New Jersey has passed Senate Bill S2156 which establishes summary action to foreclosure mortgages on vacant and abandoned residential property. Put into effect for a number of reasons, this bill will fast-track foreclosures which are deemed as vacant, reducing the time for foreclosure from 1-2 years to 60 days.
Two primary reasons exist for putting this bill into action with one directly affecting the other. Because of the length time for foreclosures to go through within New Jersey, banks holding onto vacant properties for an extended period of time. As the properties sat untended they drove down property values in neighborhoods. While the banks do have a duty to maintain the property, the cost of doing so increased significantly as the number of properties in foreclosure rose.
What does this mean for process servers? As the text of the bill reads that “clear and convincing evidence” is necessary to prove vacancy, process servers must maintain a high standard for what constitutes a vacancy as well as the knowledge to be able to determine what is and is not vacant. Simply seeing an overgrown yard and no furniture is not enough to prove vacancy. Process servers must verify vacancy with neighbors, check for missing meters and include a number of tactics to certifiably attest that the property is vacant
Part of the bill also stipulates that process servers in New Jersey must make a minimum of two attempts 72 hours apart and during different times of the day: before noon, between noon and 6 p.m., or between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.
According to the Bill, the property can be deemed vacant if it is not occupied by a mortgagor or tenant meets at least two of the following:
- overgrown or neglected vegetation;
- the accumulation of newspapers, circulars, flyers, or mail on the property;
- disconnected gas, electric, or water utility services to the property;
- the accumulation of hazardous, noxious, or unhealthy substances or materials on the property;
- the accumulation of junk, litter, trash, or debris on the property;
- the absence of window treatments such as blinds, curtains, or shutters;
- the absence of furnishings and personal items;
- statements of neighbors, delivery persons, or government employees indicating that the residence is vacant and abandoned;
- windows or entrances to the property that are boarded up or closed off or multiple window panes that are damaged, broken, and unrepaired;
- doors to the property that are smashed through, broken off, unhinged, or continuously unlocked;
- a risk to the health, safety, or welfare of the public, or any adjoining or adjacent property owners, exists due to acts of vandalism, loitering, criminal conduct, or the physical destruction or deterioration of the property;
- an uncorrected violation of a municipal building, housing, or similar code during the preceding year, or an order by municipal authorities declaring the property to be unfit for occupancy and to remain vacant and unoccupied;
- the mortgagee or other authorized party has secured or winterized the property due to the property being deemed vacant or unprotected or in danger of freezing;
- a written statement issued by any mortgagor expressing the clear intent of all mortgagors to abandon the property;
- any other reasonable indicia of abandonment.