Town Lays Out ‘Zombie Property’ Rules to Reduce Blight

The Huntington Town Board approved a measure earlier this week that was proposed by Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci in July that town leaders expect will encourage the occupation or turnover of ownership of zombie homes, problem properties and vacant storefronts. The town will impose escalating penalties for each year a property is vacant and listed on the Vacant Building Registry. Religious organizations will continue to be exempt from paying the vacant building registration fee.

  1. What constitutes a “zombie” home? 
We are using the term in the general context of any vacant, deteriorated, neglected property contributing to quality of life issues, neighborhood eyesores, and public safety issues. Of course you are aware of the issue on Teed Street, after the police were able to remove squatters that had illegally occupied an abandoned home in Huntington Station, who continued to present code violations where our Department of Public Safety would respond but our hands were tied until the law enforcement investigation produced the results it did. At that point, the Town was able to board up the home — but the long-term solution is to occupy the home and take the property off the Town’s list of blighted properties.
  1. What’s the length of time that a home can sit empty? Does it become an issue only if it is causing problems?
A property is considered vacant if no one resides in or operates a business out of it for what will now be at least 180 days but this doesn’t affect homes of snowbirds or those who continue to incur utility charges, receive mail, etc. The vacant building registry enables the Town to contact the property owner in case there is an issue with a vacant property.
  1. At what point does a homeowner have to identify/register a home as vacant and what is the cost?
Previously, a building that was vacant for more than 120 days had to be registered, this code amendment now gives the property owner 60 additional days, requiring them to register a vacant building by 180 days. For homeowners, the first year’s vacant property registration fee will not change, it remains at $250. It is only for subsequent years that it escalates, targeting those properties that continuously stay vacant and unoccupied:
Vacant building registration fees are going from $250 annually to:
FIRST YEAR: $250 (no change)/residential property, $500/commercial property
SECOND YEAR: $500/residential property, $1,000/commercial property
THIRD YEAR: $750/residential property, $1,500/commercial property
ADDITIONAL YEARS: $1,000/residential, $2,000/commercial
Religious organizations will continue to be exempt from paying the vacant building registration fee. If the property owner is late in paying the annual registration fee, a monthly late fee of $25 per residential property and $50 per commercial property will now be imposed for each month payment is late.
  1. What is the incentive the town is providing to encourage landlords to sell or rent?
The escalating vacant building registration fee for each year a property sits vacant is more of a reverse incentive to occupy, rent or sell to someone who can.
  1. What effect will this have on places that have been empty for more than a decade?

The idea is that this motivates commercial property owners to screen new potential tenants, even entertain new use types for their space, as is what happened in June 2020 when the Town Board amended the zoning code to allow for a new type of indoor commercial recreational facility as an approved use type in commercial zoning; they did so in response to a business’ proposal to fill existing, long-vacant commercial space. It may also motivate the property owner to sell the property to someone who is more motivated to fill the space and give an opportunity for a new business to grow.

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