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Brookhaven sets fines against bank that owns an abandoned home in Mastic

The exterior of a home on Wills Avenue

The exterior of a home on Wills Avenue in Mastic on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The owners of an abandoned Mastic house have been fined more than $16,000 for failing to remove unregistered cars and other debris from the property, Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico said.

The Wills Avenue house has been the subject of complaints from neighbors for problems such as tires littering the lawn, Panico said. Squatters who had occupied the house were removed earlier this year, he said.

Fines for "numerous" violations at the house totaled $16,500, he said.

The house is one of as many as 2,000 abandoned properties in Brookhaven, town officials have said. Many are "zombie homes" -- vacant houses in the process of being foreclosed.

"We don't want to be in the squatter-removal business, but we do it because houses like this are like cancer," Panico said in an interview. "It has a domino effect in the community."

He said real estate records list the home's owner as San Francisco-based Wells Fargo. He said the firm "usually has been pretty good with the town in remedying these dilapidated properties."

In an email, Wells Fargo spokeswoman Jen Hibbard acknowledged that real estate records list the firm as the property's owner because the company is trustee for a trust that holds liens on the property. She said a loan servicing company, Select Portfolio Servicing Inc., of Salt Lake City, is legally responsible for maintaining the site.

Attempts to reach Select Portfolio Servicing by phone or email were unsuccessful.

"We only administer the trust -- meaning we determine the amount of payment due to each bondholder and then distribute the funds received from the mortgage servicer," Hibbard said. "Property protection and maintenance is the responsibility of the servicer, and the trustee has no legal right to interfere."

Wells Fargo is one of 13 banks that earlier this year signed an agreement to maintain zombie homes. The agreement was announced in May by state officials after a Newsday and News 12 Long Island series showed Long Island municipalities last year spent $3.2 million to tear down, board up or clean up abandoned homes.

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