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Press Release

September 20, 2017

Contact: Richard Loconte, 212-709-1691

DFS LAUNCHES EDUCATION INITIATIVE ON VACANT AND ABANDONED PROPERTY LAW AND REMINDS BANKS AND MORTGAGE SERVICERS OF THEIR OBLIGATION TO MAINTAIN “ZOMBIE PROPERTIES”

Failure to Comply with Property Maintenance Obligations Will Be Subject to Enforcement Action and a Fine of $500 a Day for Each Day a Violation Persists

Information Series Will Continue Throughout New York State

Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo today announced that the Department of Financial Services (DFS) has launched a series of information sessions for local government officials about legislation signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and effective in December 2016 to combat the blight of vacant and abandoned properties.  DFS has also issued new guidance to ensure that banks and mortgage servicers comply with their obligations to maintain vacant and abandoned properties.

“DFS is here to assist local communities, who are on the front lines in the ongoing fight against the blight of vacant and abandoned properties,” said Superintendent Vullo. “We want to ensure that everyone engaged on this issue knows that DFS will take every action under the law to ensure full compliance and that violations are appropriately penalized.  These outreach efforts and directives will help to ensure the full recovery of New York State from the Great Recession, and to restore our neighborhoods to full value and occupancy.”

DFS’s statewide outreach and education program is designed to provide local government officials with a clear understanding of the new legislation so they can inform and support their constituents.  Under the law, New Yorkers can report vacant and abandoned properties in their communities through the DFS hotline or online through the Department’s website.

As required under the legislation, DFS has created an electronic, statewide registry of vacant and abandoned properties.  If a property is not already in the registry, DFS will identify the mortgage servicer and will facilitate appropriate remedial and enforcement action when necessary.

The first information session, targeting Western New York, was held in Buffalo; additional sessions will take place over the coming weeks in the Capital Region, Central New York, the Finger Lakes, Mid-Hudson, the Southern Tier, the North Country, Mohawk Valley, and Long Island.

New Guidance

In the guidance issued today, DFS reminded mortgagees of their basic obligations under the law and specifically their obligation to address maintenance issues at vacant and abandoned properties including the following:

  1. Securing boarded windows or doors that are forced or otherwise become loose.
  2. Removing weeds and ensuring that grass does not grow taller than 10 inches.  Neighbors should not be relied on to cut the grass to comply with the requirements of the law.
  3. Clearing garbage and yard waste from the exterior of vacant properties and disposed of in an appropriate manner – it may not be piled up in a corner of the property.
  4. Firmly securing handrails on decks and stairways, with attention paid to rusted metal and rotten wood.
  5. Clearly displaying property addresses so they are visible from the street.
  6. Periodically checking the notice identifying the servicer and the servicer’s contact information to make sure that it remains legible.

In addition, DFS reminded mortgagees and servicers that they are required under the law to register vacant and abandoned properties and submit quarterly reporting of compliance efforts after registering a vacant and abandoned home or lot with the Department.  Mortgagees that fail to comply with these or any of the other obligations under the law will be subject to swift enforcement action by DFS or the locality of the property and a fine of $500 a day for each day any violation persists.

Upon identification of a potential violation of the law, the Department will contact the responsible mortgagee or servicer to ensure that the situation is immediately and fully remediated and to obtain records concerning the maintenance of the subject property, including photographs.  Mortgagees must be prepared to provide documentary evidence to establish the date that the loan became 90 days delinquent and triggered the inspection obligation, the maintenance history of the property, and the satisfactory completion of any outstanding property maintenance issues.

DFS will cross-check maintenance records provided through the complaint process and other means against the quarterly reporting to ensure that mortgagees are providing consistent and accurate records.

A copy of the guidance can be found here.

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