‘Zombie’ properties getting new life from new laws

Local News

New York’s statewide crackdown on “zombie homes”, a campaign launched in Western New York, seems to be paying off.

New laws were passed in Albany that have enabled towns and cities in this area to fight back against banks and mortgage servicers that threatened homeowners with foreclosure, then failed to follow through, after the properties were vacated.

A “Shame the Bank” campaign was launched in 2015, in response to the alarming number of vacant homes, across Western New York, put in limbo by those “incomplete foreclosures”–even though the homeowners moved out, they still held title to the property. 

State lawmakers got the message and passed a number of new laws, including the Foreclosure Relief Act of 2016 that armed local city, town, and county governments with new tools to take hold banks responsible for zombies they created with their actions.

The Western New York Law Center is suing a mortgage servicing company on behalf of the Town of West Seneca under the Foreclosure Relief Act, also known as the Zombie Foreclosure Law. 

Lead Law Center attorney Amy Gathings says the mortgage failed to maintain a property in the town, as required by the law, after it foreclosed on the mortgage, and the homeowner moved out.

“It really is a duty that they have, under the law. It is for the benefit of the community as a whole to maintain the property, and make sure it is not falling into disrepair, it is not becoming a public health issue.”

Gathings said the zombie law allows West Seneca to issue fines against the mortgage company for housing code violations found on the property, at a maximum of $500 per day for each code violation, which now amounts to about $60,000.

Kate Lockhart, the Vacant and Abandoned Property Program Director for the WNY Law Center said the mortgage servicer gave up its claim to the property in question after it became apparent the property was a lost cause due to its neglect.

“Walking away from a property, leaving this house for the taxpayers and the neighbors and the municipality to have to deal with is not a sufficient solution.”

Once the mortgage was discharged on the property in question the former homeowner sold it and a new responsible owner has taken control.

Now that house that was dilapidated and disrepair in 2017, is much improved. The new owner has  invested in shoring up the damaged foundation, replaced broken and damaged windows, and made other substantial improvements.

Lockhart said the new laws and the lawsuit are providing new homeowning opportunities, and sending a powerful message to banks and mortgage servicing companies.

“We think it is very important that the servicer in this case be held responsible for the neglect that led to this property sitting for years and deteriorating. It’s a cute little house.”

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