Programs target New York’s ‘zombie homes’

A unmaintained home at 1932 Wallace Avenue is one of two zombie homes on the block. New legislation is aimed at forcing banks to maintain properties they own.
Community News Group / Arthur Cusano

While much of the nation is obsessed with creepy clowns this Halloween season, some Bronx residents are still living with a more pressing fear: zombie homes.

Many parts of the city have at least one so-called zombie home – homes that sit vacant after the owner defaults on a mortgage or files for bankruptcy.

They are often acquired by banks after a homeowner defaults on the mortgage.

But once abandoned by the owner, the homes can become serious eyesores for neighbors as the buildings fall into serious disrepair and lawns grow unfettered.

“Banks know that if they foreclose on the mortgage they’re responsible for maintenance,” said Senator Jeff Klein, who has railed against the problem in recent years.. “No one really own them, and that’s a real problem.”

The zombie home epidemic does seem to be receding. Klein was able to get legislation signed by Gov. Cuomo in June that requires banks to maintain properties they own or face a $500 fine every day they are in violation.

“That’s a major victory,” Klein said. “I don’t know of any other state that does that”

Klein cited a Logan Avenue property that had become a constant source of complaints from neighbors, until the legislation was passed.

The bank that owned it promptly cleaned it up and agreed to return periodically, he said.

Zombie homes can be reported at the NYS Department of Financial Services website, www.dfs.ny.gov.

There may be some more help on the horizon.

New York City will receive $350,000 from the state attorney general’s office as part of the Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative, funded from $3.32 billion settlement with Morgan Stanley reached earlier this year.

The program, announced last week, is aimed at helping the city and 75 other municipalities track the number of abandoned properties and better maintain them by providing better code enforcement.

On Wallace Avenue in Morris Park, two abandoned homes sit on the 1900 block, just a few houses apart from one another.

Resident Holly Graham said the home at 1910 Wallace Avenue has been an eyesore for years, and only got worse after a new owner took it over.

“It looks horrible,” Graham said. “Someone started fixing it up, but now it just looks like it’s been abandoned. Now it’s boarded up and has a tree growing out of it.”

The city building department issued a stop work order on the property on June 2 2015.

However, a new work permit was issued Monday, October 17 for interior renovations, said building department spokesman Andrew Rudansky.

A new mortgage taken on by Bayport Funding LLC and Webster Business Credit Corporation on December 28, 2015 is listed on the Department of Finance website.

A resident of the home next door who declined to give her name said she and her husband had given up that the building would ever be resuscitated and said feral cats had overtaken the home. Feral stray cats could be seen entering and leaving the property.

Just down the block is 1932 Wallace, a three-story multi-family home that has also been boarded up and closed off. The home is covered in graffitti and weed.

Next door neighbor Reynaldo Valentin said that a bank took the home when the owner couldn’t afford to make payments.

Reach Reporter Arthur Cusano at (718) 260-4591. E-mail him at acusano@cnglocal.com.

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