Chicago Tribune “New laws Sprout as Homes Sit”

Robert Klein, CEO of Safeguard Properties, was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article about the difficulties in enforcing local ordinances with foreclosed properties.

New laws sprout as homes sit

But existing rules on vacancies often unenforced

By Mary Ellen Podmolik | Chicago Tribune reporter
August 24, 2008

Cece Edwards and her Chatham neighbors pride themselves on caring for their homes, but their block just doesn’t look like it once did.

Three residences are abandoned. Neighbors take turns picking up garbage and mowing the front yards, but they feel uneasy about the unsecured doors and fence-high weeds behind the buildings.

“You come out every day and you see this monstrosity thing going on, and you’re compelled to do something,” Edwards said. “The rest of the block is beautiful. It’s so sad. You’ve got really huge mortgage companies that own title to these properties and aren’t cleaning them up.”

Now communities large and small around the country, including Chicago, are passing laws designed to get tough with property owners. The ordinances look good on paper, but can they be enforced?

Consider this: Chicago already had an ordinance requiring owners of vacant property to register them with the city for $100 a year. The city’s building department estimates there are 10,000 vacant residential buildings in Chicago and only 1,500 are registered. City officials say that’s because the ordinance wasn’t heartily enforced.

In early November Chicago will have an even stricter law on its books. It calls for vacant property owners to register and pay $250 every six months. Higher fees will be assessed for code violations.

Enforcement also calls for what could be dramatic and visible changes in how vacant houses are secured.

For example, doors and windows can be boarded up with plywood only for the first six months of vacancy. After that owners must replace plywood with expensive steel panels or install windows and doors and a burglar alarm?a difficult endeavor where the power has been shut off. A large sign also must be posted identifying the owner and the person or company responsible for the property’s condition.

“Many of these buildings have been sitting vacant and unattended for five, six, 10 years,” said Richard Monocchio, acting commissioner of the city’s department of buildings. “It was time for the city to push these investors, these absentee landlords and in many cases, banks, to not just sit and wait for the market but to do something positive with these buildings so they wouldn’t have a [debilitating] effect on the neighbors.”

Monocchio hopes that the registration fees and fines will spur banks and other mortgage lenders to try to avoid foreclosures. “We hope one of the offshoots of this ordinance is a greater incentive on the part of the banking community to work with people that are in the house.”

Two months before it takes effect, the law already has naysayers.

“When you put a sign in front of your house, that’s the one they target to break in,” said Daryl Russell, a broker associate at Williamson Realty in South Holland. “That’s an open invitation that this is the one that is vacant.”

Russell said he tries to inspect his South Side foreclosure listings weekly for squatters. Break-ins by vandals and thieves also are common. At times, he said he’s had to wait for as long as 45 days to get reimbursed by property owners for thousands of dollars spent resecuring buildings.

“[The city] is missing the bigger problem,” Russell said. “How do we keep the people from going into properties? How do we keep people from losing the properties?”

Others question the wisdom of requiring steel doors.

“They’ll start stealing those doors. Right now they’re stealing all metal from those properties,” said Remi Gorys, president of A City Suburban Service Inc., which has been securing buildings for 15 years.

Flood of foreclosures

Chicago also will no longer grant work permits involving vacant buildings unless they are registered. And to gear up for the new law, residents will be reminded at aldermanic and block club meetings to call 311 to anonymously report vacant, unattended buildings.

South suburban Oak Forest passed a law in late July requiring owners to pay $200 to register vacant buildings. Neighbors had been cutting lawns at vacant homes, but with 78 foreclosed homes, Oak Forest has hired a firm to mow grass. The city is draining swimming pools that could pose safety hazards.

More such laws are expected around the Chicago area as the housing crisis deepens. Foreclosures in Chicago in July rose by 84 percent over their level in the same month two years ago. In the 60611 ZIP code on the city’s Near North side, for instance, the number of foreclosures filed has quadrupled, to 25 in July from 6 in the same month two years ago. During the same time frame, foreclosures in the 60659 ZIP code, which covers North Park and West Ridge, climbed 489 percent, to 53 from 9, according to data from RealtyTrac.

As reported Thursday, the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based non-profit that promotes community reinvestment, said in a report that the number of foreclosed properties going to auction in the five-county Chicago area climbed 98 percent between 2006 and 2007, to 13,727, and that it believes the trend is continuing this year. The finding is significant because it means many properties are ending up back with lenders rather than sold to buyers or investors who theoretically would be motivated to repair and maintain them.

Who’s the owner?

While on calls, Chicago’s 190 building inspectors will be expected to report addresses of vacant buildings they find so that the city can run title searches.

But determining ownership is not easy. Registration ordinances recently have recently been passed in communities like Temecula, Calif.; Methuen, Mass.; and Lee’s Summit, Mo., to name a few.

Lee’s Summit estimates the number of vacant homes in the community of 93,000 people has swelled to 300, but with the registry it hopes to determine a real number. “The biggest problem is you don’t know who to call,” said Mark Dunning, the city’s director of code administration. “You can make about 10 phone calls and not get anywhere.”

Real estate agents who work with banks to try to sell foreclosed properties worry that they will become targets of government regulations. For instance, Atlanta city inspectors, weary of the condition of foreclosed homes, have begun ticketing listing agents for code violations.

Registration enforcement has been slow around the country. In the first two months after registration rules went into effect this spring in Lake Elsinore, Calif., fewer than 60 of the estimated 1,000 foreclosed properties had been registered.

Mortgage bankers and firms hired to maintain vacant homes also are frustrated by the disparity in rules. For the past three months, Safeguard Properties, a large field services firm that works extensively in Chicago, has conducted weekly teleconferences with 70 to 80 mortgage servicing companies to update them on new laws.

“Every single day we get reports from different localities,” said Robert Klein, chief executive of Brooklyn Heights, Ohio-based Safeguard. “I’ve got ordinances from localities that I can’t even pronounce their names. There’s no way in the world that this industry can physically deal with 5,000 different ordinances, and each of them has their different caveats in them.”

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CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.

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Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.

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CHEIF INFORMATION OFFICER

George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.

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General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.

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Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for oversight of the Control, Quality Assurance, Accounting and Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.

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AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.

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AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.

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AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.

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AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.

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AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.

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AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

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AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.