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Hempstead Town seeks to cut red tape for cleaning up abandoned, blighted homes

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray mows the

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray mows the overgrown lawn of a zombie home in Bellmore as Tyrone Phifer, a Town of Hempstead worker, looks on, June 23, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Hempstead Town officials yesterday announced a plan to cut red tape and allow workers to act more quickly on cleaning up abandoned, blighted homes.

The bill, proposed by Supervisor Kate Murray and council members Anthony Santino, Gary Hudes and Erin King Sweeney, would make it easier to go onto a property for repeat code violations that require cutting grass, trimming back overgrown areas or removing debris.

Town law requires for first offenses that property owners be sent a certified letter and that a notice be posted at the property before workers can enter. That process can take more than a week, officials said. The proposal would allow workers to bypass certified mail for every subsequent offense and begin work five days after posting the second notice.

The new resolution will be presented for consideration at the Aug. 4 town board meeting.

A yearlong Newsday investigation reported in March that Long Island municipalities spent at least $3.2 million last year to clean, board up and demolish houses that had been abandoned by their owners, including "zombie houses," those in the foreclosure process that have been abandoned by the owner. Zombie homes are a particular problem to municipalities because neither the owner nor the bank or mortgage lender maintains the house.

"Having a zombie house in the neighborhood that isn't being maintained places a horrible burden on other homeowners who take pride in their community and care about local properties," Murray said yesterday at a news conference at a house with an overgrown yard on St. Marks Avenue in Bellmore.

Hempstead passes the cost of cleaning up a house to the property owner by adding the amount as a tax lien on the property. The costs are usually about $1,000 per house, Hempstead officials said.

Newsday reported earlier this month that the number of zombie homes on Long Island grew to 4,289, according to new data released by RealtyTrac, a California company that monitors real estate trends.

Hempstead Town workers cleared about 420 homes last year for a total cost of about $400,000, town spokesman Mike Deery said.

Town officials said the blighted properties are a priority, not only because they reduce property values, but also because they attract vermin and insects that present public health hazards.

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