Zombie [Home] Epidemic: Your Essential Survival Guide

the spread, once thought contained, is still creeping across communities – and is perhaps closer than you realize

Their lifeless faces stare back as you drive by. You don’t let your children near them. They inflict terror and disgust upon their neighbors. They infect all homes around them, making properties undesirable and steadily killing their value. The outbreak was widespread, although hitting certain parts of the country harder than others. They popped one after another as neighborhood plagues. Experts pointed to the financial crisis and the great recession. Regardless, the spread, once thought contained, is still creeping across communities – and is perhaps closer than you realize (cue dramatic music). 

At the start of 2016 there was an estimated 20,000 zombies in the U.S., but numbers are growing. In Massachusetts, the number of zombies has grown by 20 percent this year.[1] Together with New York and New Jersey, the three states account for 40 percent of zombies. In New York State, at least 1.6 out of every 1,000 houses in a zombie.[2] Zombies are also on the rise in Oklahoma, Michigan, and Washington.[3] The threat from zombie homes is real and we aim to prepare you to fend off this epidemic.   

Zombie Survival Guide:

There is no silver-bullet fix for zombie houses (but see next month’s article on werewolf houses). This guide is intended to help you make the best of dire circumstances.

  • How to Identify Zombie Homes: Abandoned, unmaintained, and caught in the endless foreclosure process. Their ownership is in limbo – the mortgage holder has moved out but banks have not taken possession yet. Symptoms of zombie houses include: overgrown lawns, boarded up windows, and untrashed fliers and newspapers. Be aware: some houses disguise themselves as zombie houses. Do not be fooled.
  • Turn to the Authorities: Report zombies to your local authorities (start with code enforcement). If you live in New York State, try the state’s dedicated hotline (yes, seriously). The state is requiring banks and lenders to ensure zombies on the list are maintained. In 2016, New York passed a “Zombie Kill Bill” that created efficiencies in the foreclosure process and added requirements for the maintenance of properties by a mortgagee or its loan servicing agent.[4]
  • When you are the Authorities: First, stay calm. Make sure your community has the right tools to deal with zombies. Keep track of your zombies through your existing mapping capabilities (planning department’s territory). Make sure you have the right codes. Here in Saratoga Springs, if you don’t mow your lawn, the city will mow it for you – and add a nice fee onto your property tax bill. Municipalities can also adopt vacant property registries with escalating annual penalties for letting properties sit vacant. Look at communities that are successfully battling zombies. Baltimore’s Vacants to Value program pushes code enforcement, and has consequences for owners that don’t do repairs (i.e., the city takes and sells the house). See this Next City article for more ideas.  
  • When the Authorities are Overrun by Zombies: Okay, time to panic. Just kidding (mostly). Zombie properties are enormous resource hogs when it comes to communities wading through paperwork trying to determine ownership. Through no fault of their own, municipalities often struggle to enforce laws relating to zombies. Now it’s time to take things into your own hands - but let’s not get carried away. Having lived dangerously next to a zombie for two years, yours truly recommends keeping zombie yards in good shape and fixing an occasional run-over mailbox. Other personal advice: stay vigilant. Our neighborhood zombie was the setting for a dramatic trespasser police arrest. Your home’s value, and that of your neighbors, may just depend on it.
  • Stay Safe: Travel in groups when in zombie neighborhoods. When approaching zombies, take care to watch for broken glass and raccoon infestations. And, bring your lawnmower.

Happy Halloween.

You may also be interested in Christa’s Halloween article: Trends in Dark Tourism: Communities Taking Spook to a Whole New Level.


Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

[1] http://whdh.com/investigations/hank-investigates/hank-investigates-zombi...

[2] http://data.newsday.com/projects/long-island/zombie-houses/

[3] http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2016/0...

[4] http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160524/

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