A measure making its way through the New Jersey Legislature would allow towns to require mortgage lenders to maintain vacant foreclosed homes.

The legislation would give a creditor 30 days to correct any building code violations or face the same fines that a homeowner would pay.

Lenders need to take responsibility for the homes they foreclose on, said Sen. Ron Rice, the bill's primary sponsor.

"Once you foreclose those properties, in essence, you own them and you're no different than anyone else," Rice said. "I don't care if you live in California or your business in Texas you have to maintain those properties and to do otherwise is really pulling our communities down throughout the state."

He said he's been frustrated when he's tried to get in touch with lenders.

"They're out of state. They say they're going to do something and they don't," said Rice, D-Essex. "You go back to a 1-800 number, and you get someone else. Some of them cuss you out and say they don't care who you are."

Rice says when a foreclosed residence is unoccupied and not maintained, the property deteriorates and can bring down the value of surrounding homes.

"It's a health initiative. It's a safety initiative. It is also an environmental piece, and it will also help maintain the value of neighborhoods," he said of his proposal.

Vacant homes can also be a magnet for criminal activity, he says.