Capital Region

Zombie properties a growing problem in Capital Region

A zombie property located at 1223 Sixth Ave. in Schenectady is seen on July 28.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A zombie property located at 1223 Sixth Ave. in Schenectady is seen on July 28.

Schenectady appears headed toward resolving a battle with a spate of zombie properties, while the quaint town of Milton finds itself in a similar fight.

A zombie property is one that has been abandoned by its owner after a foreclosure process begins.

The lender — usually a bank — has yet to take ownership, nor has it sold it, leaving the property in an abandoned state of overgrown lawns and exposure to the elements.

Zombie properties became particularly prevalent during the country’s 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Schenectady, the state’s ninth-largest city with a population of about 65,000, has been vocal about its decades-long history of vacant, dilapidated properties.

Milton, a self-described “picturesque” community of less than 19,000 in central Saratoga County, appears to be charting a less litigious, quieter course toward remedying zombie properties.

In July, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy joined mayors of Albany and Troy in calling attention to those properties, announcing a first-of-its kind, three-city effort to sue the lending institutions of 18 zombie properties responsible for failed maintenance and whose owner of record was the same bank: Ocwen Financial Corp., of New Jersey.

Seven of the properties are in Schenectady, and the three mayors, in an effort to illustrate how zombie properties can plague neighborhoods, stood in front of a zombie property in Troy that is on an otherwise quiet street with a church.

Reached Wednesday, McCarthy shared that the ongoing litigation was headed toward a favorable outcome.

“We’re in negotiations with the banks for a settlement,” McCarthy said. He declined to elaborate, but agreed that a settlement is in the city’s best interest, considering the properties could continue to languish during lengthy litigation.

In Milton, Supervisor Benny Zlotnick was hesitant to call attention to the properties. He said he would only provide a couple of the addresses to the Daily Gazette if it agreed not to publish the addresses and the owners of record.

“Our concern is letting the world know these homes aren’t occupied,” Zlotnick said.

“This isn’t like Schenectady or Albany where it may be a zombie property, but there’s tons of people around it,” he continued, alluding to squatters. “This could be on a stretch of road where there’s nobody around, and the next thing you know, you’ve got someone sitting in there … We don’t want to advertise that.”

The Daily Gazette will issue a request for the properties and owners through the state Freedom of Information Law.

To address zombie properties, Milton is in the midst of accepting bids to hire a property maintenance company to board up, mow twice monthly from May to September, and plow and shovel snow from the property after major storms of five inches or more of snow.

The deadline for request for proposals is Dec. 13.

“The Town of Milton has properties in the midst of foreclosure procedures that are not being maintained,” the bid read. “We also have abandoned properties that need to be maintained. Yards are overgrown and driveways are not plowed, causing dangerous situations in the event of a fire or other emergency.”

The town building inspector will bring an abandoned and/or unsafe property to the attention of the Town Board, according to the bid. The property owner will be given a notification to correct the issue. If the owner refuses to comply, the contracted company will be notified for maintenance. The building inspector will specify the work to be done on a property-by-property basis.

Zlotnick appeared to downplay the magnitude of the concern in Milton.

“We have a few — a very small handful, perhaps,” he said. “But we’re trying to, before it gets out of hand, come up with a plan that will allow for the town to hire a company to maintain those properties when the owners are unavailable or unwilling to do so — so that the property values around that property are not affected.”

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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