"Banks, not Buffalonians, need to shoulder burden of abandoned homes"

Unfinished foreclosure proceedings put homes in legal limbo across region

The City of Buffalo is being overrun by 'zombie' foreclosures, with the problem spreading from depressed urban areas into suburbs in the region. These blighted homes, falling into disrepair and decay, are as terrible as their name implies.

A zombie foreclosure occurs when a homeowner abandons the home after receiving a notice from the bank that the house will be foreclosed. But for an array of reasons, the bank never completes the paperwork. This leaves the home title in the newly absent homeowner's name, along with legal responsibilities for the house.

The irresponsibility of the bank combined with infamously long foreclosure proceedings in New York -820 days, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency -creates the problem.

Legally, the bank servicing the home's mortgage can walk away from the foreclosures proceedings, leaving the title with the homeowner. This allows the bank to avoid taking on the liability of the often low-value derelict buildings. It is simply not worth their time.

But what is an easy and convenient cop-out for banks causes serious problems for homeowners, neighborhoods and cities.

The issue creates a major financial and legal burden for the unknowingly liable homeowners. Across the Buffalo metro area, hundreds of these vacant, parasitic homes are haunting their former owners and neighbors.

Homeowners are often blissfully unaware the foreclosure process was never completed, leaving them accountable for, at times, thousands in debt, code violation fines and municipal services. Last year, Buffalonian David Volker was hauled into court for code violations on a home he believed was foreclosed and no longer his responsibility, according to a Reuters report.

The preponderance of this problem in Buffalo and surrounding suburbs demands immediate legislative action.

This city already has a notoriously pervasive abandonment problem. Buffalo has faced a striking population decline since 1950, when the population was 580,132, down to its current 261,310, according to the census. Coupled with economic hardship, the city is choked with thousands of abandoned homes.

Allowing banks to unconscionably leave the problems of these homes on the doorstep of often already depressed communities is both reprehensible and irresponsible.

These abandoned homes often become blights on neighborhoods, quickly attracting crime and vandalism. The eyesores then drive down property values for neighbors.

Attorney General Eric T. Shneiderman proposed statewide legislation last week to help ameliorate the problem, according to The Buffalo News. The plan calls for a registry of these homes to assist municipalities in tracking them and language to hold banks responsible for maintenance.

Similar legislation has been thwarted in the past, however, due to the powerful bank lobby in the state capital. Banks, understandably though shamefully, would rather not be held accountable for the dilapidated residences.

Allowing this problem to persist would subject entire neighborhoods and homeowners to continued and worsening harm from these properties in favor of the preferences of negligent banks.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com