Proposed legislation drafted by Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) seeks to give the government more leeway in dealing with abandoned homes, including the roughly five dozen that exist in South Queens and the Rockaways, according to his office.
A byproduct of the foreclosure crisis that was exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy, abandoned homes have become a major problem recently, attracting squatters, creating unsafe conditions and lowering the curb appeal of neighborhoods.
Goldfeder said he first became aware of the problem after seeing an abandoned home in Hamilton Beach last year. Vacant houses in Ozone Park and Howard Beach have become a haven for squatters and criminal activity in the last few years. A similar problem occurred in Woodhaven, where a vacant house played host to a party in 2012 that ended with a teenager being murdered a block away.
“We went through a couple of years where there were a lot of homes foreclosed on, and then Sandy came and made that problem worse,” Goldfeder said.
The problem now is that with these houses abandoned, banks or mortgage holders own them and in many cases they are out-of-state entities that care little about the property — if at all.
“Just figuring out who owns them is half the battle,” Goldfeder said.
He added that there are roadblocks the state and city face in trying to force those who own the home to do something about the situation.
In the cases of the abandoned homes in Howard Beach and Ozone Park, the owners were in prison and out-of-state banks owned the properties, but did not respond to numerous calls from the state and city to board up the houses or fix them up.
Goldfeder’s legislation would seek to clarify ownership of abandoned properties and give the state attorney general more power in going after delinquent homeowners and financial institutions that hold ownership of the properties. Specifically, the legislation would require banks to maintain vacant properties no later than three months after they are abandoned — not at the end of a lengthy foreclosure process — and pay for their upkeep. In addition, it would increase the state’s authority to intervene in particularly difficult situations.
“What we’ve been told from city and state agencies is ‘Our hands are tied,’” Goldfeder said, noting that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been pushing the state Legislature to enact a law like the one Goldfeder is proposing. “[Schneiderman’s] options are limited.”
The legislation is being carried in the state Senate by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx, Westchester). Goldfeder said he expects a vote in the Assembly before the session ends on Thursday, but was not sure about the status in the upper house.
Goldfeder is also pushing the City Council to pass proposed legislation that would give city agencies the ability to enter a vacant property, conduct cleanup and repair work and then bill the homeowner or financial institutions holding the mortgage.
Further, Goldfeder has also asked Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to create a registry of abandoned homes that would serve as a resource for local precincts to monitor abandoned and vacant properties for any suspicious or illegal activity. In the situations in Howard Beach and Ozone Park, police only discovered the problems at the vacant houses when complaints were made.
“Instead of waiting for a call, police can compile a list and do periodic searches,” Goldfeder said. “The idea is to be able to not only enforce the law, but prevent the problem from happening.”