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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Long Island zombie homes could be kept at bay

A vacant home in Wantagh on June 7,

A vacant home in Wantagh on June 7, 2016. A measure passed over the weekend in Albany establishes a statewide zombie house registry. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Could Long Island’s zombie home invasion be drawing to a close?

That depends on how well and how aggressively New York State officials enforce a new measure passed over the weekend.

The provision, passed — as so, so many are — during the wee hours of the morning in Albany, establishes a statewide zombie house registry.

So the state, for the first time, will have a comprehensive directory of what zombies are where.

The legislation also creates a toll-free number for residents to report when zombies begin showing up as eyesores in their neighborhoods.

In addition, the bill has the effect of chaining zombies to a shorter leash by expediting foreclosure proceedings in state courts. That, in turn, will give some zombies new life as properties available for sale.

Until that time, however, the bill requires banks and other entities to maintain the properties through the foreclosure process.

All of which should come as some relief to neighborhoods — and to local governments who found themselves trying to blunt the invasion on their own.

As a Newsday/News 12 Long Island investigation showed last year, towns, villages and cities in Nassau and Suffolk spent at least $2.3 million in 2014 to clean, board up or demolish derelict houses.

Many of those were zombies, caught in the foreclosure process where owners had abandoned the properties, but banks didn’t yet have legal ownership.

Zombies, according to the investigation, lurk in every town on Long Island. But in some areas, such as Brookhaven, which has an estimated 800 zombies, the problem is acute.

Until Albany’s action, several municipalities tried fighting on their own.

Last year, Brookhaven moved against the owners of an abandoned home in Mastic, leveling fines of more than $16,000 for failing to remove unregistered cars and other debris from the property.

Last month, Hempstead passed a measure requiring that banks and lenders post a $25,000 security deposit each time a home in the town falls into foreclosure — one of the highest such requirements for banks on Long Island. The town followed up last week with a similar provision covering abandoned commercial properties.

Hempstead plans, if necessary, to use the deposit money for lawn care, graffiti removal, snow removal and home maintenance to help ensure that abandoned properties do not fall into disrepair.

The new state measure, meanwhile, is modeled on legislation introduced multiple times in past years by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who had called for a state registry of zombie homes and greater accountability for banks.

The bill allows municipalities, along with the state Department of Financial Services, to move against banks and mortgage servicers that fail to maintain vacant homes. Violators can be fined up to $500 per day for each property left unmaintained.

It’s a penalty that, if expertly leveled, should keep the zombies at bay.

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