Assemblyman FOILs DFS and AG for 'zombie properties'

Assemblyman FOILs DFS and AG for 'zombie properties'

Assemblyman FOILs DFS and AG for 'zombie properties'
December 1, 2015

Assemblyman Mickey Kearns is hoping to compare data on “zombie properties” with the Department of Financial Services, but he hasn’t had any luck in getting them to share their information.

Kearns is in the middle of a campaign to shame banks in his district by placing lawn signs identifying the financial institution in front of derelict properties they either own or are in the process of taking through foreclosure. He is also pushing legislation that would make banks more accountable for the condition of the property during the foreclosure process.

Kearns asked DFS to share their list of properties gathered in a registry the agency is compiling as part of an agreement with 11 major banks struck in May that will see them voluntarily adhere to set of best practices outlined in the deal.

But Kearns was rebuffed verbally when requesting the documents in early October, he said.

“They won’t give me the list,” Kearns said, indignation inflected in his voice. “I had to FOIL it.”

Kearns filed a Freedom of Information Law request with DFS and the state Attorney General’s office on October 10, asking for the lists of addresses collected for vacant, distressed, abandoned, foreclosed, unoccupied or zombie properties submitted to either office.

The Attorney General’s office replied saying they did not have such a list. A spokesman from the office told City & State in an email that the office is not responsible for the registry outlined in the agreement.

George Bogdan, the records access officer for DFS, in a letter to Kearns’ office dated Oct. 15, acknowledged the receipt of the request and wrote that the office would respond within 20 days.

The assemblyman has yet to receive any further response, he said.

“DFS received a request from the Assemblyman’s office and is working diligently to comply," a DFS spokesman said. "We are keenly aware of the importance of identifying zombie properties and fighting neighborhood blight, and we look forward to working with the Assemblyman to do so."

As part of the agreement the data was supposed to be shared with state and local officials.

“I should be able to get that information,” Kearns said. “I’m a friggin’ legislator.”

Kearns has been compiling a list of his own as part of his push to prevent homes from falling into disrepair during the foreclosure process. His list, which he admits is imperfect, has grown to over 2,000 properties in Erie County.

A DFS representative indicated to Kearns on the phone that their list had about 200 properties when they spoke in October, he said.

“They’ve only got 200 properties,” Kearns said. “How in the hell can I have 2,000?”

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from DFS. 

Justin Sondel