Foreclosed homes have become a common scene in parts of Jersey. The state’s foreclosure rate remains the worst in the nation, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
“It is a multi-layer problem that has a lot of actors that need to be involved in this process to fix it,” said Sen. Troy Singleton, chair of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee.
Singleton has labeled the growing number of abandoned and vacant homes in the state as a foreclosure crisis. Singleton is the sponsor of a package of bills currently moving through the Legislature that are designed to combat the problem. One of the bills would create a statewide database of foreclosed properties.
“We wanted to make sure there was also a notification so folks know who is the responsible person for foreclosed properties. So, that a local mayor, for instance, needs to know, ‘OK, I need to go back to such and such from mortgage company Y or bank X,’ and they’ll have the name and contact information for those individuals,” Singleton said.
Michael Affuso, executive vice president of New Jersey’s Bankers Association, says part of the foreclosure problem is that there is no accountability for out-of-state mortgage companies.
“Think about in urban areas where you have attached houses. We want to know who is responsible for the maintenance of those homes. We’ve had laws on the books for years that forces lenders to maintain the homes. However, the state or the city cannot figure out who the lender is. Without this database they never will,” Affuso said.
“We get complaints from people in the community who live near these buildings, or next to these buildings, where squatters come in and the buildings have not been boarded up,” said Dinah Hendon, director of housing preservation in Jersey City.
One man, who did not want to be identified, lives near one of the foreclosed homes that Hendon is concerned about.
“Nothing but homeless people squatting in there. We called the cops a couple of times. You know, because there’s no utilities and they be using candles or a flashlight,” he said.
In 2018, the city passed an ordinance that requires mortgage companies to register their foreclosed properties in the city’s database. Hendon says currently there is a fee to register and it has to be renewed every year until property is sold. The system is similar to the statewide foreclosure database proposed in Singleton’s legislation.
“Our ordinance requires that they register, the foreclosing bank register, but that they give us the name of a local person or company that is responsible for maintenance, and a registered agent here in New Jersey so that if we have to file a complaint in the court, we have someone that can be served with process,” Hendon said. “The more we require that the owners, that the banks who are responsible for the property, be conscientious about maintaining it, it seems to me the quicker they will try and use their efforts to really sell the property,”
She says in some cases tenants have no idea who they should pay their rent to or if they’ll be evicted, which is why she says it’s important that they know their rights.
“One thing that’s really important for tenants to know, that if they’re in a foreclosed property that they don’t have to move. And that they should, if they are confused or uncertain about who they should be paying their rent to, they should not spend that money, they should hold it and keep it until they get a proper notice,” Hendon said.
Singleton says the database will be paid for by a $30 assessment on every deed that is filed.