Despite the name, a zombie home is not a house full of zombie fans binge-watching the latest season of a popular zombie show on a Friday night. Unfortunately, a zombie home is one where a bank began the foreclosure process but, for unknown reasons, failed to see the lawsuit to completion. As a result, the evicted homeowners remain liable for the property and often incur a mountain of debt as a result. If you're the homeowner in this situation, you may be wondering if it possible to hold the bank liable for damages you sustain because of its inaction.

It May Be Possible Using Negligence Laws

It may be possible to hold the bank liable using the state's negligence laws. The negligence tort is used when one party behaves in a careless or reckless manner that causes another party to be injured as a result. There are four elements that must be proven true to win a lawsuit against a person or company using this tort:

  • The defendant must have had a legal duty to the plaintiff
  • The defendant must have breached that duty
  • The breach caused injury to the plaintiff
  • The plaintiff sustained compensable damages as a result of the breach

For instance, as a consequence of the banks failing to legally take possession of the foreclosed home, the registered owners are often cited by the city for not maintaining the property or stuck paying property taxes. To make matter worse, since the property owners typically abandon the home when it goes into foreclosure, they are often unaware anything is amiss until they receive a letter from the government demanding payment or ticketing them.

A bank could be held responsible for compensating the homeowner for these fees and charges if the homeowner proved the bank was negligent in not taking possession of the home in a timely manner.

Establishing Duty is the Key to Success

The biggest challenge in litigating this type of case is establishing that the banks have a legal duty to homeowners to follow through with foreclosure proceedings. This can be very difficult to do because, unlike in a criminal trial, defendants in civil suits don't have a Constitutional right to a speedy trial. While states do have laws detailing how much time a person has to file a civil lawsuit, there generally are no rules regulating when the lawsuit must conclude once it has begun.

To hold the bank liable for damages you sustained because of their failure to complete the foreclosure, you'll need to establish their duty to do so by either using the language in your mortgage contract if the bank has established a timeline for foreclosing on the home or finding a legal precedent establishing the bank's duty in this area.

Even if you're not able to collect compensation for damages related to a zombie home, there may be things you can do to force the bank to take possession of the house so you're no longer responsible for it. It's best to discuss the issue with an attorney who can help you put down the zombie home once and for all.