Valley Stream village officials are pressuring the owners of 18 vacant homes to do a better job of maintaining their property, in an effort to improve the quality of life for their neighbors. It’s a battle that is difficult to fight, they say, because 17 of the homes are owned by banks, mortgage companies or other large financial institutions.
“The problem is getting someone in a decision-making capacity on the phone,” said Village Clerk Bob Barra.
So the village has taken a new approach, and code enforcement officers have been instructed to issue citations to derelict properties every day for maintenance violations, including high grass, peeling paint, missing siding and boarded-up windows.
Barra said that while a bank might simply brush off a fine of a few thousand dollars, village officials believe a ticketing blitz could make a difference. “At some point,” he said, “the number is going to be high where it’s going to catch somebody’s attention.”
The ultimate goal, Barra said, is to get an attorney representing a bank to appear before Village Justice Robert Bogle, who would make it clear that Valley Stream means business.
Bogle said he has had representatives of banks in his court on several occasions, and has encouraged them to ensure that their properties are maintained and secured in a “pleasant and aesthetic manner.” In some cases, he said, the banks have tried to defer responsibility, but he has reminded them that when a property is vacant, the bank becomes the de facto owner.
“The law requires that the property be taken care of by an owner or occupant,” he said. “For those banks that are not complying, we are in the process of issuing judgments against them for a lot of money.”
In determining judgments, Bogle said, he relies on prosecutors and inspectors and, in the interest of fairness, he would visit a property only if representatives of both the bank and the village were present.
Mayor Ed Fare acknowledged that the village is limited in what it can do. While it can issue tickets for property maintenance violations, village officials still must be respectful of an owner’s rights, even when that owner is an absentee financial institution. Several residents, he said, have called on the village to tear down the worst-looking vacant homes.
“This is a constant battle, but we’re not allowed to violate the law,” Fare said. “We’re doing everything we can within the extent of the law.”
One home that is on the village’s radar is 109 Cottage St., which has been vacant since 2001, has fallen into disrepair and has received numerous violations over the years. Foreclosure proceedings began in 2012.
“There are people interested in buying the house,” said Barra, who has a five-inch-thick file on the property. “That’s a beautiful area to put up a brand new house.”
Fare said he wonders why this property and others in the village sit empty for so long once a bank takes possession. “I don’t understand why they hold on to it and let it fall into disrepair,” he said. “The bank should sell it and recoup its money.”
Tara Casucci, who lives around the corner from the house at 109 Cottage, said she has been to several village board meetings over the years seeking help. “It’s horrid to look at,” she said.
An attorney representing Citi, which owns the house, could not be reached for comment.
Another property that has drawn the ire of neighbors is at the corner of Dubois Avenue and Amherst Road in Gibson. Kristin Nicolellis, who lives a block away, said the grass is frequently overgrown and there is often a smell coming from the house. She is concerned that it could be a potential site for squatters.
“The windows and doors are awful, so easy for someone to just get right in,” Nicolellis said. “Someone needs to fix it up so it can be sold to a nice, decent family.”
According to Town of Hempstead code, town officials can investigate abandoned properties. Tom McAleer, the village’s superintendent of buildings, said the village is looking into strengthening its own laws, and is using the town code as a starting point.
Barra said that the village attorney is expected to have a proposal ready by the Aug. 4 work session to be reviewed by the board. Once a local law is proposed, the village would be required to notify the town, the county, New York City and the surrounding villages. There would also have to be a public hearing. A new law could take up to six months to adopt with all those steps.
Village officials say that while many of these properties have fallen into disrepair, the owners of 14 of the 18 homes have kept current on their taxes. Overall, there are about 12,000 houses in the village.
Fare said he wanted residents to know that property maintenance is an issue on the “front burner,” and that the village would continue to pursue absentee owners. “We’re caught in this red tape,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, but the bottom line is we’re not giving up.”
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