Buffalo is looking for a new weapon against some of the city's bad property owners and landlords. The Common Council is asking for a change in the tax lien law for city properties.
It's a legalistic issue, expanding the definition of a tax lien. Under the current state law, selling a property means paying off any back taxes. It doesn't mean paying off Housing Court fines or money the city may have spent fixing up a property by cutting grass or boarding up window.
Right now, an anonymous out-of-state corporation can sell bad housing and not have to pay for problems it may have left behind. State Assemblyman Sean Ryan has legislation to change that and will amend his bill to meet what's in a Home Rule message recently approved by the Council.
"What we'd like to do is to be able to treat those unpaid fines and treat the amount of work that the city does on these properties, treat that as akin to a tax which would then allow us to foreclose on those houses as a way of collecting the fines and having the city reimbursed but also moving these properties out of the hands of very unproductive out-of-state landlords," Ryan told WBFO.
Council President Darius Pridgen says the proposal wouldn't do anything about what he calls shadow owners, but it would put some controls on the sales and perhaps force those properties into the hands of a better owner or put them into a tax auction.
"What it does address is the city being able to get their money on fines. When we've had to go and board up a place or cut grass, they won't be able to just go and get a quick claim deed and not have to address the fine," Pridgen says.