Increasing Number of Local “Zombie” Houses are Potential Safety Hazards

A recent report issued by real estate data company RealtyTrac shows that there is a growing number of properties in Orange County and throughout the state of New York that have been abandoned by owners after banks and mortgage holders have initiated foreclosure proceedings on the property. Such properties, deemed “zombie” properties by Newburgh fire chief Mike Vatter, will remain vacant and neglected by title-holding banks and mortgagors for years while the foreclosure process is completed. In 2014, “zombie” foreclosures rose by 52% in the Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown region, rising to 676 total such properties in Orange County.

Statistics of Zombie Property

Foreclosures and vacant properties can result in many forms of harm to neighboring homes. A home vacated as a result of foreclosure can result in a 0.9-1.1% decrease in value per foreclosure for neighboring properties. Additionally, crime rates for neighborhoods with such vacancies can rise 6 to 7%. When properties are left vacant, they can become bases of criminal activity. Empty homes can draw vagrants and squatters. Such neglected properties may be stripped for raw materials such as copper wire, which can lead to the house falling into dangerous amounts of disrepair. An empty house may attract curious local children, putting them in danger of the conditions or persons on the property. Finally, an empty house can become a breeding ground for insects and other vermin, which then can spread into neighboring homes.

New York State obligates the plaintiff in a completed mortgage proceeding who holds title to the home in question to maintain the foreclosed-on property to a certain degree, at least ensuring that the property is not hazardous or a blight on the neighborhood. However, due to the fact that foreclosure proceedings can take years, the duty of those banks and mortgage holders to maintain properties in the midst of foreclosure actions is not always clear and often hard to enforce.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is now advocating for legislation that will hold banks more accountable for such properties prior to the finalization of foreclosures. One such piece of legislation currently being proposed would impose a fine on banks not maintaining properties, with such fines going into funding for additional code enforcement officers. In order to lessen the tax burden imposed by these vacant houses, some local governments have taken the banks listed as titleholders for blighted properties to court to obtain judgments that must be cleared prior to the sale of the property.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a blighted vacant property in your neighborhood in the Kingston, Middletown, or Poughkeepsie area, you may want to explore seeking compensation from the party responsible for that blight. Contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Basch & Keegan for a free consultation on your case. Call (845) 251-4545.

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