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Two NYS Senators Aim To Address Foreclosed, Zombie Homes

Two New York state senators came together in Putnam County Monday to advocate for legislation to better hold banks accountable for both foreclosed homes and zombie properties.

Republican Senator Terrence Murphy stood in front of a foreclosed home in Carmel in Putnam County.

“This is completely unacceptable. If I’m a neighbor, anyone living in this neighborhood, this is completely unacceptable broken windows, boarded window, boarded windows here, shingles falling off. I can only imagine what’s going on inside.”

Mary Schukin lives on the same road as the foreclosed home, and walks by it with her dog Bella every day.

“The way it is now, it is in such bad shape, at least from the outside, I don’t know what the inside looks like, but from the outside, they should knock it down, if they can’t get…,” says Schukin. “But nobody’s going to buy that. Anybody that comes down here to look at that, do you think they’re going to buy it? Not unless they could give it away to them free.”

Senator Murphy represents the 40th District, which includes portions of Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester Counties. In his district alone, there are 49 bank-owned and 91 zombie, or abandoned, properties, according to a report entitled “The Next Great American Bank Robbery,” from Murphy and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, who appeared with Murphy in front of the Lakeview Road house.

“This property is owned by Citibank. They foreclosed on the property. And now, under a law that I put into effect in 2009, it’s their duty to maintain it. They have to maintain it as every other homeowner would,” says Klein. “If a homeowner left a property in this condition, they would be fined by their local buildings department."

A Citigroup spokesman, in an emailed statement says, "We understand that preservation of properties in foreclosure is a matter of serious concern to communities. Citi has worked with the New York State Department of Financial Services on Best Practices for vacant and abandoned properties which help promote property preservation and neighborhood stability.  We are currently looking into matters concerning this specific property, which was occupied until mid-year 2014."

The 2009 law was a Mortgage Foreclosure bill that, in part, mandated that foreclosed properties be maintained to preserve neighboring property values. The report is the third in a statewide series launched in December by the IDC highlighting the problems of such blighted properties. Klein continued his call for giving more teeth to the 2009 law, saying a twofold approach is needed.

“I want the state Department of Financial Services to have a registry where individuals can call in, identify these properties and, in turn, allow towns and villages the opportunity to then force the banks to maintain those properties. If it’s under the auspices of the Division of Financial Services, I think we’re able to do that,” Klein says. “The next issue, zombie properties, I want to make sure that banks are held accountable for those properties that they actually didn’t foreclose on yet.”

He says the registry would make it easier for the local buildings departments to make the necessary repairs and send banks the bills. Kenneth Schmitt is Carmel supervisor. He says a stronger state law should help with the foreclosed and zombie properties that have been a problem in the town for years. Schmitt says the town does not have enough leverage to force the banks to maintain foreclosed properties.

“But what we do have is a property compliance law which is they’re required to maintain their properties just like any other homeowner is required to maintain their property,” says Schmitt. “And we’ve sent these banks that own these foreclosed properties notices of violation and we just don’t hear back from them. It’s crickets when we try to get a response out of them.”

Here’s Murphy.

“We have to do something,” says Murphy. “And if we can start pounding the drum and making sure that we can put some skin in the game for the banks, so be it. That’s the idea.”

Murphy and Klein say more teeth also means imposing fines on banks for each day they fail to maintain one of their properties.   

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