage to a residence, often times aiding in the conclusion that rehabilitation is not a financially feasible option.
An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing has the potential to have a profound effect on the problem of abandoned and vacant properties in Massachusetts.
The new law mandates the creation of an Abandoned Property Registry, a two-year pilot program established and maintained by the Division of Banks to catalog all foreclosed, abandoned, and vacant properties in the Commonwealth.
The creation of the Abandoned Property Registry will assist municipalities and law enforcement officials in locating the owners of abandoned properties or the criminal offenders involved in stealing metal from such structures.
The legislation also establishes the Secondary Metals Computer Registry, which will be maintained by the Executive Office of Public Safety.
The Registry is designed to increase the availability of the records and identities of metal scrap dealers, sellers and their wares to law enforcement. The legislation also allows for more accurate record keeping and tracking of items and their sellers, so that stolen metals are more easily recovered.
Coakley testified in support of the legislation in July, and the bill is currently before Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

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