Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns announced a new partnership with the Columbia University Law School, Wednesday, to identify foreclosed homes that have been abandoned by their owners, and have become “zombie property”.

Columbia has developed a working relationship with the Western New York Law Center in Buffalo to come up with software for determining if a vacant property is a bank foreclosure, and identify the bank or mortgage servicer that is conducting the foreclosure.

Kearns said a new state law, the Foreclosure Relief Act now requires banks to maintain property they have foreclosed, if the homeowners abandon their homes, but Kearns believes the best way to prevent a foreclosure from turning into a zombie is for the property owner to stay with the house.

If people stay in their home we will not have another zombie property, and we can figure out what the solution is.”

The project is designed to provide the resources for Erie County’s smaller towns and villages to tackle any problems they might have with abandoned property, and the Western New York Law Center Executive Director Joseph Kelemen said the program will be restricted to researching vacant property only.

The problem is basically finding out who the servicer is, and I think this project will really bring a lot of resources to the area, and really help us tracking this down.”

Columbia Law School is setting up software to identify vacant properties that are foreclosures and which bank or mortgage servicer is doing the foreclosure. Students who work on the project will get credit toward their degree.

Kearns said the towns of Boston and Evans have already committed to being the first municipalities to test the program out, and if the project proves to be a success, it could be expanded statewide.