Town Gets Some Relief in Battle Against 'Zombie' Homes

Zombie homes-abandoned houses, usually in foreclosure-can be a blight on neighborhoods and lower property values. Credits: Photo Courtesy of Agonistica

MAHOPAC, N.Y.— The town of Carmel has received a $100,000 grant from a state agency to help it cope with distressed and abandoned properties that are in foreclosure, sometimes referred to as “zombie homes.”

The money comes from the Local Initiative Support Coalition (LISC) and became available as the result of a February 2016 settlement between the state attorney general’s office and Morgan Stanley. The grant is part of the state Housing Stabilization Fund, a LISC program that finances municipalities in their efforts to support housing-quality improvements and enforcement programs, among other activities.

The money will be used by the town when it acts to clean up a zombie home, such as mow the lawn or clean up graffiti.

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“We don’t have a tremendous number of them but they are out there,” Supervisor Ken Schmitt said. “These homes have been neglected for quite some time. As you drive throughout the community you can actually notice which ones are the problem; they are in foreclosure—they are zombie homes. The house is in disrepair or not being maintained.”

Building inspector and code enforcement officer Mike Carnazza said when his office receives a complaint, it will investigate. The owner of the property—often a bank—will be asked to clean up the property. If that doesn’t happen within an allotted time, local law allows the town to do the work and bill the property owner. If the bill isn’t paid, a lien is placed on the property. The money is usually recouped when the taxes are paid or the property is sold, but up until now, the town has had to wait extended periods of time to be reimbursed. The grant money remedies that.

“Now, when we get that money back it goes right back into that line that we’ve established in the town’s budget [with the grant money],” Schmitt said. “So, we are not going to be out any money at all. There is always going to be a continuous amount of money in that line. It’s a revolving fund, so if it gets depleted we can reimburse it when the taxes come in.”

Schmitt said that sometimes the banks are cooperative, sometimes they are not when it comes to cleaning up their properties.

“The banks aren’t always forthcoming in maintaining these properties and can be slow to act,” he said. “In fact, they don’t want them back. They don’t want to be in the real estate business. They are in the banking business, so they don’t want to own the property. Any properties that they do own they must pay property taxes on it but they are rarely maintained the way they should be.”

Schmitt said Carnazza is in constant contact with the banks regarding the foreclosed homes.

“Some are very responsive and will take care of cleaning it up and others are very difficult to deal with,” Schmitt said.

The grant money will also be used to reimburse the “soft costs” of the building inspector’s time spent on the complaint.

“I wish we didn’t have these properties but we do,” Schmitt said. “It’s unfortunate because they become a blight on the community. If you live next door to one or have one on your street, you know how it can affect your property and your real estate values. So, we want to clean up these properties and we do.”

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