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The Manville News
Serving Manville and surrounding communities

MANVILLE: Abandoned homes becoming borough problem
Deal with maintenance issues, residents tell Borough Council
Along the tour route, stakes help comparative photos showing how the same property looked underwater. (Photo by Gene Robbins)
By Mary Ellen Day, Special to the News
Published on Wednesday, July 3, 2013 3:05 PM EDT

How to deal with abandoned houses in Lost Valley was raised again at the June 24 Borough Council meeting.

Some houses in the flood-prone area have been vacant since Hurricane Irene in 2011 or even earlier. People who had been living in those homes have just walked away, leaving the home behind.

They have not looked back, but neighbors have to still deal with the homes.

Now that the weather is warmer, abandoned homes have the smell of mold, unsightly broken windows, high grass and more, residents said.

Councilwoman Susan Asher asked if there was any way to pressure banks into either demolishing homes that have been abandoned for three or more years or bringing them up to code.

She said the Public Works Department is cutting grass on many such properties.”Are we going to be looking at this for the next 30 years just sitting there?” she asked rhetorically. “Cutting the grass makes it a little better, but still they have garbage on their property, windows broken, doors open. It is a health issue for the people who live next door, live and walk around with children. Is there any way that we can say, ‘Get it into livable shape or demolish it?’”

Borough Attorney Francis Linnus said the borough could pursue remedies through ordinances on the books.

”If you follow the procedure, that, ultimately, might happen,” he said.Mr. Linnus also suggested the Board of Health could step in.

In March, the Borough Council passed an ordinance mandating repairs to properties “unfit or unsuitable for habitation or use.” If work had to be done by the borough, there will be costs as liens.

Mr. Linnus said the first step is to declare the house was legally abandoned. He said he did not see any problem sending a letter to the lender to put them on notice.

”If we have all that, we need to take it a step further now,” he said. “We need to officially send something to these people saying we are no longer going to tolerate the conditions of this house.”

Borough Administrator Gary Garwacke said few properties were owned by the banks.

During the public portion, a few residents spoke to the issue. A resident said there were seven houses on his street that are abandoned.Mayor Angelo Corradino said liens are placed on the houses and whoever is paying the taxes for grass-cutting costs.

”We are working on it,” the mayor said numerous times. “It is being taken care of.”

Resident Ruth Slovek said the public needs to know the plan of action.Former Councilman Richard Onderko brought a presentation he found online from Rutgers University about how to deal with abandoned homes. He shared it with the mayor and asked him to give it to council members. He suggested the council should get someone to provide leadership on the issue.

”This has been going on way too long,” he said. “These homes that are abandoned and mold-infested need to be knocked down. You need to stop the blight in these neighborhoods, and it ain’t getting any better.”

Mr. Onderko asked if there was an abandoned property list and if he could get a copy of it.

Lost Valley resident Gloria Saverino said the issue has been around for years.

”I have two houses behind me abandoned, and I don’t know what you consider abandoned, but nobody has been there in over three years,” she said. “The house behind me has never even been cleaned after the last flood. Nothing. The water hasn’t been emptied. Nothing. The mold there is from floor to ceiling.”

Ms. Saverino told the mayor that instead of having another study or hiring engineers to just buy them out.”The borough does not have that money to buy you out,” he said.

”Why are all these other towns getting everything and we’re not?” she asked rhetorically. “The only thing you sit up there and say is ‘we will look into it.’ That is a crock.”

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