By JULIE CARR SMYTH
AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A new state law is being viewed as a national model for eliminating zombies. Zombie properties, that is.
A law taking effect Wednesday will speed up the process for foreclosing on vacant and abandoned properties - homes and other structures given their nickname for being left to languish like the living dead.
The legislative solution, which was three years in the making, cleared the state Senate and House and was signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich in June. It establishes a fast-track system that trims the foreclosure process from two years or more to as little as six months.
Backers say the speedier foreclosure procedure, tucked into a bill exempting certain natural gas sales from the state sales tax, also protects property owners' rights by requiring at least three of 11 listed factors to be present before foreclosure can begin.
Factors triggering the court process under the plan include disconnected utilities, boarded-up or broken windows, unlocked doors, accumulated trash, vandalism, a lack of furnishings or window treatments and clear signs no one lives there, such as uncut grass or mail piled on the porch.
A Cleveland-based advocate for the law, Robert Klein, said one of the main issues leading to zombie properties is the length of the foreclosure process.
"A vacant property is not a bottle of wine. It does not get better with age," said Klein, whose companies promote property preservation and fight blight. "Nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where properties have become blighted."
Klein said houses that sit vacant for two or three years can be susceptible to vandals and pests or become havens for criminal activity. That lowers a neighborhood's desirability and eventually area property values.
The new law makes it a crime for an owner to purposefully do physical harm to a property.