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NY combats zombie houses with laws taking effect Sunday

The zombie home at 7 Prospect St. in

The zombie home at 7 Prospect St. in Central Islip is demolished on Oct. 17, 2016. Credit: Barry Sloan

ALBANY — New Yorkers will see a crackdown on zombie houses — abandoned homes in foreclosure that are a source of blight on Long Island and in cities statewide — under new state legislation that takes effect Sunday.

The measures include a “Consumer Bill of Rights” to better inform consumers about how to avoid foreclosures and more rights for homeowners in foreclosure.

The legislation also requires banks to care for houses after foreclosure to preserve their value for quicker resale.

And the state will have to maintain a registry of vacant or abandoned zombie houses.

“From the Bronx to Buffalo, zombie properties impact every corner of our state, resulting in blight and diminished property values for surrounding homeowners,” said state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), sponsor of many of the zombie home bills and leader of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference.

“Broken windows, open doors and falling facades will no longer mar our communities, and if banks fail to comply, our law empowers the Department of Financial Services to take court action, issue violations and fines,” Klein said.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said the measure, which required months of negotiations, will protect New Yorkers’ property values.

“Working together, we have passed a responsible measure to address the abandoned and decaying homes in many of our communities,” he said.

The laws require a bank that is foreclosing on a property to move to auction within 90 days of receiving a court judgment to take ownership. The bank must make sure the property is reoccupied within 180 days of taking ownership.

The legislation creates a Community Restoration Fund to help homeowners facing foreclosure. The fund will purchase defaulted mortgages and modify the conditions to help homeowners keep their residences.

Banks will face a $500 penalty per violation for each day they fail to maintain a vacant property. An electronic registry created by the law will allow local governments to monitor banks’ performance under the new requirements.

In addition, the state budget adopted in April provides $100 million to help people purchase and renovate zombie residences. The fund will also help banks repair houses faster to get them back on the market and occupied.

“This legislation brings all the stakeholders into the process — local governments, the banks and the public — to identify and eliminate blighted homes and prevent foreclosed properties from becoming blighted in the first place,” said Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville)

The zombie house legislation is among a variety of state measures that take effect Sunday. They include:

  • A new requirement for motorists to “move over” to provide room for volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance crews showing blue or green signal lights to attend to roadside emergencies. The law expands on the Move-Over Law requiring drivers to move into a lane farther away from police and firefighters in action.
  • Tougher regulations for tinted windows in automobiles. Any vehicle with window tinting that blocks out more than 30 percent of light — as determined by police equipment — won’t pass its annual inspection.
  • A boost in the minimum wage to $10 an hour in Nassau and Suffolk counties and in Westchester, $11 in New York City ($10.50 for small businesses), and $9.70 in the rest of the state. Those increases are from $9 an hour in 2016.
  • A discount on homeowner insurance if residential policy holders complete a course in natural disaster preparedness, home safety and loss prevention. Insurance agents will provide ways to apply.
  • A tax credit will be offered to brewers of beer in New York City that produce 60 million gallons or less each year. The measure, like a similar state credit, seeks to increase the beer brewing industry to boost jobs and tourism under a program created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

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