Senator Klein Fights Back Against ‘Nightmare Neighbors’

Senator Klein Fights Back Against ‘Nightmare Neighbors’

Zombie and bank-owned, abandoned properties proliferating throughout Mount Vernon have met their match in Senator Jeff Klein as he announced his “Nightmare Neighbor Task Force,” along with new legislation to address the issue plaguing this Westchester community. Joined by Senator Jamaal Bailey and Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas, Senator Klein also released his latest report, Nightmare Neighbors: How Badly Maintained Homes Damage Neighborhoods, that includes an in-depth analysis of how homes that are owned by banks, abandoned by families or stuck in the foreclosure process are taking their toll on the surrounding area.

As these zombie and abandoned homes, vestiges of the foreclosure crisis that rocked the world economy, remain in a state of disrepair, they also create blight in communities, attract criminal activity and drag down property values of neighboring homes.

Last year, Senator Klein led the charge to take on banks and hold them accountable for the effects zombie and abandoned properties are having on communities throughout the state with comprehensive legislation that gained widespread support. However, the new report found numerous properties that appeared abandoned, but weren’t identified as zombie houses through the Department of Financial Services (DFS) registry or through the Office of the Assessor for the City of Mount Vernon.

The investigation uncovered 21 bank-owned properties in Mount Vernon that impacted 764 surrounding homes for a total depreciation value of $3.5 million. The ten zombie properties identified affected 396 nearby homes, causing a combined $1.7 million in depreciation. Lastly, the six abandoned properties accounted for a total loss of $1.04 million.

Senators Klein and Bailey unveiled the new taskforce in a joint effort to better keep track of any vacant properties, allowing constituents to call into either office to report them. Both offices will identify the owner, remind them of the duty to maintain under New York State law and work to clean up each property. If that property is not cleaned up, the offices will work with the Mayor of Mount Vernon and his administration to appropriately fine those responsible for maintenance, remediate the property and seek reimbursements.

Under existing New York State Law, banks are required to register pre-foreclosed zombie properties into the DFS registry. The officials are proposing new legislation to expand the tracking tool to include all post-foreclosure bank-owned properties into the DFS registry, enabling local governments to track all bank-owned properties, both pre and post-foreclosure. A separate proposal would expand the existing $500 fine banks incur from local municipalities or DFS when they fail to maintain zombie properties. Under the new proposal, even post-foreclosure bank-owned properties could be penalized $500 per day for failure to maintain. The banks would also be fined for failing to register their post-foreclosed properties.

Senator Klein is also advocating for $5 million dollars for DFS in the upcoming state budget. That would enable localities to hire code enforcement officers to track vacant and abandoned properties and monitor the bank’s compliance with 2009 and 2016 reforms. The money could also be used to hire attorneys to bring enforcement actions and fines against the banks for lack of compliance.

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