New ‘zombie’ law to banks: take control of foreclosed property or give it up

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–New York municipalities were handed a new tool, this week, to try to put the brakes on “zombie” properties. A new state law, banks are required to take control of properties they have foreclosed, or give up their financial stake in the property altogether.

Housing officials generally blame certain bank foreclosure practices for creating zombie homes. The bank, or loan servicer, forecloses on a property, the homeowners move out, but the bank often fails to follow through on the foreclosure, and the property is abandoned.

But Jordan Zeranti, an attorney for the Western New York Law Center, points out, the original homeowner still has title to the property, but is long gone.

“Former homeowners who thought that the property is no longer theirs, turns out, once the bank discharges the mortgage, the property is still theirs, however many years later.”

This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Zombie Property Remediation Act of 2019, which Zeranti said empowers cities, towns, villages, and counties to force a bank to either complete a foreclosure on an abandoned property, or dismiss the mortgage.

“They can compel the banks to bring a foreclosure action. That is something they were not able to do before. So it is huge.”

But the municipalities bear the burden of determining when the property is abandoned, and Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns has assembled a task force, the Zombies Initiative, to help local officials locate those vacant properties and write them up.

“Anyone knows, you not only buy the house, you buy the neighborhood,” said Kearns, “all people–the municipalities, the banks, and really the homeowners–they are looking for solutions.”

Banks that fail to comply with the state’s zombie laws can be fined up to $500 a day. In any case, Kearns urges homeowners who are faced with foreclosure to stay in their home, because–as he points out–the banks often fail to follow through.

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