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New tools coming in fight against "Zombie Properties"

Erie County Clerk's Office stepping up efforts to combat the community plague
Posted at 6:36 PM, May 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-29 18:36:02-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The number of foreclosures in Erie County rose 33% during the first three months of 2019 compared to 2018, said Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns.

That is concerning because too often homes in foreclosure can turn into empty, un-maintained properties that are often know as "zombie properties."

It is a problem that is affecting neighborhoods across Western New York.

"There will be zero tolerance when it comes to zombie properties," said Kearns.

Buffalo, Erie County and New York State have all taken steps to try and deal with the problem.

The Erie County Clerk's Office created a Zombie Foreclosure Task Force and is working to start a new Neighborhood Foreclosure A.L.E.R.T. Program where municipalities can check a database to monitor foreclosures in their community.

Starting June 1st, the clerk's office will also have a full-time member of the WNY Law Center to help research the banks/financial institutions responsible for providing upkeep on vacant homes in foreclosure.

"With the WNY Law Center, we are going to partner with those municipalities and actually sue those banks that don't comply," added Kearns.

Money recovered by those lawsuits will stay with the municipality, said the Erie County Clerk.

It can be a challenging task of determining who is responsible for upkeep on foreclosed homes, explained Kearns, who said students at Columbia Law School are helping research the problem for Erie County as part of an internship program.

The excessive rain this spring is raising concerns of "zombie properties" becoming overgrown with grass and weeds.

Neighbors living by a problem "zombie property" should contact their local municipality to make sure it is aware of the situation.

In addition, people can file a complaint with the New York State Department of Financial Services which oversees bank behavior connected to homes in foreclosure. You can file a complaint with NYS DFS here.

The Town of Amherst is reminding residents that they can file complaints about vacant properties with its buildings department.

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly talked with a Williamsville resident about the nightmare of living next to a home that has been empty and in the foreclosure process for over two years.