BRADENTON -- When foreclosed homes are left vacant, they become targets for prowling metal thieves. Home AC units only bring $100 worth of copper for what can cost up to $5,000 to replace. Now Manatee County is adopting a new ordinance that is expected to curtail this criminal activity by going after the buyers. They will now have to keep records, require better identification and be ready to be inspected. But will it work?
Michele Hall, General Counsel for Manatee County Sheriff's Office appeared before the BOCC Tuesday to explain just how they will attempt to curve the epidemic. It's called Ordinance 12-13, and it is changing the rules. Surrounding counties have already adopted a similar ordinance, and reportedly have experienced some success.
What law enforcement has been finding out is that if all of the counties don't have such rules, thieves just go to the counties that don't, to sell off their stuff. Recycled metal buyers and dealers already have some restrictions they have to abide by, but only under certain circumstances are they asked to produce information.
Hall says they don't want to make it tough on the businesses, but something has to be done. Dealers will have to be ready for drop-in inspections and have their paperwork in order. Sarasota officials claim they have had very few complaints coming from businesses, and have seen the theft of AC's decline a little.
Paul Steel, an air conditioner salesman and installer who spoke at the meeting said, "If any of my people were to do what these guys are doing, when taking out these ACs, we would be fined $17,000 for each one -- by the EPA."
It can cost up to $20,000 to replace what takes just minutes to steal and thieves seldom get more than a couple of hundred dollars for what they can harvest from a unit. But, it is not just AC units that are being taken, there are copper plumbing pipes being stripped from homes every day, as well as refrigeration equipment of all kinds. If it's copper, stainless steel or aluminum, it can be sold for scrap.
Considering the millions of dollars that it costs to deal with this chronic criminal activity, mortgage companies might think twice about rushing those they foreclose on out of their houses, but that's another issue.