For Immediate Release - July 19, 2011

AG Coakley Testifies in Support of Legislation to Address Abandoned Properties, Copper Theft

BOSTON -- Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley testified in support of Senate Bill 145, An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing, at a public hearing of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure. The legislation, filed in January and co-sponsored by AG Coakley and Senator James E. Timilty, aims to address the illegal stripping and dealing of metal in the Commonwealth through the creation of a central Secondary Metals Computer Registry and an Abandoned Property Registry, as well as through licensure, penalties, and record-keeping.

"The foreclosure crisis has yet to slow down and many properties throughout Massachusetts continue to be abandoned and left vacant, allowing them to become havens for criminal activity such as copper stripping and theft," said AG Coakley. "Our legislation will help municipalities and law enforcement locate property owners or criminal offenders involved in stealing metal from abandoned properties or other structures."

"I am proud to be partnering with Attorney General Coakley and Senate President Murray on this important legislation that affects so many different advocacy groups and industries here in the Commonwealth," said Senator Jim Timilty (D-Walpole). "My office has heard from historical societies, veterans groups, utility companies, sculpture artists, police chiefs, the brewers guild, and many others who support S145. 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."

An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing 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. For violations of licensing requirements, the bill establishes penalties of $2,500 and up to two-and-half years in jail for the first offense, $5,000 and up to two-and-half years for the second offense, and up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison for the third offense, as well as permanent license revocation.

In the last few years, AG 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 public safety threat. They are susceptible to building code violations, dilapidation, and criminal activity such as copper stripping and theft, drug dealing, and arson. An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing 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.

Based on the experience of AG 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.