NY attorney general resurrects effort to go after 'zombie properties'

Apr 20, 2015

The state attorney general is hoping some new provisions to his bill to cut down on the number of foreclosure properties in upstate cities will help it become law.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman first started going after what he calls “zombie properties” last year. The clever name for homes that sit boarded up in the foreclosure process for long periods of time helped gain buzz, but the bill to put more responsibility on banks to take care of the properties they seize, didn’t go anywhere.

With the state budget complete, the AG is again calling for the bill’s passage. It also requires banks to notify homeowners in danger of being foreclosed earlier on in the process.

Schneiderman says scores of boarded up homes put a strain on city neighborhoods. "Zombies put a burden on local government not just to maintain and also to police. They are a serious problem to public safety, they are a haven to fire bugs," he said.

"These types of properties and people trespassing on these properties are responsible for numerous calls for police services," said Syracuse police chief Frank Fowler. "And if we can get these homes occupied, our neighborhoods will become a lot safer than they are now."

Fowler and other elected officials joined Schneiderman at a press conference in front of a vacant north side home.

Schneiderman added two things to the law: One would expedite the foreclosure process, which Schneiderman says is too long. And second, penalties collected from banks that don’t care for seized properties would go to helping municipalities hire more code enforcement officers.

"The reason we have so many zombies is a lot of homeowners fall behind on their payments and think they have to get out, they abandon the properties before there is a court order that requires them to leave," said the attorney general.

Bank foreclosures rose during the financial crisis of a few years ago. Syracuse and other upstate cities have since created land banks to seize vacant properties and resell them to responsible owners.

Schneiderman says he has enough support from local mayors and members of the legislature to get the bill into law this year.