West Milford plans law to slay ‘zombie’ homes – NorthJersey.com

A home at 320 Ridge Rd. was abandoned after a 2014 fire and has been razed. Wochit/Kelly Nicholaides

An abandoned home registry under consideration could prevent structures like West Milford Lake’s former clubhouse from falling into disrepair.(Photo: File/NorthJersey.com)

WEST MILFORD A municipal registry for vacant homes known as zombie houses could be implemented later this year, as township officials attempt to intensify property maintenance regulations.

Local officials said an ordinance creating a fee-based registry for vacant and abandoned homes is on course to be introduced on Sept. 6. If adopted this fall, the new law would provide financial incentive for property owners to maintain and market unoccupied properties that could otherwise blight a neighborhood, they said.

This is something that Im glad to see finally come forward, said Marilyn Lichtenberg, township councilwoman. We get banks calling into the town now registering, wanting to know how much they are being charged, and right now theyre not being charged.

The draft ordinance under review includes rising annual registration fees of up to $5,000 in addition to any township-incurred cleanup costs.

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An amalgam of 12 similar local laws, such asthose enacted by Bloomingdale and Hillsborough in 2014, the draft ordinance is designed to allow the township the ability to notify property owners for the need for maintenance or charge them for emergency work executed with municipal funds, officials said.

The ones we used are already in effect in various towns, and theyre working, said Ada Erik, West Milford councilwoman.

Annual registration fees couldstart at $250 and increase by $250 each subsequent year a property remains on the list.

The ordinance would only apply to homes that are vacant or foreclosed and exhibit three or more of 15 conditions, such as overgrown anddebris-spotted lawns and boardedwindows. As a result, typical snowbirds, or residents who don’t live in their homeyear-round in the towns 18 lake communities will not have to register, said Michael Hodges, municipal health officer.

Property owners will have the ability to appeal placement on the registry to the Building Standards Board or the courts system, Hodgessaid.

“The town sends them a registration form and they’re not registered until they complete that form with a fee,” he said. “So they would not be registered if they were going to appeal it.”

Fred Semrau, the municipal attorney who helped draft Bloomingdales analogous ordinance, said West Milfordsversion of the law has come a long way since early discussions and is on trackto meet officials’ goals. EarlyBuilding Standards Board discussions involved someregulations that may have infringed on property rights, said Lou Signorino, a councilman and former board member.

This is much different. This is much revised, Semrau said.

As it stands, vacant homes that require maintenance are repaired by the municipality. Costs are recouped through tax liens on the properties, officials said. In the case of abandoned homes, it can take years to recover those costs through tax sales.

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West Milford plans law to slay ‘zombie’ homes – NorthJersey.com

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