State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is the latest public official targeting “zombie properties” that have been abandoned and left to deteriorate.
Schneiderman today is expected to announce plans for legislation that would require mortgage lenders to take responsibility for thousands of abandoned properties statewide, many of them in Buffalo Niagara. His proposal would also create a statewide registry for such properties to allow municipalities to track abandoned homes and enforce local codes, and it would double the number of land banks statewide to 20.
“Every New Yorker deserves to live in a safe and secure community, where the house next door isn’t left to rot,” Schneiderman said in a written release prior to unveiling his plan before the state Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials in Albany.
One component of Schneiderman’s proposal – requiring plaintiffs in a mortgage foreclosure action “to maintain the property in good faith” – is found in a similar bill sponsored last year by State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo. That bill remains in the Senate’s Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee.
Scheiderman’s proposal would make the banks responsible for properties as soon as possible after the properties are left vacant.
The “zombie” problem arises when a homeowner falls behind in mortgage payments and the bank threatens foreclosure. Often, the homeowner moves out, leaving the property vacant. Then the bank, in many cases, fails to follow through with executing the foreclosure and the property sits in limbo, often for several years.
Over that time, lack of maintenance results in the property falling into disrepair, which not only creates headaches for neighbors and municipalities but allows it to become an attractive place for squatters or a haven for gangs, drug dealers or other criminal activity.
Three years ago, the State Legislature established land banks to help municipalities deal with such problem properties. The nonprofit organizations can acquire vacant, abandoned or foreclosed properties and then decide whether to rebuild, demolish or redesign them.
Restoring the vacant or abandoned properties through the use of land banks can “lower costs for local governments, benefit public schools, reduce crime and boost local economies,” according to a statement by Schneiderman’s office.
Nearly $13 million in grant funding has been awarded to land bank programs in Erie County and Buffalo along with Rochester, Syracuse, Chautauqua County and other areas in the state.
Schneiderman pointed out, in his proposal to increase the number of statewide land banks from 10 to 20, that some large cities – including New York City and Albany – don’t currently have land banks but do have “a critical need for the kind of community redevelopment that land banks can make possible.”