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Bills requiring foreclosed home maintenance, Turnpike meetings in Bergen …

Towns could penalize banks for failing to maintain vacant, foreclosed houses under a bill that unanimously passed the Senate today.

If the legislation becomes law, banks could be required to fix code violations in vacant houses they have foreclosed on. The lender would have 30 days to fix the problem.

The Assembly version of the bill has not yet been taken up by a committee.

New Jersey municipalities have been worried about the upkeep of empty homes since the foreclosure crisis began in 2008. They say the houses drive down property values and present health hazards for their neighborhoods.

Currently, banks can sometimes avoid responsibility for maintaining vacant houses if the homeowner has received a notice of foreclosure and moved out, but the bank has not yet received title to the property.

The bill passed today would eliminate that loophole and would allow municipalities to impose the same fines on banks that they can on individual homeowners who violate building codes, whether or not the banks have already taken a property’s title.

The Senate also passed two bills aimed at making the New Jersey Turnpike Authority more transparent.

One would require the agency to hold at least one meeting in Bergen County each year. Currently, the Turnpike Authority – which oversees the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike — holds monthly meetings at its headquarters in Woodbridge.

The bill also requires the authority to hold at least two meetings each year in Atlantic, Cape May or Ocean counties. Its sponsors in the Senate and Assembly represent those three counties.

Bergen County was not originally included in the legislation, said Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee.

“I said, ‘Well, why the south and not the north?’ ” Gordon said.

The second Turnpike bill passed today requires the authority to install electronic screens at toll plazas to tell E-ZPass users what they are paying. E-ZPass users are often unaware of how much they are being charged, according to the bill’s sponsors, who include Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck.

The legislation, called the “Truth in Tolling Act,” would apply to New Jersey’s three toll roads — the parkway, turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway – but not bridges or tunnels.

“The Truth in Tolling Act is nothing more than a little transparency” to help people immediately know how much they are paying, Weinberg said.

Neither Turnpike bill has been taken up yet in Assembly committees.



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