Coalition joins forces to support legislation to revive hard-hit communities
A coalition of 16 mayors from across the state has endorsed Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act and called on legislative leaders - Senate co-Leaders Sens. Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver - to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The legislation would provide support to communities that have been plagued by vacant and abandoned properties. Among other measures, the bill would make lenders and banks responsible for delinquent properties soon after they are abandoned - not at the end of a lengthy foreclosure - and require lenders to pay for their upkeep.
In their letter, the mayors detailed the scope of the problem and its effect on communities, property values and public safety.
"The New York State Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act of 2014 will address the problem of vacant and abandoned residential properties in a comprehensive fashion," wrote the mayors in the letter to legislative leaders.
At an event in Albany this week, Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane - who currently serves as president of the New York Conference of Mayors - joined in support of the bill with Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan (NYCOM treasurer), Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy (NYCOM executive committee member), Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein - the Assembly sponsor of the bill - and her colleagues Assemblymembers John T. McDonald III, Patricia Fahy and Phil Steck.
"Zombie properties put neighborhoods across New York state, from big cities to small towns, at risk," Schneiderman said. "Abandoned homes invite crime, lower property values, and place an undue burden on local governments. Our legislation will strengthen neighborhoods, support local governments, and help New York continue to recover from the housing crisis."
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said, "Banks and lending institutions that allow their properties to fall into disrepair and become blighted are bad neighbors and will not be tolerated in Buffalo. This proposal will require banks to maintain a property if it becomes vacant after the start of a foreclosure proceeding. Buffalo is on the rebound; we can't allow these irresponsible lending institutions to hamper Buffalo's recovery. This will be an important tool to maintain our city residents' quality of life and ensure stable residential neighborhoods throughout the city. I applaud Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman for leading the charge on this important issue."
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, "Any city like Niagara Falls that has suffered substantial population loss is going to have vacant properties. Often times, banks will start a foreclosure process, but then not complete it because they don't want to have responsibility for taking care of that property. That's just not fair, because the home then becomes the city's problem. I commend Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for introducing legislation that will create a statewide registry of foreclosed properties and track those that are in the process. I'm confident that enacting legislation like this will improve the overall quality of our neighborhoods."
The A.G.'s Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act will hold banks accountable for so-called "zombie" properties. Very often, when a homeowner falls behind on mortgage payments and receives a notice of arrears or a foreclosure notice, the homeowner abandons the property. Many families are not aware they have the right to remain in their home until a judge orders them to vacate or declares the foreclosure complete, which can take years.
With no one maintaining these derelict properties, they become vulnerable to crime, decay, vandalism and arson. Furthermore, these zombie homes decrease the property value of neighboring homes and become a burden for local code enforcement and emergency service providers.
An epidemic of zombie homes has impacted communities statewide. RealtyTrac estimates more than 15,000 properties in New York to be zombie foreclosures.
The Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act seeks to make lenders responsible for delinquent properties soon after they are abandoned and to pay for their upkeep. Banks or their servicers would be required to notify delinquent homeowners of their right to stay in their homes until ordered by a judge.
The bill also would create a statewide registry for zombie properties that would be electronically accessible by, and serve as a resource for, localities facing abandoned property issues. Banks that fail to register an abandoned property will be subject to civil penalties and/or court actions.
Homeowners who are in need of assistance are encouraged to call the attorney general's statewide foreclosure hotline at 855-HOME-456 and visit www.AGHomeHelp.com to connect with organizations and agencies in their area that can provide foreclosure prevention services.