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Another Voice: The fight against zombie homes continues

 By Michael P. Kearns

The Halloween season is upon us and a very real and scary fight against zombie homes continues. Last year, with the help of numerous representatives from state, county and local governments and the not-for-profit community, we planted 150 bank shame campaign signs all over Erie County the day before Halloween.

Working together we were able to raise awareness that many banks were not being good neighbors by neglecting foreclosed homes and allowing them to become blighted or zombie homes.

In working with local officials and building inspectors throughout Erie County, we were able to identify over 2,000 zombie homes in Western New York. We partially identified the size and scope of the problem, and significant steps have been taken to solve this problem.

On Dec. 20, the Foreclosure Relief Act of 2016 will come into effect and it will empower municipalities to hold banks accountable for these properties. The new law requires: bank inspections of these properties, notification of a contact person with the servicer who can be called toll-free, maintenance of properties after the servicer receives notification of problems and civil penalties of $500 per day for each day a violation on the property persists.

The attorney general also provided much-needed aid for local governments in Western New York this Halloween season by providing $2.9 million in state funds to address the zombie home crisis.

Despite these positive developments, the banks still attempt to trick municipalities and local governments by not being good neighbors.

Recently, I placed a sign on a Bank of America property in my district. The local municipality had written citations for health code violations for the conditions inside the home and the bank was aware that the cost to bring the house up to code was significant.

While the municipality was taking action, Bank of America turned around and sold the property. The community continues to deal with what appears to be a public nuisance and a bad actor bank’s attempt to avoid responsibility, accountability and common decency in cleaning up the mess created by their inaction and omissions.

This Halloween season many of us will enjoy visiting haunted houses, but there are many of us who continue to be legitimately frightened by the zombie homes in their neighborhoods.

State action by the state Department of Financial Services can be sought by going to my website and filling out a zombie complaint form.

It is only through cooperation and concerted effort that we can end this nightmare created by the banks.

Happy Halloween.

Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, represents the 142nd Assembly District.

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