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Banks, property managers must be held accountable

Acting responsibly as a neighbor and citizen is essential to the operation of a free society. When homes, residences, stores and other buildings become vacant, their maintenance and upkeep is vital to sustaining the property values of entire communities.

So it is surprising that in this economic downturn, despite large profits for the financial sector, banks, mortgagors and lenders are not meeting this fundamental responsibility. Several of these institutions are presiding over the degradation and depreciation of vacant structures throughout the United States. The property portfolios of vacant structures for many of these institutions, at least in part, are becoming run down with the effects spilling over to the hardworking neighbors in many hometowns and districts.

The 145th Assembly District is confronted with this problem daily. Constituents who are alarmed repeatedly call about vacant buildings and homes that are not maintained for months at a time, if at all. The main complaint is that there is no one to call, contact or hold responsible. Attempts to contact banks holding the mortgage, after a foreclosure proceeding is commenced, are met with recordings and in the rare instance when a person is reached, no contact information of a responsible party is divulged.

I have been told on several occasions that giving out this information would create privacy breaches. My staff has also been told that the information could not be divulged for fear of harassing phone calls made to individuals. These reasons seem specious because a neighbor living in a structure whose acts or omissions violate local building codes would not enjoy privacy protection or avoid responsibility for requests made by neighbors to do basic upkeep on the premises. The runaround is disconcerting and frustrating for many.

In an economic environment of dwindling net worth, degradation of our neighborhoods is an issue of national economic importance. In 2011, the states or policy laboratories of this country had no shortage of proposed legislative experiments to combat this issue. Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island have passed bills in one or both houses to address this lack of vacant property maintenance, accountability and responsibility. A federal response is hoped for.

For the protection of our neighborhoods and communities, I have asked that Assembly Bill 10524 and Senate Bill 7620, which would make it mandatory for lending institutions to provide contact information of responsible parties regarding vacant structures, be speedily made law in New York. It is my fervent hope that the people of New York contact their local representatives and join in this endeavor, which concerns us all.

Michael P. Kearns represents the 145th State Assembly District.