Zombie task force warns banks, shape up or pay up

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BOSTON, N.Y. (WIVB)

Erie County’s zombie task force is starting to flex its muscles, letting banks know, when they foreclose on homeowners, it is also their job to keep the property in good repair.

The zombie team, officially the Erie County Clerk’s Zombies Initiative, is in the first phase of implementing a state law that gives local governments a new weapon to crack down on zombie property.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, as a state assemblyman, led the fight to pass the Foreclosure Relief Act, which took effect in 2016, but smaller towns lack the resources to make it a fair fight.

First stop, Thursday, for the Zombie Initiative was a vacant, dilapidated house on West Hill Road in Boston.

Dale Bacchetti is among the West Hill Road neighbors that have been giving town officials an earful.

“I have a one year old grandson, and we are afraid to leave him outside with the rodents and the mice. They are coming on our property and scattering around the property because of the high grass.”

Local officials said the vacant property has been in foreclosure for 5 years, and banks seem to be playing a shell game–the mortgage has changed hands 8 times in that period.

Ironically the deed was still in the owner’s name, but he died, and now it is in trust, which is where Kearns said, the Zombie Initiative comes in, “Our job as elected officials is to hold those accountable, and we will hold those banks accountable.”

The Western New York Law Center is carrying the ball for the town. If the bank holding the mortgage fails to clean up the property, the WNY Law Center could sue the bank resulting in fines up to $500 a day.

Jordan Zeranti, a WNY Law Center attorney said the watchdog group is prepared to follow through, “At that point we would put in a complaint and we will seek action. We will seek the full $500 per day if it was left in disrepair.”

The Erie County Legislature authorized Kearns to spend up to $200,000 from the County Clerk’s surplus funds, to take on banks that fail to keep up foreclosed properties.

The Zombies Initiative is encouraging residents to report vacant foreclosed property, and the number to call is 828-8438, or you can report the zombie property online at the Zombies Initiative website.

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