State lawmakers should give serious consideration to legislation proposed by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to help municipalities deal with abandoned properties.
"Zombie properties," as they are called, are a byproduct of lengthy foreclosure timelines. Sometimes when homeowners fall too far behind on their mortgages, they simply abandon the homes and let banks foreclose on the mortgages. The home is then in limbo: The property owner abandons it, and the bank sometimes fails to perform basic maintenance. The results often are the eyesores we often drive or walk past.
According to RealtyTrac, a company that tracks various housing trends, the incidences of these zombie properties have decreased nationally since the foreclosure crisis of 2007, but still account for one in five foreclosures. New York state is on the wrong side of the trend. RealtyTrac reports zombie foreclosures increasing 38 percent in New York state, with 12,666 in the second quarter of 2014.
Schneiderman's bill would require lenders to perform basic maintenance throughout the foreclosure process. It would also create a statewide registry of abandoned properties and share that information with local officials, create a toll-free hotline to report suspected vacant properties and require homeowners be notified they are legally entitled to stay in their homes until ordered by a court to leave.
These things seem fair to property owners and good for the community. The measure certainly would help in places such as Gloversville, which has vacant properties and noticeable blight. The state Legislature should pass the bill.
Zombie properties can cost good property owners in ways other than being sore on the eyes. It can be harder to discern the ownership status of a zombie property, making it difficult for municipal officials to have houses brought into code compliance or to find the legal owner if a home needs to be demolished. Taxpayers sometimes end up paying the cost of a demolition because a property owner simply can't be found.