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Brookhaven will charge banks to inspect abandoned homes in hopes of improving foreclosure process

An abandoned house in Mastic shown on Friday,

An abandoned house in Mastic shown on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The Town of Brookhaven has approved a measure to charge banks a $100 inspection fee to help cover the cost of verifying that homes in the foreclosure process have been abandoned.

The move was made official at last week's board meeting in a 7-0 decision. Town Councilman Dan Panico sponsored the resolution.

"I think this will speed along the process and I'm glad to see banks coming on board and agreeing to this," Panico said before the vote. "If they take part in this program, it is our hope that we'll have families living in these homes instead of them being ransacked."

In New York State, the average home foreclosure process takes three years, but Suffolk County officials are working to speed that up.

Brookhaven officials said many of the abandoned homes in the town are considered zombie properties -- houses in the foreclosure process that are unoccupied and not maintained.

Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine has estimated the town has up to 2,000 zombie properties. California-based RealtyTrac, which monitors real estate trends, has estimated Long Island has more than 4,000 zombie homes.

"I think this is a plus-plus. Many of the banks are more than happy to pay this fee," Romaine said after the meeting. "We're trying to stop these homes from falling apart and becoming eyesores. It also helps cover our costs to a smaller extent."

Last year, the state Supreme Court in Suffolk County created the Vacant and Abandoned Part to speed up foreclosures of abandoned homes.

Under current procedures, if a municipality identifies a home as abandoned and the homeowner has not filed any legal papers or appeared in court to contest the foreclosure, the court skips the usual process of appointing a referee to calculate the amount owed to the bank.

Suffolk County District Court Administrative Judge C. Randall Hinrichs then calculates the total debt, officials said. At that point, banks contact town officials with the addresses of the vacant homes, which are then inspected to certify they are vacant, Brookhaven officials said. The new law in Brookhaven will allow the town to charge for that inspection.

A Hinrichs spokesman said last week that the inspection process will expedite the foreclosure process by allowing the banks to make a motion to immediately foreclose on the property.

Several banks, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, and other financial institutions, have agreed to pay the $100 inspection fee to Brookhaven Town, officials said.


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