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‘Zombie’ homes are targeted by lawmakers

Some are calling it a step toward making the “zombie” problem better.

New state legislation, passed in the early hours of Saturday morning, has to do with homes that have become so-called zombie properties – empty houses stuck in sometimes-lengthy foreclosure and prone to falling into disrepair.

The legislation, according to state elected officials who led and supported its passage, includes:

• Creating a state registry for zombie homes, to be managed by the state Department of Financial Services.

• Requiring banks to maintain properties that are in this process, with a daily fine of $500 for those that don’t.

• Establishing a toll-free phone number for the public or others to make complaints about zombie homes in their communities.

The measures, which were passed in both the Assembly and Senate, still need to be signed by the governor.

State Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein, D-Bronx, leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, who was one of those pressing for the new legislation, said late Saturday that he thinks this is a way to solve the problem.

“I really do,” Klein said. “I think this is something that is extremely important.”

Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, who has been a vocal legislator on the issue of zombie properties, also called it a good day in the fight against the problem.

Kearns said that banks will have to give the state’s registry their contact details so they are easily accessible. They will also have to stay on top of maintenance, he said.

“They have to be good neighbors,” Kearns said of the banks.

Kearns said he thinks the maintenance provision will be have one of the biggest effects. “Contact information – people now will have a point of contact,” he said.

In one town in the Erie County suburbs, West Seneca Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan said the changes that will help tackle the problem of zombie homes are a good step. Now, she said, “the conversation is finally on the table.”

“Everyone is faced with this,” Meegan said. “No neighborhood hasn’t been touched by zombie homes.”

Meegan credited Kearns with being one of those pushing for the changes. “He’s handed that list to the governor,” she said. “He has been that fighting voice.”

The supervisor said that in West Seneca, she is working toward licensing of property managers who work on such houses in the town. “This is the next step for our municipality,” Meegan said.

But at least one state lawmaker offered competing perspective to the measure.

Assemblyman Bill Nojay, R-Pittsford, sent out an email statement warning that the zombie-focused legislation would affect people trying to obtain mortgages.

“What the Governor and NYC-based politicians have done is to make mortgage lending more expensive and burdensome in New York,” he wrote. “Potential homeowners will find it harder to get a mortgage, and the mortgages people get will be more expensive.”