SARATOGA SPRINGS – The city officially counts 59 “zombie” properties throughout Saratoga Springs but acknowledges there could be dozens more abandoned structures across the Spa City landscape.
The vacant and deteriorating homes, often abandoned by owners behind on their mortgage, pose safety risks and can negatively affect property values of entire neighborhoods.
“There are some in almost every neighborhood in the city,” says Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin. “On our vacant property registry list we have 59, but we believe from neighbor reports and our own officers driving around the city that there are probably closer to 80.”
Abandoned properties can attract animals, pose potential structure fire issues, result in injuries to children seeking an unmonitored play space and create all kinds of concerns for the neighborhoods they inhabit, Martin says. “An eyesore that looks dangerous can lower property values, despite how well the neighboring properties are maintained.”
In 2013, the city adopted an ordinance to identify and registering vacant buildings, while imposing reasonable responsibilities for the property owners. Assisted by the awarding of a $150,000 state grant, the city more recently has begun to make a concerted effort to come up with solutions to the zombie properties.
“In part, the grant went to help us staff our code enforcers and in part it helped us to participate in the State Registry (of Vacant Properties),” Martin says. “We were also able hire an attorney on a part-time basis.”
In January, the city issued a call to hire a Special Prosecutor to work 15 to 20 hours per week at a rate of $40 per hour and assist the city attorney in enforcing local law relating to vacant structures. That position was recently filled and is already making a positive impact, Martin says. “The reasons were doing this comes down to safety and security,” he says, explaining that once identified, there are a variety of outcomes that can occur with the properties.
Last week, the city posted a form on its website that enables residents to notify the Public Safety Department of a vacant structure. That form may be accessed at: http://www.saratoga-springs.org/formcenter/vacant-structures-17/report-a-vacant-zombie-property-69
“You hope that you can catch it early enough so that there’s not too much damage to the building, so it can be brought back and made useful again – and in many cases it can be brought back. In some cases, it’s going to take the owner selling it to someone who has more ability to bring the property back, and, in very few cases it will result in the demolition of the property if it’s gone too far,” Martin says. “That’s really not the result we’re looking for - particularly if it’s a historic property - but in some cases it’s deteriorated to the point where that’s the only possible answer. We actually have a couple of those in (the demolition) process right now. “
In 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo first announced that New Yorkers can report vacant and abandoned properties in their communities through a hotline at the New York State Department of Financial Services, and signed legislation to prevent foreclosures and curb the threat posed to communities by “zombie properties” across the state.
“For each zombie home that we cure and for each that we prevent with this legislation, we are saving entire neighborhoods from the corrosive effect of blight and neglect,” Cuomo said.
City Offers Help for Homeowners
“Sometimes homeowners, through just bad luck, run into financial straits and are not able to make mortgage payments on a timely basis,” Martin says. “We have sessions where people can come and talk to homeowners about ways to restructure debt so that if they want to maintain the home, sometimes it can be done.”
To that effort, homeowners can contact reach out to the department of Public Safety, which maintains an office on the second floor of City Hall.