City Receives Assistance With Zombie Properties
It is unknown how many zombie properties there are in the city of Jamestown.
Vince DeJoy, city development director, however, knows city officials can use all the help they can receive in helping educate homeowners who might be going through the foreclosure process. On Friday, DeJoy spoke about how city officials have been able to receive additional help in educating homeowners thanks to a $150,000 state grant they received through the Zombie and Vacant Properties Remediation and Prevention Initiative program.
DeJoy said with the funding, city officials have been able to pay for the assistance of Todd Thomas, an independent contracted attorney, who can provide homeowners with information about the foreclosure process; do research into zombie properties; and attend housing court dates to represent the best interest of the city when dealing with maintaining and securing zombie properties.
Zombie properties are houses that are vacant and abandoned that are not maintained during a prolonged foreclosure proceeding. DeJoy and Thomas spoke about a zombie house on Linwood Avenue in the city that is abandoned with no homeowner maintaining the property. DeJoy said the house is not going through a foreclosure process, but has been abandoned by the homeowner. He said city officials know the utilities were turned off to the property in June, but don’t know who the homeowner is or where they have gone. Thomas said a lot of zombie properties in the city have unique stories just like the property on Linwood Avenue.
“We are kind of baby sitting it now,” DeJoy said.
City officials have added the property to the list of several where they routinely mow the lawn to give the appearance that someone still lives at the Linwood Avenue property. DeJoy said city officials don’t want people to know the house is abandoned because it could attract the attention of an arsonist. He said it is a poor choice for a homeowner going through the foreclosure process to just leave their house unattended. He said city officials have the right to charge the homeowner for mowing the grass, which means the property owner could receive an order to appear in housing court.
DeJoy added if someone doesn’t appear before the judge in housing court, city officials then have the right to issue an arrest warrant for the homeowner.
Thomas said often a homeowners will leave their property once they receive a letter from their lender about the possibility of foreclosing on the property. He said if a homeowner receives this initial foreclosure letter, it doesn’t mean they have to leave the property right away. Often a foreclosure is a lengthy process, with the homeowner not needing to leave the property until a court order is issued.
“The primary message that our office will tell homeowners that have received some type of correspondence from their mortgage lender that a foreclosure action is being taken upon them is that they shouldn’t leave or abandon their house,” DeJoy said. “They are still legally responsible for the maintenance and upkeep until an actual judgment of foreclosure has been adjudicated in court after a lengthy process. Abandoning your home and leaving it in the hands of the lender is a poor choice not only for them, but the community.”
DeJoy said the first initiative city officials would like to announce is their outreach efforts to let homeowners know that that there are programs available for those that are in a mortgage crisis situation. The primary use of the state grant was to hire Thomas during the grant’s two-year time period. DeJoy said Thomas has a great deal of experience helping clients through the foreclosure process he received during his employment at LAW NY and that he still maintains relationships with attorneys who know about the various programs available to assist and guide homeowners experiencing foreclosure.
“As part of our outreach, there are six billboards that are strategically placed around the city that will be up for the month of July and then there will be one billboard that will be in different locations for the next five months,” DeJoy said. “There is also information on the city’s new website – jamestownny.net — directing homeowners where to call for legal information and referrals.”
DeJoy said some of the activities for Thomas includes providing legal information and outreach to homeowners that are in the foreclosure process and providing referrals to appropriate programs and agencies; conducting research on properties that are identified as zombie properties; helping homeowners such was the case recently when Thomas helped a homeowner get back into their house after the lender discharged the mortgage; working directly with the city’s code enforcement team to represent the city in code enforcement cases that are being heard in housing court; represent the city to insure that lenders that have identified properties in foreclosure proceedings are following all of the requirements in Section 1308 of the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law; and pursuing repayment of funds used by the city for demolition of properties and other charges such as lawn mowing and trash removal from the responsible property owners where the city had to take some type of action to remove a health and safety hazard.
DeJoy said if a member of the public suspects a property to be a zombie house or believes there is a housing code violation, they can contact the city’s Development Department by calling 483-7542 or they can call Thomas at 484-4103. They can also visit the city’s website – jamestownny.net — to report properties that are vacant and abandoned or have housing code violations by using the MyGov complaint page by going to the development/housing link under departments.
“We need the community’s help to identify properties that left abandoned or neglected that can have a serious negative effect on the adjoining homes on that street and the neighborhood,” DeJoy said. “This needs to be a community effort to combat these properties so that we can try to hold either the homeowners to the lenders accountable to maintain the properties to insure neighborhood safety and health.”