From the Philly Inquirer:
For Michael Miller and Allison Rupert, 58 Grove St. truly is the evil twin.
A ramshackle residence that shares a wall with the Haddonfield couple’s well-kept home, 58 lost its last human dweller several years ago. Varmints got in through gaping windows, and Miller and Rupert have heard mice scurrying in the walls. They have spent thousands of dollars of their own money for tree removal to get rid of encroachment from 58’s yard, where, in the summer, mosquitoes breed in untended puddles.
With 58’s violation notices, weatherworn paint, and scruffy grounds, it can be embarrassing having friends over.
“So, yeah, it’s a mess,” Rupert said. “It sucks big time.”
They have complained. Boy, have they complained. But it hasn’t been easy figuring out whom to complain to, let alone get results.
“It’s been bouncing back and forth from service company to service company,” Miller said, “and quite frankly they haven’t done much.”
A new initiative could change that.
Several Camden County communities – Collingswood, Audubon, Haddonfield, Haddon Township, Oaklyn, Pennsauken, and the Fairview section of Camden – have joined forces, enlisting the help of two doctoral candidates and a master’s student from Rutgers-Camden’s department of public policy and administration to identify the abandoned or derelict vacant properties in their midst.
The hope is that the coalition will be able to convince banks that may have gotten the houses through foreclosure that it is worthwhile to sell them. At the least, it wants the banks and mortgage companies to do a better job of maintenance.
Many of the properties – nearly 700 have been counted so far – are believed to be the casualties of the recession, the mortgage crisis, or both. Some are so-called zombies – properties in which foreclosure was commenced but not completed and the former owners have moved out. They are in communities of every economic stripe.
The Philadelphia region has the fifth-highest rate of zombies in the nation, according to RealtyTrac, a national real estate search engine. New Jersey’s identified zombies went up 58 percent from the last year.
The towns believe the banks or mortgage companies should be responsible for the properties’ maintenance. “The quality of that leaves a lot to be desired,” said Neal Rochford, Haddonfield’s commissioner for public safety. “We’re constantly on the phone.”