(WIVB) – As relief from the COVID-19 pandemic draws closer, authorities are bracing for another surge of foreclosures and evictions.

One local official is taking a stand to keep homeowners in their homes.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns is warning banks, mortgage servicers, and attorneys if they are going to force families out of their homes- often due to circumstances beyond their control in this pandemic – he is going to hold them to the letter of the law, or it won’t get done.

“It has been fast and loose for many years,” Kearns said. “After 2008, many of the laws tightened up.”

Kearns has seen it too many times- banks and mortgage servicers force families from their homes through foreclosure, but then fail to follow through and after years of neglect the property becomes a “Zombie”- deteriorated and often no longer habitable, despite efforts by neighbors and local officials to try to save it.

“It is unconscionable that people who are facing foreclosure don’t even know who is responsible for servicing their mortgage documents,” Kearns said.

In some cases, companies have used fictitious names, possibly to avoid scrutiny. So last year state lawmakers passed a measure requiring mortgage servicers to provide contact information with their foreclosure documents.

Otherwise, as Kearns writes in this letter, his office will reject their applications.

“How many times have we gone out and the neighbors, or the code enforcement official, or the municipality wanted to get in touch with someone who is responsible for the property?” Kearns said.

Kearns is also leading an effort that encourages families facing foreclosure to stay in their homes, because when the bank fails to follow through, the deed is still in their name.

“A vacant and abandoned house is not good for the municipality, not good for the neighbors, and it is not good for the homeowner,” Kearns said. “That is why we have the Stay in Their Home campaign.”

If you are facing foreclosure, the Erie County Clerk has assembled a number of resources to help at a website, called “Stay in Your home.”

You can find a link here or call the clerk’s office at 858-6985.