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Town Of Hempstead Considers Legislation To Clean Up 'Zombie' Properties

BELLMORE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- They are the scourge of the suburbs: thousands of abandoned foreclosed homes. Now a Long Island community is fighting back against so-called "zombie houses" with a new tool.

In Bellmore, Long Island, waist-high weeds and a cracked driveway lead up to a crumbling eyesore. The vacant house, in foreclosure, sticks out against a backdrop of manicured lawns and polished properties, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.

"It looks like an abandoned property. ... I think that's terrible," said neighbor Michael Bonacasa.

"It's an eyesore," said Lee Ouzounian. "That's all I can say."

Town of Hempstead crews, at no cost to taxpayers, could soon be doing the maintenance work they say banks fail to do.

A proposed law would cut out red tape so the town can cut weeds quickly and often, then attach the cost to the property tax bill.

"If the banks and the lenders, under this legislation, will not clean up their properties, then we, the town of Hempstead, will send them the bill," said Councilman Gary Hudes.

It's the latest tactic to combat an epidemic. More than 4,000 homes abandoned in foreclosure plague Long Island neighborhoods, attracting squatters and lowering property values.

"Everybody cares about what their houses look like," said Richie Byrne, of Bellmore. "I don't understand why this is happening."

Municipalities blame lenders for neglecting required maintenance. They've created registries and rating systems and are even demolishing some houses.

"We don't want to be in this business, but the bottom line is we will be as long as there are zombie homes," Town Supervisor Kate Murray said of maintaining the properties.

The director of the New York Mortgage Bankers Association told CBS2 the group has no problem with towns taking on lawn care and billing the banks. It does, however, have a problem with the three years it takes in New York state to foreclose on a house. It wants it fast-tracked.

The lengthy process is designed to protect homeowners.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman proposed a law requiring banks to maintain properties as soon as they are abandoned. He expects it to pass this week or in a special session.

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