City forecloses on home then sells it for unpaid user fees


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A duplex on Buffalo’s east side that has been home to a family for more than 30 years, was auctioned off, last week, by the City of Buffalo to collect unpaid garbage and sewer user fees, amounting to a few hundred dollars.

Now the Buffalo family is fighting City Hall to keep their home, “like they just took something from you, and you had no say so in it. It’s not like no one lives in the house–we live in the house,” said “Marie”, a family member who shared their dilemma with Call 4 Action.

News 4 is not using Marie’s real name, nor the address of the house, at her request. The house was owned by Marie’s parents, then her father died, and last year her mom passed away.

“She was okay to handle her own bills, so I would not have knew nothing about it,” said Marie. Then city officials made their family tragedy even worse when they foreclosed, “I felt like they just took our parents’ house from us without us even having a say so.”

Marie was in the process of transferring the deed, when she was notified the City was about to sell the property, “they told me to run down to City Hall. I got to City Hall and they told me the house was sold.”

Marie felt powerless to save the family homestead, then was advised to contact the Western New York Law Center, and Call 4 Action.

Andrew Spong, an attorney for the Western New York Law Center is taking Marie’s case, with the intent of turning back the foreclosure sale.

“We would like to ask a judge to give her an opportunity to make that repayment, but that is a level of work, in administrative overhead, that is maybe not necessary in all cases,” said Spong, who has also been contacted by another family whose home was sold by the city at last week’s foreclosure auction.

Both cases involved homeowners who died, and surviving family members claim they did not receive notice from the city of unpaid user fees, until the property was already sold.

Masten Common Councilmember Demone Smith is sponsoring legislation that would improve the city’s foreclosure practices. Smith provided the notice to Marie about the pending foreclosure sale, just as he does for other property owners in his district, facing foreclosure.

In light of a similar foreclosure sale involving a Riverside family whose home was sold out from under them, Smith would like the city to personally serve homeowners with notices of pending foreclosures sales.

The Riverside family, who live on Esser Avenue, are still fighting to save their home in State Court, after a New Jersey investor bought the house at last year’s foreclosure sale.

Councilman Smith believes the city should insure that a property owner is served their foreclosure notice, personally before the property is auctioned, “Before we sell your house, I think we should invest in personal service to let people know, and try to work them out, before we even file for foreclosure.”

Smith, who is also the Council’s Majority Leader, says the city is getting better at saving homeowners from these unfair foreclosures, but they still have work to do.

Attorney Spong plans to file a motion in county court, to stop the sale of Marie’s house from going through, meanwhile, the Esser Avenue foreclosure is still pending in state court, but sources say the lawyers for the city, the homeowners, and the New Jersey buyer are on the verge of a settlement.

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