NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) — Homes that have been vacant or abandoned for years have been given the rather cryptic term, “zombie” homes.

The City of Niagara Falls is forming an agreement with the Western New York Law Center to try to address these properties, which have become a chronic problem there and in many other areas of Western New York.

“They have the capacity to really dig into these properties and not only identify, but then move on the properties, do things that are necessary to bring those property owners into compliance,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Rob Restaino.

Restaino added it has been an issue identifying who the owners of the homes are at times, and then to actually address a particular home to get it into compliance. Many times, in turns out, a bank or a mortgage company owns the home and allows it to fall further into disrepair.

Zombie properties have been a big problem in Niagara Falls for years — resulting in blight and lowering property values.

The WNY Law Center has been addressing zombie homes in Erie County and has received funding to do the same in Niagara County.

“What we can do as a team at the Western New York Law Center is act sort of as a mobile unit to go out and help municipalities address issues around vacant and abandoned properties,” said Kate Lockhart, the vacant and abandoned property program director at the WNY Law Center. “We will help collect complaints from community members we will work with code enforcement to collect information on the property.”

Lockhart explains what the center will be able to do with its team of attorneys.

“Internally, we will do the research to figure out, does this property fit under specific zombie foreclosure laws, if a bank is involved or are there other things that we need to try to address the vacancy, our goal is always to get a property into compliance,” Lockhart said.

Leaders say that demolitions are the last resort. The city will work with agencies such as Habitat for Humanity to try to renovate homes. Lawsuits could be filed to get homes in compliance.

“We’ve been doing this for years in Erie County, we’ve sued for multiple different municipalities and come back with settlements, we’ve found that most of the banks — when they know you’re paying attention — keep properties in compliance,” Lockhart said.

File a complaint

Residents in Niagara County can file a complaint about a vacant property with the WNY Law Center by emailing or by calling them at (716) 855-0203 ext. 153.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.