ALBANY A group of upstate mayors is pushing New York's top lawmakers to pass a bill targeting abandoned properties before the legislative session ends later this month.
Sixteen mayors signed onto a letter Wednesday supporting a bill from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that would require mortgage lenders to maintain properties that have been abandoned by occupants but haven't yet been foreclosed upon.
Under current state law, banks aren't required to take over a property's upkeep until a judge issues a formal foreclosure judgment, which leads to some homes falling into disrepair before a ruling is handed down, according to Schneiderman's office.
The abandoned homes can lead to an uptick in crime and "contribute to neighborhood blight," according to the letter. Among the mayors who signed the letter were Ithaca's Svante Myrick, Rochester's Lovely Warren, Buffalo's Byron Brown, Elmira's Susan Skidmore and Shayne Gallo of Kingston.
"These properties also cause a decline in the community's real estate market and increase the likelihood of crimes, such as vandalism and arson," the mayors wrote. "As a result, cash strapped municipalities are forced to expend local taxpayer funds to prevent vacant and abandoned homes from becoming public hazards."
The letter, which was distributed by Schneiderman's office Wednesday, was sent to Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, and Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, as well as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.
Klein sponsors the bill in the Legislature's upper chamber.
The letter was sent as the future of major bills in the state Senate is in flux.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday called for a change in the Senate's current majority coalition of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said he now supports full Democratic control of the chamber, and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said Monday that any controversial bills would likely be pushed to next year.
The state's legislative session runs through June 19. All 213 state legislators are up for election in November, as are Cuomo, Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Cuomo hasn't publicly taken a position on the abandoned property bill. Speaking to reporters in Rochester on Wednesday, Cuomo touted his working relationship with the GOP.
"We've reversed that partisanship that existed in Albany," Cuomo said. "For many years, Albany was total gridlock. People forget that. We had gridlock before Washington had gridlock. Albany had it first, and we've totally flipped that."
If the Legislature ultimately passes the abandoned property bill, the Attorney General's Office would be tasked with maintaining a list of vacant properties in New York.
RealtyTrac, a private real-estate tracker, has estimated New York has 15,000 "zombie properties," though Schneiderman has said he believes the actual number is higher.
"We're confident that by working together, we can resolve the problem of vacant and abandoned residential properties, which is plaguing our communities," the mayors wrote.