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Continuing wave of ‘zombie homes’ necessitates action by State Legislature

They stand as stark reminders of neglect. Eyesores. Rodent magnets. Shelters for drug dealers and users.

These vacant structures are known as “zombie homes” and could be featured in their own television series, except this is real life. These are properties in which the owner has walked away from the mortgage but the mortgage holder fails to complete the foreclosure process and take possession of the home. The homes deteriorate because no one takes responsibility for upkeep.

There are many neighborhoods across New York State and in the Buffalo Niagara region making strong efforts to blossom, to return from the dead. Some manage to do well and start to become known as transitioning areas that begin to attract millennials, along with professionals and empty nesters.

But it only takes one or two abandoned houses to stop progress, or to make sure it never starts.

Much of the problem could be prevented if New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman could get the necessary support for his renewed Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act.

Nicknamed the zombie homes bill, it failed to pass last year and has been sent to committee this year.

In one sign of progress on the issue, 11 major mortgage lenders, including M&T Bank Corp., have agreed to maintain their vacant properties in the state that are subjects of delinquent loans.

While these lenders are being good corporate citizens, they represent less than 70 percent of the state’s mortgage business.

That means passing Schneiderman’s legislation this year is as important as ever.

The bill would require banks foreclosing on houses because of unpaid mortgages to maintain the structures or pay a penalty of $1,000 a day to the host municipality. The Attorney General’s Office would maintain a database of foreclosed properties, making information more readily accessible.

There’s much to recommend this piece of legislation, but it continues to fall flat with Albany Republicans. That’s unfortunate. Instead of rejecting the notion, they should listen to Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, who recently called the zombie homes law a “no-brainer.”

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster recently pointed to otherwise up-and-coming neighborhoods such as College Avenue, where some neighbors have taken it upon themselves to mow the lawn at a long-abandoned home in the DeVeaux section of the Falls.

Neighbors should not have to put up with problem properties when it is in the power of the Legislature to put regulations in place that would help bring them back to life.