From the APP:
They’re called “zombie houses,” and they can suck the life out of any neighborhood.
Zombie homes are properties whose owners have walked away from them during the foreclosure process. With New Jersey’s foreclosure process one of the longest in the nation – more than 1,000 days – abandoned houses that are in foreclosure often aren’t maintained.
Grass becomes overgrown, roofs collapse, and animals, like raccoons, possums, and even feral cats, can move in.
Just ask JoAnn Petruzel, who owns Barnacle Bill’s Amusements in Ortley Beach with her husband, Bill. Near the amusement arcade are at least two properties that haven’t been repaired since superstorm Sandy struck the beachfront community more than five years ago.
One small house on Route 35 north, shoved off its foundation by Sandy’s surge, is boarded up, its utilities disconnected. Neighbors have heard it’s for sale.
“It’s right on the highway,” Petruzel said of the small house. “It’s a shame, people come through Ortley beach, and yes, the whole landscape has changed a lot. People have built bigger, nicer homes. But when you are driving on the highway and see that, it doesn’t have a good representation.”
Toms River joins other towns, including Asbury Park and Neptune, that have adopted similar ordinances that enforce the state’s Abandoned Property Rehabilitation Act. The measure, signed into law in 2004, expedites a town’s right to intervene when owners fail to maintain their property.
Under a newly adopted ordinance, the township will create a registry of abandoned properties. Owners will be billed a $750 registration fee during the first year; that fee will rise to $2,000 if the property is still abandoned the next year, and $3,000 in the third year.
The idea, according to Township Administrator Don Guardian, is to give property owners an economic incentive to either sell the distressed home or make improvements.
The ordinance enforces the state’s Abandoned Property Rehabilitation Act, a 2004 that makes it easier for towns to intervene when owners fail to maintain their properties. Other towns along the Shore, including Neptune, Asbury Park and Brick, have adopted similiar ordinances.
“If they are going to do something positive with the house, like selling it or fixing it up, these are not the property owners we’re going to target,” Guardian said. “It’s these financial institutions, that are sitting on it for months and years, hoping that the value goes up so they can sell it.”