Interviews with Municipalities

Who better divulge municipality-specific needs, goals, and challenges in the fight against zombie housing that municipalities themselves? In order to gather input about the resources that should be included on this website, Columbia Law School students interviewed a variety of New York State municipal representatives. Please see a summary of the most pertinent takeaways below.

Shared Challenges
A focus point of these interviews was investigating that main challenges municipalities face regarding zombie housing.  

Who’s Responsible?
One main challenge is tracking which mortgage servicers are responsible for the maintenance and repair of these zombie properties, as this is a status that can constantly shift. Further, it’s difficult for municipalities to learn about these shifts in ownership from banks, and a potential alternative, hiring title companies, is often expensive. 

Access to Service Providers
Another challenge is the accessibility of property service providers: some are more easily reachable than others. the lack of consistency can be very frustrating, and it delays attempts to prevent and reverse the physical degradation of zombie properties.
Please check here for a helpful list of mortgage servicer & and property preservation contacts.  

Deterring Bad Faith Actors
Lastly, there’s the challenge of deterring bad faith parties such as unscrupulous investors, lenders, and speculators from engaging in practices that create or worsen zombie housing.

Shared Goals
These interviews were also a chance to discuss municipality goals for combatting zombie housing.

Preventing and Reversing Foreclosures
A first main goal is to prevent foreclosure; to halt the process of a vacant property becoming a zombie house before it happens, and to reverse the zombie status of the properties that have already fallen prey to zombie limbo. Homeowners can find resources that put them touch with free legal services and other assistance by exploring the “Resources for Homeowners and Community Members” link in this website.

When municipalities are able to more aggressively go after those responsible for zombie property maintenance, it increases the leverage of those who’ve fallen behind in their mortgages to re-negotiate better terms, thus preventing them from abandoning their homes out of desperation.

Broad Research
Another goal is to make use of the many ways to identify zombie properties in a community using outside resources, including, but not limited to: reliance of community reporting, collaborating with utility companies, and working with municipality police and fire departments. For more research resource ideas, please see our cheatsheet. 

Streamlining Data Collection
There is also the goal of gathering as much data as possible on zombie properties. Data gathering is essential to the fight against zombie properties, and key desire is to streamline the storage of that data into as few places as possible for efficiency’s sake.
For zombie property data source resource ideas, please see this graphic.  

Widespread Collaboration
Lastly, there’s a collective desire for municipalities statewide to work with one another to share resources on combating zombie housing so as to ease the individual burden on municipalities. To that end, If you are a municipal official and would like to submit documents or resources that we might share in this website, please email those materials to:

Start Digital, Stay Digital
This ultimate data-focused goal isn’t just on collecting and storing data, but doing so digitally. It’s efficient, quicker for compiling data from various sources, and helpful for everyone involved, from the municipality employees to the municipality denizens suffering from zombie housing. Digital data is essential to efficiently preventing and reversing zombie housing.
The sooner your municipality can shift its data to digital format, be it even with inexpensive tools like laptops, desktops, and tablets, the less work you’ll have to do in the long run to keep track of the status of your community’s zombie properties.

Municipality Testimonials: