Teaneck Takes on Zombie Homes

December 13, 2016 | Politics
After residents complained, Teaneck adopted an ordinance requiring maintenance and registration of vacant homes.

By Erin Delmore

There goes the neighborhood. Zombie homes are rearing their ugly heads all over New Jersey.

“Well obviously you can see that the paint is peeling off of the eves, there’s no window treatments, newspapers thrown in the driveway, there’s advertisements in the mailbox and then when you do a walk around you can obviously see the property is vacant. And then you can go up the steps and look and there’s nothing there,” said Code Enforcement Officer Nick Barese.

These properties are vacant, abandoned, bank-owned and often ill-kept. The number of zombie homes shot up after the 2008 recession, and while it’s gone down over the years the problem hasn’t gone away.

“Everyone wants to maintain their property value and to live in a decent and clean neighborhood,” said Teaneck Township Manager William Broughton.

After residents called in complaints, the town council in Teaneck adopted an ordinance requiring maintenance and annual registration of properties. They say it’s not just a quality of life issue, it’s a safety issue, too.

“You could have squatters. You can have kids just go in there who want to have a party, have a couple of cigarettes and the next thing you know the house could go up in fire. So there’s a lot of security issues you’re worried about. The other thing is that if it’s not well-maintained, you can have rodents that are winding up on the property and then you have a health issue,” Barese said.

Some houses in Teaneck are actually in Bogota, a neighboring town that’s less than three-quarters of a square mile big. The town had 35 vacant abandoned properties at the beginning of the year. Five have sold, so they’ll end the year with 30. The town’s code enforcement officer tells me this house is by far the worst. It’s been abandoned for 10 years.

“Obviously, there are some obvious signs, if there’s no window treatments in the windows,” said Barese.

Bogota’s code enforcement officer is handling the issue for Teaneck. He’s scouting the town and submitting a list of abandoned properties to the Teaneck Department of Health. The DOH will contact the person responsible — sometimes it’s the mortgage lender — and make sure the property is registered and brought up to standards. But if they can’t figure out who’s responsible…

“The township does step in at times and do some maintenance work on properties to make them presentable and not be a nuisance to residents living in the area,” said Broughton.

The code enforcement officer hired by Teaneck has 90 days to cover the whole township. But with homes in various states of foreclosure, township administrators know this is going to be an ongoing issue.