Rochester has a zombie problem. But the zombies we're talking about are blighting our neighborhoods, not feasting on our brains.
The issue is zombie properties: vacant homes that are not maintained. The owners may have walked away because they can't or don't want to pay the mortgage anymore or because they owe substantial back taxes. Often, the properties are owned by banks which foreclosed on them.
Republican County Legislator Tony Micciche says that the properties often become havens for drug use and targets for vandalism, copper theft, and arson. They drive down the value of neighboring homes, he says, and pose public health and safety threats.
During a press conference this morning, Micciche released legislation to create a county-wide database of vacant homes, and that would require the owners of vacant properties to register them with the county health department. Monroe County has an estimated 3,200 vacant homes, Micciche says.
Under state law, towns and cities have the authority to force property owners to maintain the vacant properties, Micciche says. But the governments need to know where the properties are and who owns them in order for that to happen, he says, and the database would give them that information. It'd also serve as a tool for law enforcement.
"It allows the police to know what they need to monitor," Micciche says.
Earlier this year, the Town of Irondequoit passed similar legislation, which requires any owner of a vacant building to register the property with the town. And during a February public hearing, town Police Chief Richard Tantalo said that Irondequoit police officers are often called to vacant properties for safety issues and possible crimes. The properties frequently need to be secured, but officers have trouble tracking down the owners — whether individuals, companies, or banks — to inform them of the situation.