Cleaning Up Zombie Homes: Town Proposal to Make it Easier for Government To Maintain Yards of Abandoned Houses

There’s nothing worse for a conscientious homeowner than living next to a “zombie house” that has overgrown grass and weeds, which detracts from the neighborhood and presents a host of other concerns.  Under a Hempstead Town proposal put forth by Supervisor Kate Murray, Senior Councilman Anthony Santino, Councilman Gary Hudes and Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, the town will be able to perform ongoing grass and weed trimming at “zombie homes” with less red tape that can delay ongoing property cleanups.  The maintenance work would not cost taxpayers any money under the plan.

“Having a ‘zombie house’ in the neighborhood that isn’t being maintained places a horrible burden on other homeowners who take pride in their community and care about local properties,” stated Murray.  “That’s why we are proposing a local law that would make it easier for the town to trim grass and weeds at ‘zombie homes’ more quickly, especially when the grass cutting is an ongoing maintenance issue.  What’s more, the proposal places no financial burden on taxpayers.”

The new proposal builds upon a town law that provides for the town performing yard cleanups of abandoned houses and other homes that aren’t being maintained.  The existing law requires certified mail, return receipt requested notices to property owners and posting notifications at the site.  These stringent requirements are time consuming (sometimes taking several weeks), and must be followed for each cleanup event (repeated offenses) at a neglected property.  Waiting for return receipts and processing the information can delay the grass cutting every time a complaint is received.  Weeks can pass before a lawn can be cut. The new proposal cuts through the red tape associated with certified/return receipt mail that results in weeks-long waiting periods before the grass and weeds can be trimmed.  Under the legislation, recurring violations would result in a posted notice at the property, and there would be a mere 5-day waiting period before the “zombie home” could be cleaned up.

“This proposal will cut down on the waiting period during which neighbors have to endure grass and weeds that are knee high,” said Santino.  “I am excited to be working on this important measure that will remove blight in our neighborhoods,” added Hudes.

“We’re cutting through red tape to help neighbors in dealing with unpleasant conditions that are negatively impacting their neighborhoods and their quality of life,” said Murray.  “This initiative is truly important as it impacts every neighborhood and has a direct influence on local community character,” added King Sweeney.

The officials noted that overgrown grass and weeds at “zombie homes” present a host of negative consequences for neighbors who live nearby.  Beyond the unpleasant aesthetics, overgrown grass can serve as a breeding ground for vermin and insects.  Additionally, the unkempt appearance signals that nobody is living at the structure, encouraging squatters to set up residence and vandals to scrawl graffiti on the exterior.  Finally, unkempt houses adversely impact local housing values.

Murray, Santino, Hudes and King Sweeney observed that there has been an increase in “zombie homes” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Approaching the third anniversary of the Superstorm, there are still numerous homes on the south shore that are overgrown and in disarray.

“We’re working hard to help neighbors who are doing their best to maintain their homes while dealing with offensive looking ‘zombie homes’ that adversely impact otherwise beautiful neighborhoods,” concluded Murray.  “I am pleased to propose this new law along with Councilmen Anthony Santino and Gary Hudes and Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, as well as my other colleagues on the Town Board.  After all, less red tape and less bureaucracy means grass will get cut quicker and neighbors will be happier.”