September and October have been exciting months for the Zombie Fight Project (ZFP)! On Sept 25, we officially took legal action against Citizens Bank by serving them a complaint regarding the five zombie properties they have in Niagara Falls. This puts Niagara Falls on the map as one of the first municipalities in New York State to bring legal action under the new Zombie Property and Foreclosure law. The law is fairly intricate, so I wanted to share a few FAQ’s with the community to help explain what is in the works.
Q: Why is the City taking legal action against Citizens Bank?
A: On July 10, we sent a letter to Citizens Bank regarding the code violations found on five of their zombie properties. The letter not only requested that Citizens bring the properties to code, but also offered to discuss how we might work together to get the properties back on the market. On July 11, we received correspondence from Citizens telling us that they were working on the issue and will get back to us with resolutions. After a month of no response to our follow up correspondence, we finally heard back from Citizens; they were still “working on it,” but would not share what they were actually working on.
Since no solutions were being identified, and the properties were not being brought to code as outlined in the law, the next step was to move forward and enforce the law. Citizens knew this was the next step.
Q: Why is filing this complaint such a big deal?
A: It’s a big deal for a few reasons:
1.) The City of Niagara Falls is serious about fighting blight. We have been clear about that since the start of the Zombie Fight Project, and this shows how serious we are. If we have to take banks to court, we can, and we will.
2.) It establishes Niagara Falls as a leader in the Zombie Fight Project, and that we are unwilling to back down. We are among the first to take these cases to Supreme Court, which means we are taking steps to define how to effectively apply the law. There is currently no case law or rubric to follow when these cases go to Supreme Court. Rather than waiting for someone else to define the path, Niagara Falls is choosing to define the path for others to follow.
Q: What is being requested in the compliant?
A: We are requesting the $500/day fine outlined in the law for each property that has outstanding code violations. In addition to this, we are asking for judicial intervention in the foreclosure action for each property so that the banks can expedite the foreclosure process and get the properties back on the market.
Q: Has Citizens Bank responded yet?
A: Yes. We are currently in talks with Citizens Bank, but it is still too early for a resolution. Foreclosure is a long and complicated process in New York State. The timeline outlined in the law is completely outside of our control. The best we can do is adhere to it as close as possible and stay persistent.