Brookhaven houses whose owners have fallen behind on mortgage payments will be required to be registered with the town starting next year.
The mortgage-in-default registry is Brookhaven's latest effort to deal with the proliferation of abandoned and foreclosed houses — known as zombie houses — that has plagued Long Island for the past decade. The town board voted 7-0 on Sept. 12 to establish the registry, which goes into effect on Jan. 1.
Mortgage lenders will be required to supply the town with property addresses and contact information such as phone numbers and email addresses within 10 days after owners default on a mortgage. Banks also must declare whether the house is occupied or vacant.
“The whole purpose is to protect the neighborhoods from becoming blighted properties,” Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said in an interview Thursday. “This will give us another weapon, another tool to improve the face of Brookhaven Town, because these blighted houses really are a scar that we are trying to put an end to.”
Lenders will be required to pay a fee of about $200 to register, and must re-register and pay the fee every six months as long as the property remains in arrears, Romaine said, adding the town probably will hire an outside contractor to manage the registry.
A 2015 Newsday/News12 Long Island investigation found Long Island municipalities spent at least $3.2 million in 2014 to clean, board and demolish abandoned homes. The report found Long Island at that time had more than 4,000 zombie houses.
Brookhaven's registry is modeled on one established in 2016 by the Town of Babylon. Like the Babylon law, Brookhaven's registry is intended to help town officials respond to complaints about problems such as overgrown grass, vandalism and squatters in abandoned homes.
Officials across Long Island have said they struggle to identify owners of abandoned properties because real estate records often are out of date or incomplete. Banks sometimes transfer mortgages to other entities without reporting the changes to governmental authorities.
“It’s a challenge when they change hands," Romaine said. "It’s a challenge when they put someone in charge who isn’t the bank. They have an agent or a holding company or something of that nature. It’s not the mortgagee."
Jim Hines, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, a major housing lender, said the company "will work with the Town of Brookhaven to comply with these new property registration requirements as we currently do with other municipalities across the country."
Brookhaven in 2013 established a registry of abandoned properties that now includes more than 1,000 residential and commercial parcels, Romaine said. Not all properties on that registry are in foreclosure.
“We find that a lot of people don’t register" abandoned properties, Romaine said.