June 17, 2016

Assembly Announces Passage of Legislation to Combat Neighborhood Blight and "Zombie" Homes in New York State

Speaker Carl Heastie, Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein, Banks Committee Chair Annette Robinson and Assemblymember Michelle Schimel today announced the passage of legislation that is part of a three-way agreement to combat the rising problem of abandoned residential properties by creating new obligations for mortgage owners and lenders to maintain property which has been rendered vacant and abandoned.

"While our economy has taken strong and sure steps toward full recovery, high foreclosure rates continue to affect New Yorkers around the state," said Speaker Heastie. "This agreement will provide the assurance of stronger protections against predatory foreclosure practices a more expedient process for transitioning these properties to help communities move past foreclosure and toward new opportunities for home ownership."

The measure will address the problem of vacant and abandoned properties by codifying the obligation of eleven major banks, mortgage companies and credit unions under a best practices agreement with the Department of Financial Services. This legislation will expand these obligations to a majority of lenders or owners of mortgages statewide.

Additionally, it would ensure significant protections for all homeowners who are brought into court by mortgage lenders who seek to foreclose against them. These protections were first proposed in A.1298 (Weinstein), which was passed by the Assembly earlier in the session, and have now been adopted in large measure into this new legislation.

The legislation addressing zombie properties, an effort spearheaded by Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, would avoid the cancerous blight of vacant and abandoned properties by facilitating earlier detection and maintenance of these properties as well as:

"It is critical that we pursue every avenue to help New Yorkers to remain in their homes," said Assemblywoman Weinstein. "Unfortunately, so many properties that have already been abandoned go on to become a burden and an eyesore to the surrounding community. The provisions of the legislation relating to foreclosure would strengthen the rights of homeowners in foreclosure proceedings and require banks and their mortgage servicers to maintain abandoned properties in their portfolio to prevent any further neighborhood destabilization."

The new measures provide clarification and guidance on the rights and remedies of homeowners along with additional enforcement protections in court when mortgage lenders seek to foreclose against them. "Abandoned properties have had devastating effects on property values, communities and the families that are displaced," said Assemblymember Robinson. "In order to regain stability and eliminate the blight that has plagued these neighborhoods, we must do everything we can to hold lenders accountable and ensure that homeowners are informed of their rights."

Finally, the bill gives the court a clear ability to impose financial sanctions against lenders who do not make good faith efforts to resolve mortgage foreclosure actions. These protections for homeowners, as well as others contained within the bill, should ensure a more level field for the homeowner when the mortgage lender tries to take their home away.

"I am proud of this agreement and the positive impact it will have for so many families who want more than anything to remain in their houses and in the communities they have worked hard to call home," said Assemblymember Schimel. "It will ensure support where it is needed most, for those facing foreclosure while forcing banks to do their fair share to maintain the integrity of our communities."