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Foreclosure notice? Stay home, Buffalo judge says

Homeowners who receive a foreclosure notice from their bank should stay in the house, and cut off any padlock that is put on their door, Housing Court Judge Patrick M. Carney said Thursday.

Carney spoke to about 50 people who had gathered in Council chambers in City Hall for a public hearing about housing issues, where vacant and flipped properties were also addressed.

People should leave their house only if they get a court order, he said.

Many times, people who are facing bank foreclosure think they must leave because of carefully worded letters they receive from their mortgage lender, he said. But they don’t know they are still responsible for the upkeep of the home, even if the bank starts paying the taxes so it doesn’t face foreclosure from the city.

“It’s your house, you own it, you’re responsible for it,” he said.

Even Carney said he can’t get banks on the phone about properties that have fallen into foreclosure, been abandoned by the homeowner and are now becoming blights on their neighborhoods.

State law allows for lengthy foreclosure processes in order to protect the person who wants to stay in the home. But sometimes, the banks take much longer to foreclose and put the property up for sale.

Speakers at the hearing said more must be done to put pressure on the banks to act.

“We cannot settle anymore for these vacant properties,” said Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo.

Housing problems are a huge burden on the city, and 60 percent of 311 calls are housing-related, said Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, who called the hearing.

Flipping, or purchasing homes for a low price and trying to sell them at a high price, was also discussed.

Fruit Belt resident Veronica Hemphill-Nichols said she is trying to purchase the home she rents, but the owner, who purchased it cheaply at the city auction, is trying to get much more for it, and in the meantime hasn’t done anything to improve it. The owner is based in Israel and hasn’t completed routine maintenance, she said.

“There’s no protection for the tenants who care about these properties and call them their home,” she said.

Esterphine Greene, who lives in Hamlin Park, said absentee landlords are neglecting properties in the neighborhood’s most visible areas.

“Boarded up nicely,” as one landlord described a property, “is not sufficient for East Delavan, one of our gateway roads,” Greene said.

The Council will try to address the issues raised in the hearing with legislation, and also in seeking enforcement of existing laws, especially those that mandate that landlords notify the city of the person responsible for managing their investment properties, Smith said.