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Babylon Village zombie house registry nets $125G in fees, officials say

A Babylon "zombie house" seen on May 31.

A Babylon "zombie house" seen on May 31. Credit: Johnny Milano

In the year and a half since Babylon Village created a zombie house registry, it has netted more than $125,000 in fees and unburdened the small staff managing abandoned properties, officials said.

But some houses still slip through the cracks, requiring the village to use its resources to maintain the unsafe eyesores.

The registry started collecting listings of abandoned properties and assessing $500 fees in March 2018, Village Treasurer Andrew Reichel said. The list now includes 82 properties, said Debbie Longo, a village Building Department employee who monitors the registry. 

Melbourne, Florida-based ProChamps operates the registry, on which lenders must register houses with defaulted mortgages and supply names and contact information for banks’ property managers. Zombie houses are those in the foreclosure process, which, in New York State, can last for years. 

Lenders also must conduct monthly inspections, renew their registration every six months and pay the $500 fee, revenue that’s shared by the company and the village.

Some houses on the registry are vacant, some are occupied.

“It could be your neighbor, it could be the house that’s falling apart,” Longo said.

To determine which are actually zombie houses, Longo sends a code enforcement officer to check the property. She estimates 15 houses in the village meet the criteria now, a number that has been as high as 30.

Several towns on Long Island have registries, including Babylon, Brookhaven, Hempstead, Oyster Bay and Riverhead and the City of Long Beach. North Hempstead is considering creating a registry.

Many of the municipalities use ProChamps, which works to locate the bank or lender responsible for a property's maintenance.

“It’s been a positive for my office because it was becoming very cumbersome,” Longo said of the company's work.

But in some cases, houses have extensive title issues or other legal complications, and banks don't take responsibility for the properties.

One such case is a vacant house on Deerfield Court. Neighbors said they have been asking officials to step in, which they did  on Tuesday when the village board voted to designate the property as a public nuisance. The village will issue a notice to the owner or bank to clean up the property, or village employees will do so and add the costs to the property's tax bill.

“The village has made extensive efforts to cooperatively resolve property maintenance issues at this premises unsuccessfully, with not only the homeowner but also the bank,” Village Attorney Gerard Glass said. “The result is we were left with no alternative but to intervene.”

Glass and Longo said officials from Wells Fargo have told village officials a legal issue exists with the property that’s delaying the bank’s usual process. Village officials have asked Wells Fargo for more details.

“We are currently researching the matter," Wells Fargo spokesman Jim Hines said.

Neighbor Jeanne Tempera told officials at a recent meeting that a tenant left the house a few weeks ago and she fears squatters may settle in. She said she has contacted Wells Fargo and wants to see the house cleaned up. 

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