June 5, 2014

Editorial: Zombie-property measure passable

North Country communities aren’t the only municipalities facing the problems created by vacant and abandoned residential properties.

In fact, the blight here pales in comparison to the big numbers in the state’s larger cities, who’ve been hard hit by the infectious problem.

Communities have few tools in their workbox to properly address the problem, which universally affects property values and increases crime rates.

The rundown buildings often referred to as zombie properties.

However, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has come up with a plan to give cities and towns critical support in the zombie-property war. Called the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, the bill — pending approval in the State Legislature — among other things would make lenders and banks responsible for delinquent properties soon after they’re abandoned, not at the end of a long foreclosure process, and require those lenders to pay for the property’s upkeep.

Mayors from across the state have endorsed the proposal, as do we, and have called on legislative leaders to put the measure to a vote.

We in the North Country know all too well the complicated process in getting abandoned-property owners to pay up or fix up. It almost always falls to the municipality, placing an unfair burden on local government and taxpayers.

Too often, when a homeowner falls behind on mortgage payments and receives a notice of arrears or a foreclosure notice, that homeowner abandons the property. It languishes and soon becomes an eyesore. Many families aren’t aware that they have the right to remain in their home until a judge orders them to vacate or declares the foreclosure complete, which can take years.

And these zombie homes decrease the property value of neighboring residences and become an enormous burden for local code-enforcement officers and emergency-service providers.

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