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'ZOMBIES Property Awareness Week' kicks off in Erie County

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Tue, Oct 29th 2019 04:20 pm

Erie County Legislator John Mills, Clerk Mickey Kearns, Assemblyman David DiPietro, Evans Supervisor Mary Hosler made announcement

Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns was joined by Erie County Legislator John Mills, New York State Assemblyman David DiPietro, Evans Town Supervisor Mary Hosler, and representatives from the Western New York Law Center to announce the start of “ZOMBIES Property Awareness Week” in Erie County during a press conference Monday morning at a vacant and abandoned property in the Town of Evans.

Kearns, who began fighting against these “zombie” properties when he was a South District Councilman in Buffalo and continued it as an assemblyman, was instrumental in having the Zombie Property and Foreclosure Prevention Act signed into law. After seeing a rise of foreclosure filings at the clerk’s office, he presented a funding proposal to the legislature for the Erie County Clerk’s ZOMBIES Initiative, which was approved unanimously. The WNY Law Center won the RFP bid and is leading the Initiative, which kicked off in June.

Since then, the initiative team has met with nearly every Erie County municipality to educate them on how to resolve zombie property issues in their communities. At last week’s Erie County Legislature session, legislators Mills and Joseph Lorigo sponsored a resolution to name this week “ZOMBIES Property Awareness Week” in the county.

The initiative has provided each legislator and municipal leaders with information about how residents can spot zombie properties; what constitutes a zombie property; and how to report zombie properties in their neighborhoods.

Monday’s announcement was held at an Erie Road home that has been vacant for more than seven years, according to Jordan Zeranti, Esq., managing attorney for the ZOMBIES Initiative. The homeowner fell behind on her mortgage payment after getting sick and entering a nursing home.

“A lis pendens, which is the first step in a foreclosure action, was not filed until November 2016, and there has been no movement on the foreclosure case since then,” Zeranti said.

The mortgage, originally held by Amerifirst Mortgage Corp., was assigned to Bank of America and then subsequently to the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in April 2010. Novad Management Consulting is the loan servicer on this Federal Housing Administration loan.

For the past several years, the Town of Evans has been footing the bill for basic maintenance, like cutting the grass, and saw no end to this growing issue until Jeneen Hill, the town’s assessor and code enforcement officer, contacted the ZOMBIES Initiative team.

Once the case was reviewed, Zeranti said a complaint was registered with the Department of Financial Services. The initiative team is now working with the town on its next steps.

“If the servicer continues to ignore their property maintenance obligations under New York State Law Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law Section 1308, then we intend to bring suit on behalf of the Town of Evans,” Zeranti said. “Though compliance is the ultimate goal, we will litigate where necessary, and will seek $500 per day for each day the violation existed.”

“I am disgusted and I am upset the federal government has allowed Housing and Urban Development to leave a property in this condition. Shame on them,” Kearns said at the press conference. “You can be assured we will bring legal action against them to ensure this property is cleaned up for the Town of Evans.”

Kearns continued: “We thank the Erie County Legislature for proclaiming this week Zombie Property Awareness Week. As the county clerk, I am proud to put in place some of the most progressive programs, including the Erie County Clerks ZOMBIES Initiative to combat the negative impacts of zombie properties in Erie County.”

Mills, whose district includes Evans, added: “These abandoned properties continue to plague our communities. It is our hope that through this week of awareness, we can draw attention to the need to hold lenders accountable and rid Erie County of zombie properties. We hope everyone will help us spread the word about this important weeklong campaign.”

Legislator Lynne Dixon added: “We need action against these zombie homes, because this problem is extremely frustrating for these town officials.”

Evans Supervisor Hosler said this Initiative will finally bring results to the vacant and abandoned homes in her town: “We have more than 100 zombie properties in Evans that we are now maintaining at a cost last year of $250,000. These zombie homes are costing our Erie County taxpayers money. That’s why I applaud Mickey Kearns’ efforts to end this issue by bringing legal action against the mortgage holders.”

DiPietro added: “This is not a political issue but rather, a quality of life issue that affects all of our residents. When I was mayor of East Aurora, I was frustrated by these zombie homes, and I applaud Mickey Kearns’ position on this subject by standing up for residents and communities and working to bring an end to this issue.”

To learn more about the Erie County Clerk’s ZOMBIES Initiative or to alert them to zombie properties, visit www.ErieCountyClerkZombies.com.

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