It’s the American Dream: a young couple buys a lot overlooking the water, builds a neat home and lives happy ever after.
Life, however, doesn’t always proceed as planned. On one such street in Brick, neighbors say, the couple ended their relationship. One party stayed, then the bills got to be too much. The house then became empty – for six years, illustrating a nightmare comprised of unending red tape and the plight of neighbors who must bear the brunt of problems associated with bank-owned properties.
The home at 126 South Beverly Drive is situated on a bluff overlooking an unobstructed, wide expanse of the Manasquan River. The bluff runs down to a beach with a kayak launch, and small creeks run every which way southward. But the neglected property, despite retaining some of the signs of the modern home it once was, has produced more than a half-decade of headaches for neighbors.
The roof partially blew off during Superstorm Sandy, and to this day, only a tattered blue tarp has been added. Weeds and overgrowth have overtaken the side and backyards. A pool – still covered from six years ago – is an annual mosquito breeding ground. Bats fly in and out. Raccoons patrol the grounds and, presumably, the interior, leaving their dead prey in neighboring yards.
Those who have been able to look inside say mold is thickly caked on the walls.
“It’s actually gotten a little worse,” since the township’s Property Maintenance Board ordered improvements be made last October, said Daniel Newman, the township’s code official.
Years of rain have also taken their toll.
“There are mold spores blowing out the roof,” said Mark Jenks, who lives next door to the property. “The roof has been falling apart since the hurricane. We live next door to this, we can smell the mold spores.”
A testament to the slow wheels of justice in New Jersey, an attorney for Citigroup, the mortgage holder, told a hearing of the property maintenance board on Thursday that the bank does not yet own the home and foreclosure proceedings are continuing.
“The property is in foreclosure, it’s still in foreclosure and the bank is not the owner of the property,” said Gary Smith, a Newark-based attorney who appeared before the board.
The matter is further complicated because of seven tax liens that are active on the property, and the morass of contractors and subcontractors that have failed to keep the home in decent shape while the foreclosure proceedings have gone on.
“We may want to rename this Groundhog Day,” said George Cevasco, who serves on the property maintenance board. “We keep rehashing this same meeting, over and over again.”
At the latest meeting, Smith brought a witness from Altisource, a property management company hired by the bank, to testify as to the condition of the home. That witness, new to the case since it first appeared on the board’s agenda in October, said his company hired a subcontractor to perform maintenance, which in turn hired a second subcontractor. Neighbors say the maintenance was never completed, with workers going so far as to show up with lawnmowers, snap a photo and then load the mowers back in their trucks and drive away without doing any work.
The Altisource employee, who said he is responsible for 7,000 homes in all, explained the company was paying for maintenance work to be performed every 10 days.
“I don’t believe there’s even been a good faith effort here,” Newman said. “I don’t believe there’s been any good faith effort to do anything on the site except for one window that I saw [boarded up] from the backyard.”
The property took so long to get on Brick Township’s radar because, until recently, the township had little power to remedy the situation. But after Mayor John Ducey took office in 2014, the township council quickly passed an authorization of a state law that allows for the accelerated demolition of abandoned properties. The township established the property maintenance board, which has the authority to vote on orders to force property owners to bring their buildings into compliance with safety laws or face a forced demolition.
Fed up with inaction from the bank – the Altisource employee said he was awaiting a June 15 engineering report on the building, even though the board ordered such a report be produced months ago – Newman recommended the demolition of the home if numerous benchmarks were not met within several time periods.
That led Gregory Hock, an attorney who lives on the other side of the derelict home, to plead for a more immediate solution.
“In this three, five or seven day window you give them, they may do just enough to stay this [demolition order], and then in six months we’ll be right back here again,” said Hock, whose home is threatened by the potential collapse of a massive retaining wall his home sits beneath.
Ultimately, the board, under a motion offered by member George Scott, voted against giving the bank any more chances. The demolition order was approved.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Legal notices must now be filed, and the cost of the demolition must ultimately be approved by a vote of the township council, a process that could take 90 days.
“Once the council approves that process, then we go out to bid,” said Joanne Bergin, the township administrator.
There is then an open bidding process, then the bids are examined, then the council must vote to award one of the bids.
“It takes some time,” Newman admitted. “I don’t have any authority to just go in and tear it down.”
“We’re just glad they finally took some action on it,” said Jenks, who met a reporter outside his home after the meeting, as shreds of tarp on the exposed roof flapped in the breeze during an afternoon rain storm. “It’s a shame, because it was a nice house. Before the bubble burst, they had it up for sale for just under $800,000.”