New York Times: A New Effort in Albany to Put Lenders in Charge of Abandoned Properties

On February 9, The New York Times published an article titled A New Effort in Albany to Put Lenders in Charge of Abandoned Properties.

A New Effort in Albany to Put Lenders in Charge of Abandoned Properties

NEWBURGH, N.Y. — The blackened, nail-filled floorboards snap under the feet of the fire chief, Michael Vatter, as he enters the burned-out home at 322 Washington Street. The blaze that destroyed this house, which faces a popular playground, occurred months ago, but nothing has been done to tear the structure down.

The property is one of thousands of so-called zombie homes scattered throughout financially hard-hit areas of New York State, houses that have been abandoned by their owners before banks have finished foreclosing on them. In many cases, according to upstate politicians and fire officials, these homes have little value, and banks will take years to finish the paperwork. In the meantime, such properties fall apart, or burn down.

“If the banks don’t want the property we are screwed,” Mr. Vatter said. He said local homeless people call the bank-owned zombie houses abandominiums. Wells Fargo owns the Washington Street property; before the fire, it was a “drug-shooting gallery and flophouse” for local prostitutes, Mr. Vatter said.

On Monday, Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, is expected to outline legislation that he hopes will force banks to take responsibility for zombie properties, providing some help to cities like Newburgh, where officials estimate 10 percent of all homes are in some stage of abandonment.

New York State has roughly 15,000 zombie homes and leads the nation in the time required to foreclose on a home, at almost three years, according to data from RealtyTrac, a company that tracks troubled properties.

The bill Mr. Schneiderman will be asking Albany lawmakers to embrace will make lenders responsible for homes soon after they are abandoned, requiring banks to register the properties in a central database and pay for their upkeep, according to government staff members briefed on the legislation but not authorized to speak on the record.

This will not be easy, in part because banks, homeowners and city officials often disagree on what constitutes abandonment. As a result, the attorney general plans to define the term, these people say. The legislation will propose that a house can be deemed abandoned if a bank has not received a mortgage payment after an as-yet-undetermined number of weeks; other conditions, like broken windows, could also be considered.

“If a property is vacant and deteriorating, a bank has a duty to maintain it and move swiftly to resolve the foreclosure case,” Mr. Schneiderman is expected to say Monday, when he plans to detail the legislation during a speech to the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials. His remarks were reviewed in advance by The New York Times.

If the bill passes, banks that fail to register an abandoned house will be subject to a fine, possibly $1,000 a day for each property that is not in compliance. Mr. Schneiderman’s bill also will propose that banks be forced to notify homeowners of their right to remain in a property until a judge has formally signed off on the foreclosure.

Mr. Schneiderman is also expected to propose a separate bill that would double the number of land banks in New York State to 20, from 10. Land banks are state-funded nonprofit organizations that pay to rehabilitate vacant properties.

As for 322 Washington Street, Tom Goyda, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, said that the house had become vacant in May 2012, and the bank immediately took steps to secure it. “Unfortunately, our ongoing efforts to keep the property secure and to address maintenance issues were undermined by the repeated activities of squatters and vandals at the location,” he said.

The bank took full possession of the house in August 2013, just before the fire, he said. “We are working through the insurance claims related to the fire in September before we can determine how to proceed with the property.”

For towns like Newburgh, Mr. Schneiderman’s bill would be a start.

Newburgh, with a population of roughly 30,000 people, sits on the shore of the Hudson River, about 60 miles north of New York City. Like many upstate communities, Newburgh was hit hard when big companies left the region. In addition to zombie houses, it is also battling high crime and unemployment rates.

Judith L. Kennedy, Newburgh’s mayor, said that unless the banks take responsibility for abandoned homes, Newburgh’s problems will only worsen. “Cities like Newburgh have been left holding the bag, and we can least afford it,” she said, standing outside an empty, burned-down shell on Maple Street, not far from Washington Avenue.

A local resident, who lives next to the abandoned property on Maple Street but would not provide his name, said the property had been vacant for roughly three years. He said his windows had been cracked by falling debris; the last item to hit his house was a nest full of dead birds. “When it’s windy, the soot blows into my house,” he said, adding that he has also caught vagrants living in the house. “I am sick of it, and no one cares.”

In addition to being dangerous, Mr. Vatter says, zombie homes drive down property values and drive up insurance rates.

The fire chief welcomes the idea of a registry but said it is almost impossible to get the banks to take responsibility. He recalled the time a Newburgh resident tracked down the bank that owned a broken-down property. The bank hired someone to mow the lawn. “The guy showed up with a push mower,” he said. “I just said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ ”

Please click here to view the online article.

About Safeguard 
Safeguard Properties is the largest mortgage field services company in the U.S. Founded in 1990 by Robert Klein and based in Valley View, Ohio, the company inspects and maintains defaulted and foreclosed properties for mortgage servicers, lenders,  and other financial institutions. Safeguard employs approximately 1,700 people, in addition to a network of thousands of contractors nationally. Website:



Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.


Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.



Sean Reddington

Sean Reddington is the new Chief Information Officer for Safeguard Properties LLC. Sean has over 15+ years of experience in Information Services Management with a strong focus on Product and Application Management. Sean is responsible for Safeguard’s technological direction, including planning, implementation and maintaining all operational systems

Sean has a proven record of accomplishment for increasing operational efficiencies, improving customer service levels, and implementing and maintaining IT initiatives to support successful business processes.  He has provided the vision and dedicated leadership for key technologies for Fortune 100 companies, and nationally recognized consulting firms including enterprise system architecture, security, desktop and database management systems. Sean possesses strong functional and system knowledge of information security, systems and software, contracts management, budgeting, human resources and legal and related regulatory compliance.

Sean joined Safeguard Properties LLC from RenPSG Inc. which is a nationally leading Philintropic Software Platform in the Fintech space. He oversaw the organization’s technological direction including planning, implementing and maintaining the best practices that align with all corporate functions. He also provided day-to-day technology operations, enterprise security, information risk and vulnerability management, audit and compliance, security awareness and training.

Prior to RenPSG, Sean worked for DMI Consulting as a Client Success Director where he guided the delivery in a multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 enterprise client account. He was responsible for all project deliveries in terms of quality, budget and timeliness and led the team to coordinate development and definition of project scope and limitations. Sean also worked for KPMG Consulting in their Microsoft Practice and Technicolor’s Ebusiness Division where he had responsibility for application development, maintenance, and support.

Sean is a graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts and received his Masters in International Business from Central Michigan University. He was also a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force prior to his career in the business world.


General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard and oversees the legal, human resources, training, and compliance departments. Linda’s responsibilities cover regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human resources and training initiatives, compliance, litigation and claims management, and mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans over 20 years, and Linda’s experience covers regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.


Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for the Control, Quality Assurance, Business Development, Accounting & Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.


AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.


AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.


AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.


AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.


AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.


Assistant Vice president of Application Development

Steve Goberish

Steve Goberish, is the assistant vice president of application development for Safeguard. He is responsible for the maintenance and evolution of Safeguard’s vendor systems ensuring high-availability, security and scalability while advancing the vendor products’ capabilities and enhancing the vendor experience.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was a senior technical architect and development manager at First American Title Insurance, a publicly held title insurance provider based in southern California, in addition to managing and developing applications in multiple sectors from insurance to VOIP.

Steve has a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in Ohio.