Towards the end of June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the most significant piece of legislation meant to prevent the effects neglected properties have on the communities that house them.
Cuomo signed the bill into law as part of the 2016 Legislative Session in hopes that it will contribute to the economic success of communities all over New York State, and took a tour of the state visiting affected communities at events in Syracuse, Long Island and in Manhattan. Commonly referred to as “Zombie Properties,” the practice consists of banks that foreclosure and leave suddenly vacant properties to deteriorate. These homes quickly become eyesores in the communities, affecting the property value of nearby neighbors who may consider their homes their most valuable asset.
As a part of the legislation, the state would now impose new “pre-foreclosure duties” in the form of imposing a requirement for banks to maintain these abandoned homes for as long as they remain vacant. Before, a bank or mortgagee had to maintain the property once a judgment of foreclosure and sale was obtained. This of course, contributed to the barrage of abandoned properties in areas like Southeast Queens with next to no upkeep on local properties. Under this law, the bank or mortgagee has a lawful duty to maintain and secure a residential property where there is a reasonable basis to believe it is vacant and abandoned, and could face up to $500 in civil penalties for each violation per property everyday that it goes unaddressed.
There is now an expedited foreclosure process is being introduced and can be requested in court if a property is no longer wanted by homeowners. In addition, there is 90-day limit on how long a house can remain foreclosed without being auctioned off and a 180-day limit on making sure the property is reoccupied after receiving the title.
“For many New Yorkers, homes are our single most important investment, but that investment can be undermined by the blight of neglected and abandoned properties,” Cuomo said. “For each zombie home that we cure and for each that we prevent with this legislation, we are saving entire neighborhoods from the corrosive effect of blight and neglect. I thank my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate for seeing a crisis and helping to turn it into an opportunity for people to realize the great American Dream of homeownership.”
“To help keep track of the sweeping changes, the legislation will help establish an electronic registry of vacant and abandoned properties in the state. The legislation will also promote talks between local governments and mortgagees responsible for property maintenance hopefully bringing an end to the “Zombification” of local communities.
“This law is major victory for New Yorkers living in communities throughout the state, as it will give regulators and law enforcement the tools they need to revitalize neighborhoods that have been devastated by the proliferation of zombie homes,” state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
Schneiderman has been a long time advocate for trying to stop the slew of abandoned properties in the state once calling the crisis “an enduring legacy of the housing crisis.”
Here in Queens, neighborhoods have been affected deeply by foreclosures. In fact, there is a foreclosed property for every 1766 homes according to realtor site RealtyTrac. Of all of the sections of the borough, Southeast Queens was affected the most severely after the foreclosure crisis in 2008. In fact, the top five neighborhoods where foreclosures are most common, Cambria Heights, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans, South Ozone Park and Queens Village, are all located within the prominently minority residential borders of Community Board’s 12 and 13.
The rest of the borough, outside of the Rockaways, fared better than the state average with neighborhoods like Rego Park, Forest Hills and Whitestone far exceeding the rest of the effects of foreclosure.
Southeast Queens city politicians were happy to see such progress being made to end the effects of zombie properties. Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), who has been at the forefront of housing issues in Southeast Queens, said that he was “pleased to see the Community Restoration Program finally being implemented to help working families refinance and get the support they need.”
“Southeast Queens has one of the largest populations still recovering from the housing bubble of 2008,” Miller said. “With a limited number of options to help them get back on sound financial footing, this program will allow families to work with an organization whose focus is on helping them stay in their home, instead of making a profit, keeping families in their communities.”
The councilman credited his colleagues Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), and Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan) for their efforts in the fight against abandon properties in their perspective districts.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) also commended the governer’s efforts.
“As the statistics show, Southeast Queens is ground zero for the foreclosure problem in New York State; unscrupulous realtors and lenders have been preying on the elderly and first time home-buyers for decades,” said Senator Leroy Comrie. “[This] will provide additional resources to help people avoid foreclosure and increase penalties and close loopholes forcing banks and property owners to be held accountable for these ‘zombie homes’ that have long been abandoned and are blights that are destabilizing our neighborhoods.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly