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Brookhaven: Banks must register, maintain foreclosed homes

Supervisor Ed Romaine is joined by Town Council

Supervisor Ed Romaine is joined by Town Council members and other officials at a news conference to announce an initiative to combat abandoned houses in Coram. (Sept. 26, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Brookhaven officials are cracking down on banks that have failed to maintain the hundreds of homes and buildings in town they have foreclosed upon in the past two years.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine announced at a news conference in Coram Thursday that he plans to introduce legislation at Tuesday's town board meeting to create a vacant building registry, which would provide officials with up-to-date contact information for owners of vacant properties.

Town crews boarded up more than 300 homes last year and 276 so far this year, a job whose responsibility falls on the property owners, most of which are banks, officials said.

Romaine blamed the national economy for the escalating number of vacant buildings, but said financial institutions have contributed. "Banks let the houses fall apart; did not adequately maintain them and didn't stay in touch with the local government," Romaine said, standing outside a foreclosed home on Gabon Lane.

"And what did it mean?" he asked a small group of residents at the news conference: that living next to an eyesore or abandoned home can cost from $10,000 to $20,000 in property value for the neighbors.

Vacant homes also have been a haven for drug dealing and prostitution, he said.

The legislation, which has the support of at least four of the seven town council members, is modeled after similar action taken in Boston, Chicago and Atlanta, town officials said.

Property registration would cost $100 for a home or building that has been vacant for less than a year, and failure to comply would result in a fine of $1,000 to $15,000. In addition, Brookhaven would put a lien on the homes and increase fines for maintenance work such as cutting grass and trimming trees.

"We're really glad this is happening, and we hope this stirs things up in the right direction," said Erma Glouck, president of the Coram Civic Association. "We'll be right here to support this."

Councilwoman Jane Bonner, whose district includes Coram, said banks should be held accountable because government "shouldn't be in the business of property maintenance."

Councilwoman Kathy Walsh summed up the council majority's feelings about vacant homes in the area. "We are all very frustrated."

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