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K’hook ‘zombies’ beware

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KINDERHOOK–Village Code Enforcement Officer Glenn Smith asked the Village Board last week to consider adopting a “zombie property” ordinance. Mr. Smith said the ordinance would help him and the village require maintenance plans and inspections for properties that are vacant or abandoned by their owners–so-called zombie properties.

“It’s been kind of a problem in the Village of Kinderhook,” Mr. Smith told the board at the March 14 meeting.

The New York Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) defines zombie properties as “mortgage-delinquent properties that have been abandoned by the owner but which languish for years in a state of disrepair and neglect until the mortgagee completes the foreclosure process.”

NYCOM calls zombie properties “a major cause of the distressed, vacant, and abandoned properties that blight New York’s cities and villages.”

Mr. Smith talked with the Kinderhook board about properties that banks have foreclosed on as being an issue, but he said a local zombie property law would “apply to any properties” that fit the state’s criteria.

In a phone interview after the meeting Mr. Smith said that the village needs to pass the ordinance to become part of the registry of vacant and abandoned properties maintained by the state. The Vacant and Abandoned Property Database has updated contact information for the mortgagee responsible for maintaining vacant properties.

According to the state, as of December 2016, sections of the New York Real Property Action and Proceedings Law “obligates mortgagees and servicers to assume certain responsibilities in connection with vacant and abandoned residential properties securing mortgage loans in their portfolios.”

NYCOM says that the law requires mortgagees to inspect properties that are 90 days mortgage-delinquent and to secure and maintain properties that are found to be vacant and abandoned. It also requires certain mortgagees to register vacant and abandoned properties with a state-maintained property registry and allows mortgagees to complete foreclosure via an expedited process when a property is vacant and abandoned.

The same state law enhances many of the consumer protections that were enacted to protect homeowners after the subprime mortgage market collapse in 2008.

Mr. Smith said that if the village passes a similar ordinance, he can inspect those properties, request a maintenance plan from the mortgage holder and charge a $100 fee.

After the meeting, he said the important part of the law is the registry. “This is going to make it a lot easier,” he said, to find out who owns an abandoned or vacant property. He said that now it’s “next to impossible to find the owner who is responsible” for the property.

He gave the board some materials to review and said that he had talked to the Kinderhook village attorney about the ordinance. Mr. Smith said that he was planning to propose this ordinance to two other towns he works with: Austerlitz and Stuyvesant.

The NYCOM website, nycom.org, says the state law only applies to residential properties, not vacant lots or businesses, and there are steps that have to be completed to prove the property is vacant. A letter from NYCOM about the state law calls it “one of the most significant reforms passed during the 2016 New York State Legislative session.”

Also at the March 14 meeting:

• The board again discussed the issue with demonstrations in the village. The village is the site of weekly demonstrations on the village square and the one-way street in front of the office of Congressman John Faso (R-19th).

“It’s a matter of safety,” said Trustee Bob Baumeister. He worried the village would get sued if someone is hurt during a march or demonstration.

“I just don’t think it’s a big issue,” said Trustee Dave Flaherty and he mentioned the constitutional right to free speech. The board agreed to talk to the village attorney about the issue

• The board is still moving forward with plans to replace the water main and repair the sidewalks on William Street. Board approved hiring a grant writer for $3,000 to help find funding if money becomes available from the state for the project. “The funding is a big issue,” the mayor said

• Mayor Dunham said he met with the state Department of Transportation representative in Hudson, Tom Story. They discussed snow plowing on Route 9 in the village and Mr. Story said he would advise the plow drivers not to push the snow onto the sidewalks. The village also signed a Shared Services Agreement with the state that the mayor said would help with the village needs to do work the state road.

The next village meeting will be April 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the village hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com

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