Who is responsible for injuries that happen on foreclosed properties?

Three members of a New York family suffered wrongful deaths in a fire. The family lived in an illegally subdivided home that was in foreclosure.

Because there was no record of tenants in the building, the electricity was shut off which required the family who lived there to use candles. To make matters worse, the fire escapes were blocked on the three-story building. Tragically, a fire accident is believed to have been caused by a candle and claimed the lives of these three innocent victims who were trapped inside this dangerous building.

As soon as a bank has foreclosed upon a property, the bank becomes the property owner and should be required to maintain the property. Right? Literally thousands of New York properties that have been foreclosed upon, however, have unresolved structural violations. As a result, many banks are attempting to delay foreclosures in some instances so that they can avoid responsibility for making properties safe and habitable.

Many banks argue that they are not required to maintain properties or pay for injuries that result from properties that are found in violation of building codes. Instead, they argue that they are primarily administrative owners.

While it may be unclear who is officially responsible for this family's death, it is clear that foreclosed properties in New York pose a serious danger to those living in them. A 2009 state law allows public officials to enter and inspect premises. Some public officials believe that this law should be used to enable inspections on properties that are suspected of having dangerous conditions. They say this could help prevent tragedies like this one because officials could then force building owners to correct the problems.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Senator faults NYC over deaths in foreclosed home," 1 Aug 2011

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