From the Star Ledger:
At one time, the opulent McMansion at the corner of Greentree Road and Lamson Lane in Washington Township was the definition of a dream home. High ceilings anchored by a crystal chandellier in the foyer, a wrought-iron and monogrammed gate that opens to a three-car garage, an expansive tiled patio surrounding an elevated, in-ground pool, an industrial-grade outdoor kitchen — the list of its amenities goes on and on.
But now, scattered papers, broken toys and trash lay beneath the chandelier. At least a dozen piles of rotting trash are scattered throughout the backyard. The letters M-O-L-D are drawn vertically alongside the double front doors where a note from FedEx is stuck, indicating an October 2013 package went undelivered.
While the Lamson Lane home is a particularly dramatic example, vacant and overgrown properties pose a problem to municipalities throughout the state, and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-4 of Washington Township) hopes his newest bill-turned-law will help get them cleaned up.
The bill, which was signed into law last Friday, gives towns the ability to go after banks that own problem properties where it matters most — their pocket books. It allows municipalities to charge hefty fines to creditors that own properties in violation of the township’s code, a minimum of $1,500 a day for in-state creditors and $2,500 a day for out-of-state creditors.
It also requires those out-of-state creditors to designate a party located within New Jersey to handle maintenance of any property it forecloses on.
“It’s just a paper asset in a portfolio to [creditors],” said Moriarty as he observed the damaged Lamson Lane home last week. “But to the people who live here, it’s an eyesore that’s affecting their property values, an eyesore in their neighborhoods.”
Many neighbors near those homes are concerned not only with the physical appearance of neglect, but with insects and diseases incubating in stagnant pools, animals that take over abandoned properties and criminals who may seek out the homes for squatting or scrapping.
But when Donovan attempts to track down the property’s owner, she’s often led on a wild goose chase that ends with financial middle men refusing to disclose the true identity of the creditor.
“I might have a list of five to six companies that I have called and hope one of them will take responsibility for the property, and nobody does,” said Donovan, who added New Jersey is one of only a few states that do not require the party that pays taxes on a property to reveal the bank that’s putting up the funds.