Nobody wants zombie properties in their community.
These unoccupied or abandoned properties — often run-down and vandalized, overgrown with weeds and brush, littered with trash, and possibly infested with rats and other vermin — bring down property values, deprive local governments and school districts of tax revenue, and make life unbearably unpleasant for those living near them.
So it’s a positive sign any time state government can help local communities deal with these financially draining eyesores by getting the properties back in good condition, either through repair or demolition.
But a bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year called the Zombie Property Remediation Act of 2019 — which would compel mortgage companies to act more quickly to address abandoned properties — has too many unresolved questions.
The bill (A1859A/S5079A) states that if a property has been deemed vacant, a government entity can take legal action to compel banks to begin foreclosure within three months and to have the process completed within a year. If a foreclosure case on the abandoned property has begun, the bank would have to file legal motions within three months to move the case to judgment foreclosure or issue a certificate of discharge within three months.
That all sounds reasonable. With properties floating around in the foreclosure process often for years, this bill would give municipalities the power to nudge the process along.
But in arguing against the bill, some lawmakers raised valid questions about the bill and its potential unforeseen consequences.
For instance, according to the Post-Journal in Jamestown, one assemblyman questioned whether a municipality could bring legal action against the bank on a property that might be abandoned but that might not yet be in foreclosure. Or whether action could be taken on a property that might not yet be in default because the mortgage was still being paid. The bill sponsor said he couldn’t answer that question.
Well, it needs to be answered.
Lawmakers also raised questions about using taxpayer money to file lawsuits against banks to speed up the process; whether the bill would allow for enough mandatory settlement conferences during the foreclosure process to let homeowners to catch up on their mortgages; and whether the law would run into conflict with existing mortgage and foreclosure laws.
Those are serious enough questions to make one wonder whether the bill might create more headaches for banks and municipalities than it solves.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo should veto this bill and send it back to lawmakers to fill in the cracks.