Chicago homeowners stuck with hundreds, even thousands of dollars in fines for ‘zombie foreclosures’ and ‘zombie properties’

CHICAGO (WLS) — “Zombie properties” and “zombie foreclosures” are haunting some people in the Chicago area.

The City of Chicago has issued tens of thousands of dollars in fines to people who are no longer property owners.

Back in July, the I-Team reported on two women who were fined thousands of dollars on properties they didn’t own anymore.

READ MORE: Zombie foreclosures stick former homeowners with major fines from city after bank doesn’t claim deed

Now, The I-Team has found more “zombie” victims. One woman is being haunted by a property that was sold almost 60 years ago, another getting her wages garnished.

“I just feel like I had nowhere to turn, like I’m stuck with it for life, until I’m long gone from here those properties will haunt my children, haunt my family,” Corita Sergeant said.

Sergeant built an empire of rental properties until the financial collapse in 2008 forced her to sell some of them. She lost others to foreclosure, including one in Chicago’s Burnside neighborhood. She thought the home, now knocked down, was in her past but she’s been fined for weeds.

“It can range anywhere starting a $600 go anywhere to like $1,200,” she said.

Sergeant said the city even garnished her wages to pay fines.

“It’s been years of this and I just don’t know what to do at this point,” said Sergeant.

Sergeant and her attorney Mario Reed said the city told her she owes several thousand dollars in fines for the Burnside property, including roughly $1,900 for the demolition of the home and fines for two other properties which Reed says she no longer owns.

“Potentially close to over $50,000 worth of debt. And hers are zombie foreclosures,” said Reed.

A “zombie foreclosure,” Reed explained, happens when a home is foreclosed and the former owner moves out, but the new owner, the lender or the bank does not record the deed in its name. This leaves the previous owner on the hook for nuisance fines, demolition costs, water bills and more.

There are also “zombie properties,” homes that are sold but the new home owner doesn’t record the deed in their name.

“The city of Chicago should forgive the debts,” said Reed.

Since our story, Reed said he continues to get calls about zombie properties and foreclosures, and now has nearly 50 potential clients in similar situations, like Wendie Rose.

Rose received a notice in 2022 to pay fine for weeds even though the property was sold in 1959.The city said Rose owed $650 for overgrown weeds at this empty lot in Marquette Park, all because a deed was not filed properly nearly 60 years ago. It remained the name of her father’s estate.

“Extremely stressful, because I never knew what the city of Chicago would do next,” said Rose. She was able to resolve her issue with Reed’s help, but some of his other clients face an uphill battle.

“The city was just like, well, we don’t care. You know, as far as we’re concerned, you’re the person who owns the property,” Tanisha Rayson-Henry said.

She is fighting a “zombie foreclosure” on the city’s Far South Side. She received a weed violation for a property she said she no longer owns after surrendering her property to lenders, who she said didn’t record the deed.

“That’s stressful, financially and emotionally and mentally as well. Because you want to be done,” said Rayson-Henry.

Chicago’s Department of Finance, which collects fines, said it can only bill people who are listed as owners on record. “A property may continue to be registered to an owner and accrue billing debt,” they said.

That can happen, the city said, if the owner has not followed up with a bank or new buyer to make sure the deed has been properly transferred and recorded.

However, many of the banks and lenders which did not record deeds years ago are no longer in business or have been purchased by other lenders.

“The party that’s to blame is right now our legislature and it stems from the fact that here in the state of Illinois, there’s no requirement to record a deed. So if you purchase a property, you do not have to record that deed with the Cook County Clerk’s Office,” said Reed.

The I-Team reached out to the spokesperson for the Illinois Speaker of the House to find out what can be done about the problem, but have not yet heard back.

Even more frustrating, even if the consumers do eventually get the deeds into the bank’s names, the city said they can still be responsible for fines before the deed was transferred.

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