In a short sale, the owner of record is still the owner, and they are responsible for what happens on the premises. Until someone buys the property or the bank forecloses on it, the owner needs to seriously consider maintaining the property.
Some maintenance, such as cutting the grass, helps with the curb appeal while also keeping the owner from racking up fines from the municipality. Keeping the utilities on, even if the house is vacant, can likewise help make the property more appealing to buyers. It is also a good idea to ensure that the house is secured if it is vacant. In winter, it is important for the owner to ensure that they clear ice and snow off the sidewalk. If someone slips and falls, the owner could be held liable. If there is a swimming pool on the premises, the owner needs to ensure that it is secure.
The mortgage lender may have the right to change the locks and secure the house prior to foreclosing on it if they believe that the owner has abandoned the property. The lender may even winterize the house. However, the lender will not cut the grass, shovel the snow, or conduct repairs unless the lender takes ownership via foreclosure.
If the owner lacks the ability to pay for heat in their vacant property in the winter, they should winterize the premises. Alternately, the owner could call the lender to ask if they will winterize the house. The lender often will, and they will add the expense on to the principal balance.
Some municipalities and some judges are placing pressure on mortgage lenders to help maintain properties even before the foreclosure is completed. In a short sale, the lender never takes ownership, so technically they are not responsible for maintenance. However, there is a growing trend across the country where some towns and courts are attempting to compel the mortgage lenders to help cut the grass and secure properties even though they are not the owner. Nevertheless, the owner of record is primarily responsible and should do what they can to keep up certain maintenance to prevent major problems.
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