Pence passes law to address vacant housing

City officials in Indianapolis are applauding a vacant housing law signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, despite the fact that it won't let municipalities hold banks responsible for upkeep on so-called "zombie homes."

The law changes a state tax-sale process pertaining to vacant homes that's so complicated that homes often stay empty for years, according to supporters of the law signed last week.

Indiana was among the states hardest hit by urban blight following the housing crisis seven years ago, The Indianapolis Star reported, citing national housing statistics. Indiana had 5,217 vacant homes at the end of January, according to housing data analyst RealtyTrac.

The new rules will allow code enforcement officials to declare properties vacant and speed up the selling process.

"Really, the bottom line is we have made a dramatic effort to allow the local government to be the catalyst to clean up neighborhoods," said state Sen. Jim Merritt, an Indianapolis Republican who sponsored the bill. "It makes it a quicker process and a cleaner process."

But the law has drawn criticism because it prevents municipalities from passing their own ordinances on vacant homes and protects banks holding liens on the homes from regulations requiring their maintenance.

Jeff Miller, a member of the City-County Council of Marian County and Indianapolis, is expected to introduce an ordinance this month that would place the same level of accountability on a lender who issues a foreclosure notice on a vacant home as a homeowner. It would hold banks responsible for general upkeep such as cutting the grass and picking up garbage on the property.

Although the new state law will block the local effort, Miller hopes his proposal will send a message to legislators.

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