Law planned for upkeep of foreclosed homes

This is a foreclosed home owned by Wells

This is a foreclosed home owned by Wells Fargo. A new law Massapequa Park officials are floating will hold banks and homeowners accountable for their properties. (June 1, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

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On Steven Epstein's Massapequa Park block, a house abandoned years ago by its human occupants is now home to a rotating roster of raccoons, opossums and feral cats, he said.

"The whole place is in total disrepair," Epstein, 52, said. "The grass has gotten two or three feet high at times."

That is, until village employees descended on the Harbor Lane property two weeks ago to mow the lawn and otherwise clean up -- a step Mayor James Altadonna Jr. seeks to avoid with a proposed law requiring homeowners to maintain their properties.

Under the proposal aimed at banks that let foreclosed homes languish, the village would contact an owner about an ill-maintained property. If no response is received within 48 hours, the village would clean the lot itself and bill $500 for the labor. As a last resort, it would issue a summons. Exemptions would be considered for seniors or others who can demonstrate hardship.

A public hearing on the proposed law is set for June 11.

"The most egregious and the most arrogant throughout the process have been the banks," Altadonna said. "What we are proposing in this law is something that has teeth."

Poorly kept homes, he said, "create a hardship for residents around the properties. It is not good for property values."

Pools, for example, can become health hazards if left to collect stagnant water and safety hazards for youths who play around them, Altadonna said.

Epstein said the pool at the Harbor Lane home, which the village said is Bank of America's responsibility, drew insects.

The bank in a statement Monday said: "This property has not completed foreclosure yet, however when we become aware that a property in the foreclosure process has been vacated and is not being kept up, Bank of America will take reasonable measures to have the property maintained, even though we don't own it."

Another home the village has cleaned up is on Walker Street and is the responsibility of Wells Fargo, village officials said.

"We make every effort to ensure that the properties are maintained in accordance with local standards," the bank said Monday in a statement. "The property . . . has not been foreclosed on and had been occupied until four days ago. In these cases, we have limited ability to maintain occupied properties given consumer protection laws."

The village mowed the front lawn, and the bank said it is continuing the upkeep.

"Everyone tries to keep their homes nice, all you need is one home like that to ruin it," said Marie Campanile, 69, who lives down the street.

She added of the proposed law, "It's a very good idea, but only if they can get the banks to pay up."

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