Proposal would make banks responsible for the upkeep of ‘zombie’ houses - The Buffalo News

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Proposal would make banks responsible for the upkeep of ‘zombie’ houses

Just like those scary creatures in AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the abandoned homes often referred to as “zombie” houses just won’t go away.

Houses turn into “zombies” when a homeowner falls behind on the mortgage and the bank threatens to foreclose. If the homeowner moves out, the property becomes vacant, with no one responsible for its upkeep. In many cases the bank fails to follow through with the foreclosure action and the property may sit in limbo for several years.

Last year, Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns tried to deal with the problem when he proposed legislation requiring banks to notify municipalities when foreclosure proceedings have started and post contact numbers for banks or property managers on the houses.

Around the same time, State Sen. Tim Kennedy sponsored a bill that would require banks to maintain vacant properties once they are in foreclosure.

Both proposals remain in committee, and “zombie” houses keep multiplying. New York State has roughly 15,000 of them and, at three years, leads the nation in the time required to foreclose on a home.

Now New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is proposing a bigger weapon designed to stop the spread of “zombie” houses. He recently announced plans for legislation that would require mortgage lenders to take responsibility, finally, for thousands of abandoned properties statewide. Many are right here in the Buffalo Niagara region.

The attorney general plans on getting accountability by creating a statewide registry that would allow municipalities to track abandoned homes and enforce local codes.

The penalty for banks that fail to register an abandoned house would add up quickly, possibly $1,000 a day for each property that is not in compliance. Homeowners would also be notified of their right to remain in a property until a judge has formally signed off on the foreclosure.

The attorney general also wants to double the number of land banks statewide to 20. These state-funded nonprofit organizations can acquire vacant, abandoned or foreclosed properties and then decide whether to rebuild, demolish or redesign them. Buffalo has such a land bank, but Schneiderman noted that some large cities, including New York City and Albany, do not.

Land banks are an essential element of the fight. They offer a way to clean out the derelict houses that go unnoticed until they become drug houses or just crumbling, overgrown eyesores. It happens everywhere – here in Buffalo and Western New York, downstate and anywhere else houses are abandoned.

“Every New Yorker deserves to live in a safe and secure community, where the house next door isn’t left to rot,” Schneiderman said. Here’s hoping his proposed legislation stops the zombies.

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