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Opinion

Editorial: 'Zombie homes' bill could help struggling neighborhoods keep up appearances

Making sure that banks maintain homes in foreclosure

Making sure that banks maintain homes in foreclosure would help communities infested with zombie homes keep up appearances, one key to staying alive in the housing market. Credit: iStock

Zombies are a hot property in pop culture these days, but "zombie homes" are a lot less desirable in neighborhoods where they can devour property values.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman wants to make sure banks foreclosing on zombie homes -- properties abandoned by owners behind on their payments before the foreclosure process is complete -- are held responsible for maintaining the homes. The State Legislature should give his bill a sympathetic look. Somebody should prevent vacant homes from falling into disrepair, becoming vulnerable to vandalism and arson, and spreading contagion around their neighborhoods. Banks seizing properties are a more realistic target to take on this responsibility than homeowners who are long gone.

The areas hit hardest are places such as Newburgh and Poughkeepsie, cursed with both high foreclosure rates and low property values. Fueled by Westbury, Freeport and Hempstead Village, one in 1,019 homes in Nassau is in foreclosure, the third-highest rate among New York counties according to RealtyTrac, a company that tracks troubled properties nationwide. Suffolk's 1-in-2,042 rate is worse than the state average of one in 2,400 homes.

Foreclosing on a home in New York takes an average of 1,029 days, longer than in any other state, according to RealtyTrac. Schneiderman says some lenders intentionally slow the foreclosure process to avoid responsibility for maintaining properties that are difficult to sell.

His bill would make lenders responsible for upkeep when a home in foreclosure is abandoned rather than after a foreclosure judgment is entered. It would create a database of zombie homes, and also require mortgage holders to notify homeowners who are three months in arrears that they have the right to stay in their homes until a court orders them out.

All of that would help communities infested with zombie homes keep up appearances, one key to staying alive in the housing market.

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