Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Goldfeder leading fight against abandoned "Zombie" properties

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder

Following Goldfeder Efforts, Financial Institutions Agree to Groundbreaking Plan to Combat Abandoned Zombie Properties

In major announcement, leading banks, mortgage companies and credit unions representing 70 percent of New York market agree to follow new industry best practices to combat abandoned properties blighting communities, affecting families' health and property values

Move follows two-year effort by Goldfeder to fight increase in zombie properties in Sandy-devastated communities throughout southern Queens and Rockaway; Wells Fargo, Bank of America and CitiMortgage agree to new measures, were targets of 2013 Goldfeder letter campaign banks to address issues post-Sandy

Howard Beach, Queens - Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D – Howard Beach) today announced a groundbreaking agreement by major financial institutions to adopt new industry best practices to combat the rise of abandoned "zombie properties" affecting Sandy-devastated communities across southern Queens and Rockaway. In the unprecedented move, eleven banks, mortgage companies and credit unions representing nearly 70 percent of the New York market agree to regular inspection of delinquent properties and compliance with a new Goldfeder-proposed abandoned properties registry to be developed by the State Department of Financial Services. 

"Zombie properties not only have the potential to affect our families' health and drive down property values, they also slow our long-term recovery from the devastation caused by Sandy. I applaud banks and lenders for stepping forward as true community partners and agreeing to take the necessary steps to fight the growth of zombie properties and improve quality of life for thousands in southern Queens and Rockaway," said Assemblyman Goldfeder. 

Under the new set of best practices, participating financial institutions agree to conduct exterior inspections of properties within 60 days of delinquency to assess possible vacancy or abandonment, and then every 30 days after that. In cases where properties are deemed vacant or abandoned, the institutions will regularly take steps to secure the property and maintain safety for the surrounding community, including the replacing or boarding up of windows and changing locks. In addition, the banks and lenders will monitor properties to ensure compliance with applicable New York maintenance codes requiring minimum sanitary conditions and structural safety.

The plan also calls for the creation of a new state abandoned properties registry to be overseen by the state Department of Financial Services, a move Goldfeder previously proposed for the city. These new best practices are applicable to first-lien mortgages on residential properties, and would be subject to existing laws, and insurer and investor guidelines. News of the agreement comes as welcome relief for many local families living near abandoned properties, which have increased in numbers following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.  

“Having this ramshackle house next-door reflects on us neighbors and the overall character of the community. We spend so much time and money to maintain our yards and keep our homes in good condition and it’s disturbing to have this abandoned property on our block,” said Howard Beach resident Susan Finnegan, who reached out the Assemblyman’s office with concerns about an abandoned property on her block.

“Since Sandy, I’ve regularly called the banks and the local police precinct to have my neighbor’s abandoned property secured. I’d look out the window at two in the morning and the porch door in the back of the house would be wide open. The backyard also has an unsecured pool. I have two nine-year-olds and I’m afraid to let them outside in case they fall in. I’m hopeful that this new agreement will help improve the problem,” said Tricia Balsamello of Rockaway Park.

In 2013, Assemblyman Goldfeder sent letters to major banks with properties in the community, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, CitiMortgage, and Ocean Loan Servicing, to demand they take steps to improve abandoned properties in their possession. A year later, responding to widespread concerns over unsanitary conditions and numerous high-profile instances of squatting and illegal activities in local zombie properties, Goldfeder unveiled his three-point plan to fight the growing crisis. This included his sponsoring the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act of 2014 to increase enforcement by the state and place requirements on banks to maintain their abandoned properties; as well as an endorsement of a City Council plan to combat mold, pests and other health hazards stemming from zombie properties, and the creation of a city-wide abandoned property registry. Many of Goldfeder's proposals will now fall under the terms of the new agreement. 

"Every abandoned home in our community is a reminder to families of the traumas we faced in Sandy. With these new best practices in place, we can finally work towards ridding our neighborhoods of this blight and move forward in our long-term recovery," concluded Goldfeder

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