County Identifies Responsible Parties to ?Zombie? Properties
June 8, 2016
Assemblyman Michael Kearns lodged his first complaint with the State Department of Financial Services Friday after having received more than 1,100 reports of “zombie” properties.
“Many people within Western New York still wanted to be part of this campaign. We came up with a way for them to participate and so their voices could be heard,” Kearns said.
Working with the Western New York Law Center, Kearns began his Complaint Campaign to Combat Zombie Properties four weeks ago at the West Seneca Senior Citizens Center. His goal for the day was 100 filings.
Now, his goal is 10,000 complaints, and already he has received responses from Hamburg, Clarence, Lancaster,
Williamsville, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Cheektowaga, West Seneca, Orchard Park, Tonawanda, Lackawanna, Grand Island, Colden, Elma and East Aurora.
Acknowledging that he was on his own in this battle, the assemblyman began creating his own database of incomplete foreclosures.
“Last week we announced that we had approximately 2,300 properties. We’ve linked approximately 600 banks to those properties,” Kearns said. “With this new information, I feel as though we will be able to link every zombie property with a bank, and we’ll be able to hold them accountable and responsible.”
His efforts began nearly one year ago with the Bank Shame Campaign — an effort to embarrass the agencies responsible for properties which had been left vacant or abandoned.
New information has now been posted on the Erie County Real Property Tax Services website.
According to a press release from the office of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, the new information identifies individuals, banks or agencies that have paid the property taxes on any given property in Erie County.
“In the past we’ve had to do research to try to figure out what bank is involved with a property and now we’ll be able to look and see if a foreclosure is filed and check the county website to see what servicer is paying the taxes,” said Kate Lockhart of the Western New York Law Center Distressed Properties Task Force.
She said this is a good way to link banks with properties sooner to continue the campaign’s push for a reform of the foreclosure process and a solution to vacant and abandoned properties.
Kearns said he spoke to Robert Freeman from the Committee on Open Government who confirmed that third party taxpayer records of this type are public information. Kearns originally requested this information be added to the website in early May.
In a letter to Joseph Maciejewski, director of Real Property Tax Services for the county, Kearns said this information is essential to assist his office in combating zombie properties.
“Numerous banks have been uncooperative with respect to the upkeep and maintenance of properties throughout Erie County,” he continued. “As we approach the summer months these nuisance properties will continue to drag down housing values for all Erie County homeowners unless we are able to hold the banks accountable.”
Lockhart said many of the complaint forms they have received have included personal notes of frustration and distress from homeowners with “zombie” properties in their neighborhood.
“I just think it speaks to what Western New Yorkers are going through in dealing with this problem, and it’s very important to not get caught up in the fact that, yes, we have zombies here,” she said. “We don’t want to become numb to this. It’s affecting people’s quality of life here.”
The weighty stack of more than 1,100 complaints will soon make its way to the state, and Kearns said he is using this as a warning.
“Be prepared for thousands of complaints going forward,” he said. “We are going to be expanding this throughout the State of New York.”
Source: Ken-Ton Bee
Ken-Ton Bee (Light shed on ‘zombie’ property ordeal)
Office of Mark C. Poloncarz (EC Real Property Tax Services Expands Online Information)