State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a press conference...

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a press conference in an effort to promote legislation combating zombie houses at the Nassau County Legislature Building on Thursday, May 7, 2015. Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The state's top lawyer Thursday said legislation to shift more responsibility for cleaning up blighted properties onto banks would help Long Island combat its plague of zombie houses.

Surrounded by more than a dozen elected officials on the steps of the Nassau County legislative building in Mineola, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said bills introduced last month in the Assembly and State Senate had "tremendous support," including bipartisan backing from lawmakers throughout the state. The bills would require banks and lenders to maintain foreclosed houses when they become vacant, rather than waiting until the end of the foreclosure process.

"This legislation is a no-brainer. I don't think zombies have brains," said Schneiderman, a Democrat, adding that the number of vacant, foreclosed homes -- known as zombie houses -- spiked by 62 percent last year on Long Island, to 4,048, the highest in the state. "There's no place in the state that needs this more."

A yearlong Newsday investigation found that Long Island municipalities spent at least $3.2 million last year to maintain abandoned homes, many of them in foreclosure. Officials have said vacant houses often are stripped of copper pipes or become inhabited by squatters or drug dealers.

Vacant houses also cause steep drops in property values for neighboring homes, real industry experts have said.

"An abandoned house plagues the neighborhood," said Republican Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who appeared with Schneiderman to support the bills. Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, a Republican contender for Nassau district attorney, also appeared at the news conference.

"If we don't protect those who don't have power, then we make things much, much worse," Lavine said.

The bills also would establish a statewide registry of abandoned houses, and would distribute fines paid by lending institutions that violate the law to local governments. The fines would help municipalities pay for code enforcement, Schneiderman has said.

The bills face opposition from real estate and banking industry leaders, who blame vacant houses on New York's foreclosure process, among the longest in the nation. Schneiderman said his legislation would expedite foreclosures.

Lawmakers have said they expect the Assembly bill to pass. The companion bill's State Senate prospects are unclear.

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