Milestone Reached in City’s Zombie Home Initiative

Examples of zombie homes. Image Credit: HPD.

On September 30, 2022, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York City Law Department announced that the City’s Zombie Homes Initiative reached a significant milestone: the Initiative has officially recouped over $1 million in penalties from mortgage holders of vacant properties who failed to comply with New York State’s Zombie Property and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2016, commonly referred to as the “Zombie Law.”

“Zombie homes” is a term used for abandoned, and distressed or vacant small homes whose owners are behind on mortgage payments. These properties are most common in neighborhoods that were the impacted by the 2008 foreclosure crisis, those with high rates of foreclosure and vacancy that are suffering from reduced property values. Zombie homes increase public health risks, including rodent infestation and fire.

The New York State Zombie law (Section 1308 of the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law) imposes a duty to inspect, secure, and maintain vacant and abandoned properties on mortgagees or their servicing agents. The City’s Zombie Initiative is a means of effectuating the state law. The executive order establishes a partnership between the Housing Preservation and Development and Law Departments to take action against zombie homes by imposing fines and intervening to bring action against the owners of abandoned properties.

New York’s Zombie Law curbs the threat that zombie homes pose to their communities. These zombie properties present an opportunity to the city to create affordable housing. In recent years, the initiative has partnered with groups including Restored Homes Housing Development Fund Corporation (Restored Homes HDFC), and the Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYCN) to acquire and rehabilitate these abandoned properties.

The Zombie Homes Initiative was first launched as a pilot in 2017, and will become a permanent City enforcement program under the Adams Administration with generous support from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

Mayor Eric Adams shared, “Our administration is sending a clear message that blight is not welcome in New York City. No New Yorker wants to live next to an abandoned vacant lot, and we are holding absentee property owners accountable to ensure that we can expand this from a pilot into a permanent program that will continue to serve New Yorkers well into the future.”

NYC Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix stated, “An abandoned property can pose serious health and safety issues for people and can be a blight on an entire community. The City of New York will hold banks and other mortgage holders fully responsible for turning a blind eye to their legal responsibilities to maintain properties and for negatively impacting New Yorkers’ quality of life.”

Salvatore D’Avola, Executive Director of Restored Homes HDFC, shared, “While zombie homes create blight and destabilize neighborhoods, they can also provide a resource for much-needed affordable housing. Through the Zombie Homes Initiative, derelict homes can be transformed into affordable homeownership opportunities for many low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. Thank you to HPD, the Law Department, and all the partners involved in this important endeavor.”

By: Samantha Silverstein (Samantha is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.)


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