State bill seeks to crack down on “zombie properties”

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NYACK – Standing close to the far western end of Main Street in Nyack is the John Green House. A historic brick home once owned by one of the village’s first residents, it now stands boarded up and overgrown with weeds.

The building is one of several “zombie properties” in Nyack, houses vacated by their former tenants during foreclosure proceedings and neglected by the lenders who now own them. Such properties have troubled towns and villages across the U.S., but in New York, new penalties might soon curb their proliferation.

State Sen. David Carlucci announced on Monday that the State Senate will soon consider the passage of the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, a bill which will track abandoned properties and impose a new set of responsibilities on neglectful property owners.

“Unfortunately, for many people, this has just become the status quo, but here in Nyack we have said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Carlucci announced to a crowd of Nyack residents outside the John Green House on Monday. “We’ve gotta break through the status quo to end this plague on our community.”

Home abandonment, which spiked during the recession, frequently follows a common narrative. Once a home goes into foreclosure, residents often mistakenly believe they must leave during foreclosure proceedings.

However, once the home is abandoned, banks will frequently avoid paying for upkeep. The properties often fall into disrepair, pose safety concerns and attract criminal activity. Consequently, the abandoned buildings often bring down property values in the adjacent area.

To address these issues, the bill would create a state registry of abandoned properties, force lenders to maintain the properties after abandonment and inform tenants they have a right to remain during the foreclosure process.

“[Tenants] don’t have to move out until the bank has finally foreclosed on their property,” Carlucci said. “That’s something that needs to be stipulated so that people know their rights as a homeowner and as a tenant as well.”

There are about 15,000 such properties in New York State. Nyack initially had 17, but citizen activists working with the Village managed to find some of the homeowners and save at least a few properties. The current tally in Nyack stands at 12 homes.

“Rather than complaining about it, they continue to try to solve it,” Nyack Mayor Jen White said.

Nyack residents often work toward the remediation and sale of the properties at fair market value and attempt to avoid a state seizure. Local writer and property activist Julie Agoos explained the grassroots support often functions as a safety net for property owners, maintaining the homes and preserving their value as much as possible.

“In our neighborhood, all of us feel very committed to our neighbors, some of whom have had to abandon their houses through exigencies out of their own control,” Agoos said.

In the case of the John Green House, the Village attempted to file a lawsuit against the bank which owned the property, but failed. The property is subject to limited upkeep, but remains boarded up and overgrown in an otherwise well-kept neighborhood.

The bill was drafted by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and supported by the New York State Conference of Mayors, According to Carlucci, it will likely reach the Senate this week.