Monday, March 27, 2017

Sleazy Ex-Hubby Uses Forged POA To Sell Wife's Condo Out From Under Her & Pocket The Cash; Jury Finds Title Insurer Liable For $1.35 Million For Role In Scheme; Appeal Expected

In Austin, Texas, the Southeast Texas Record reports:
  • A woman who claimed she was defrauded out of $1.35 million from the sale of her West Austin condominium has won her lawsuit against Chicago Title of Texas LLC and other businesses.

    A Travis County jury reached the verdict for Mari-Louise Larsen, a Danish citizen, finding that she was defrauded out of her condominium.

    “This case was won significantly, but we expect an appeal,” Brian Hail, attorney for Larsen and partner with Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank LLP, told The Record.

    Larsen filed the fraud claim in 2013 against her ex-husband, Andre Jones, Chicago Title and other businesses.

    The fraud scheme included falsifying power of attorney to complete contracts and forgery involving a promissory note.

    Larsen met Jones in Austin in 2007 and the couple married in Denmark in 2009. While waiting to move to Austin, Larsen agreed to buying a luxury condominium in Austin with money from a family inheritance. Jones told Larsen that Texas law stated both of their names must be on the title, which was incorrect.

    When Larsen and Jones decided to divorce years later, Jones put the property up for sale. He then had Chicago Title’s attorney to use falsified documents to close the sale without Larsen’s knowledge. Jones kept the money from the sale.

    “This was one of the worst closings,” Hail said. “Jones is a con man in that he sold her condominium out from under her and pocketed the money.”

    Hail said Chicago Title held much of the blame.

    “You have to jump through hoops to get a house sold. There are numerous signatures required and her name wasn’t even on the contract,” Hail said. “Chicago Title should have helped prevent these things from happening but, instead, ignored them.”

Buyer Under Lease-Purchase Agreement Sues Real Estate Agent For Allegedly Failing To Tender Deed To Premises, Despite Having Paid $15K & Satisfied All Contractual Obligations

In Wayne, West Virginia, the West Virginia Record reports:
  • A Wayne County property buyer is suing a real estate agent, alleging breach of a lease agreement.

    Jacky Dale Thacker filed a complaint Feb. 21 in Wayne Circuit Court against Caneel Group LLC, alleging the real estate agent refused to provide the deed of sale of the property.

    According to the complaint, on June 27, 2016, Thacker transmitted funds of $15,000 to the real property agent when he purchased a parcel of real estate in Wayne County. The suit says Thacker fully performed his obligations but failed to received the deed despite repeated representations that a deed was forthcoming.

    The plaintiff alleges Caneel Group accepted the purchased monies but has failed, refused, and continues to fail in providing a deed to the property.

    Thacker seeks trial by jury, an amount sufficient to make the plaintiff whole, including compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, court costs and all other and relief the court deems appropriate.

Upstate NY Title Hijacker Gets 2 1/3 To 7 Years For Using Forged Deed, Bogus 'Adverse Possession' Claim In Attempt To Snatch & Flip Title To Building Valued At $1 Million

In Albany, New York, the Albany Times Union reports:
  • A "sovereign citizen" who tried to scam ownership of a former restaurant site in Colonie was sentenced to 2 1/3 to seven years in state prison on Thursday [March 23].

    Judge Peter Lynch imposed the sentence on 22-year-old Zachariah Latnie for his bid to sell property he did not own. Latnie will be eligible to serve his sentence in a shock incarceration program, six months of highly regimented substance-abuse treatment.

    Prosecutors asked the judge to impose a much harsher sentence of five to 15 years. Lynch pointed out the man does not have a criminal record and committed the crimes at age 19.

    "It's like you've been somehow brainwashed into thinking this whole universe exists for you. It does not,"Lynch said to Latnie.

    The District Attorney's office says the 1893 Central Ave. property Latnie tried to sell was worth $1 million.

    The jury, which began deciding Latnie's fate on Jan. 18, reached its verdict the next day: Guilty on 15 of 21 counts.

    Latnie was convicted of attempted grand larceny, burglary, possessing burglar's tools, conspiracy, tampering with public records, filing false deeds and falsifying business records. They acquitted him of six counts alleging tampering with public records and false filings.

    The verdict ended an unusual case in which Latnie argued he possessed a building that he admitted he never purchased. Latnie claimed he owned the building through "adverse possession," placing a notice on it.

    "People do not enter property that they have legal rights to be entering through the roof," Lynch said during the sentencing.

    In August 2014, Colonie police charged him with trespassing but he returned to the site and was arrested again. He filed phony deeds with the county clerk's office and tried to sell the property, which was in foreclosure.
    Latnie told the judge Thursday that he intends to appeal the conviction.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Central Florida Man Cops Guilty Plea To Criminal Interference w/ Another's Housing Rights For Role In Halloween-Night Cross Burning Incident; Defendant, Others Intended To Intimidate Interracial Couple Into Moving From Home In Predominantly White Community, Say Civil Rights Feds

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department today [March 10] announced that Thomas Herris Sigler, III, 45, of Port Richey, Florida, pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, to one count of conspiring with others to threaten, intimidate, and interfere with an interracial couple’s enjoyment of their housing rights, in violation of U.S. Code, Title 18 U.S.C. § 241.

    “The defendant threatened and intimidated a couple in their home and neighborhood, denying them of the simple ability to feel safe where they lived, on account of race,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute those who engage in such violent acts.”

    “No one should be threatened or intimidated in his home because of his race, color, or creed,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III for the Middle District of Florida. “It is sad that crosses are being burned in front yards in the 21st century. Acts of hatred such as this simply cannot be tolerated under law.”

    “Unfortunately, people hold bias and prejudice against others for no apparent reason,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Wysopal of the FBI Tampa Division. “This case demonstrates people who act out such prejudices will be held accountable. Such behavior is unacceptable.”

    According to court documents, in September and October 2012, Sigler was living on Seward Drive in Port Richey in a predominantly white community. After an interracial couple moved next door, Sigler harassed the African-American neighbor with racial slurs and derogatory statements, and on one occasion, physically assaulted him.

    On Halloween night, Sigler attended a party at a neighbor’s house, where several Seward Drive residents decided to burn a cross in the front yard of the interracial couple in order to intimidate them and force them to move from the residence. Using wood and tools from the host of the Halloween party, Sigler and his co-conspirators constructed a wooden cross and poured gasoline on the cross. Sigler’s co-conspirators then carried the cross to the victims’ front yard, leaned it against their mailbox, and set the cross on fire.

    One of Sigler’s co-conspirators, Pascual Carlos Pietri, pled guilty to the same charge as Sigler in 2015, and was sentenced to 37 months imprisonment on March 23, 2016. A third co-conspirator, William A. Dennis, 56, of Pasco County, Florida, is also charged for his role in the conspiracy.
Source: Pasco County, Florida, Man Pleads Guilty to 2012 Cross Burning.

Go here for other posts on cross-burning prosecutions involving the charge of interference with the housing rights of another.

Wisconsin Appeals Court On State Fair Housing Law: OK To Boot Occupant Solely For Racial Reasons When Landlord Rents Out Bedroom In His Home To A Roommate (As Opposed To Renting A Separate Dwelling Unit)

In Madison, Wisconsin, The Associated Press reports:
  • A Wisconsin appeals court says a white landlord had the right to kick a tenant out of his house because he is black.

    Michael Haller forced Martin Jones to move out of his home in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood in 2013 after Haller’s wife said she didn’t feel comfortable with an African-American living in their house.(1)

    Wisconsin law prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on race. But the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday [March 14] that the law doesn’t apply in this case because Jones was renting a bedroom in Haller’s house rather than a separate dwelling unit.

    The court said Haller has the right to decide who shares his home.

    Jones’ attorney hasn’t returned a message asking for comment.
Source: Wisconsin appeals court: Landlord can evict black roommate.

For the court ruling, see Jones v. Haller, 2016AP4 (Wis. App,, Dist 1, March 14, 2017).
(1) According to the facts of the case:
  • In February 2013, Jones and Haller entered into an agreement whereby Jones would rent one bedroom of Haller’s home, [...], for $400 per month. Jones is African American; Haller is Caucasian. At the time Jones moved in, Haller was separated from his wife. Haller’s wife, however, came to [the home] occasionally during Jones’s tenancy to do laundry. Some time during the week of February 25, 2013, she met Haller.

    According to the complaint, on March 2, 2013, Haller’s wife was at [the home] and got into an argument with Haller. Following the argument, Haller informed Jones that Jones would have to move out because his wife had issues with an African American living in the house. Haller informed Jones that he had to take his wife’s wishes into account because her name was also on the title to [the home].

    On March 13, 2013, Haller gave Jones a notice to vacate no later than April 30, 2013. Jones moved out in late March or early April 2013. fair housing

Informed To Pack Their Bags & Leave To Make Way For Development, Lot-Leasing Mobile Homeowners Refuse To Go Without Fight; Will File Lawsuit Alleging Housing Discrimination Against Community Comprised Of Nearly All Hispanic Families

In SeaTac, Washington, KING-TV Channel 5 reports:
  • The attorney representing families in the Firs Mobile Home Park in SeaTac says a new lawsuit will be filed in King County Superior Court, arguing the current landowner is not doing enough to support evicted homeowners.

    The owner of the mobile home park notified all residents that they must be out by October 31 to make room for development.

    Attorney Omar Barraza says the suit against the city of SeaTac and the landowner John Park also claims discrimination. Nearly all families in the Firs community are Hispanic.

    Jeff Robinson, the city's economic development manager, has held meetings to try and bridge the divide between residents and the land owner. Robinson says he is urging the park to help residents find a new place to live but says the city's hands are tied.(1)

    An attorney representing Mr. Park did not respond when asked for comment on the lawsuit.

St. Louis Suburb Gets Tagged With Fair Housing Lawsuit Alleging It Selectively Enforced City's "Chronic Nuisance Ordinance" Against Black Residents While Ignoring Similar Conduct By Non-Black Residents

In St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Public Radio KWMU 90.7 FM reports:
  • The city of Maplewood faces a federal lawsuit for alleged discriminatory housing practices against black and disabled residents and victims of domestic violence.

    The city's "chronic nuisance ordinance," which was instituted in 2006, is enforced "selectively" and ignores "similar conduct" by residents who aren't African-American, according to the lawsuit filed late Monday [March 13] by the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, or EHOC.(1)

    The suit, which claims the municipality's practices violate the federal Fair Housing Act, especially after guidance issued last year by the Obama administration, is based on 43 instances of home evictions since 2011, said Sasha Samberg-Champion, an attorney for Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC,(2) which is representing EHOC in the lawsuit.

    “Although African-American residents are only 17 percent of the city, more than half of all the actions we've found have been taken against African-American residents,” he said Tuesday citing documents obtained by recent open record requests to the city.

    The city of Maplewood had not received a copy of the lawsuit as of Tuesday afternoon, so it was unable to comment, a spokeswoman said.

    In recent years, other municipalities in St. Louis County have also faced lawsuits and investigations for alleged discriminatory practices involving local police departments and court systems. Following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded Ferguson’s police department and municipal court routinely violated the civil rights of citizens in a pattern or practice of racial bias.

    Last December, the Justice Department and the St. Louis County Family Court reached a deal to settle claims that the court routinely violated the civil rights of juveniles it served. The Justice Department also found that black children in the court were routinely punished more harshly than white children, even when taking the severity of the crime into account.

    According to a news release announcing the lawsuit, that Maplewood’s “chronic nuisance ordinance” disproportionately affects minorities is not unique.

    Thousands of local governments across the country have enacted nuisance property or crime-free ordinances under the guise of advancing public safety,” said Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice at the Shriver Center and a national expert on such laws. “In reality, these laws undermine public safety by forcing crime victims to suffer in silence and criminalizing renters, especially those who are people of color, for non-criminal activity. Local governments should consider other, more legal methods for improving public safety, such as working directly with renters as partners to improve the quality and safety of their housing.”

    Using the ordinance, the suit said, Maplewood revoked the occupancy permit of people who are the "subject of multiple police calls, regardless of whether they did anything wrong," including victims of domestic violence or people in need of city services. A nuisance can be defined as two calls to police within an 180-day period, the lawsuit said.

    The EHOC said it looked at ordinance-enforcement records over five years, noting that black residents were far more likely to be affected than white people. It also said more than a quarter of the people who were stripped of their occupancy permit during the timeframe had mental illness or a disability.
Source: Lawsuit alleges Maplewood 'nuisance ordinance' discriminates against minority residents.

For the lawsuit, see Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council v. City of Maplewood, Missouri.
(1) The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council is a private, not-for-profit fair housing enforcement agency working to end illegal housing discrimination in the Metropolitan St. Louis area, and operates throughout Missouri and Illinois. Among its core activities are: education on fair housing laws, enforcement actions against those who are found, through investigations, discriminate illegally; and community outreach.

(2) Relman, Dane & Colfax is a civil rights law firm based in Washington, D.C., litigating civil rights cases nationally in the areas of housing, lending, employment, public accommodations, education, and police accountability. Among its notable cases were the "ghetto loans" cases of several years ago in which notorious bankster Wells Fargo was tagged with lawsuits alleging it engaged in 'reverse redlining' when peddling predatory home mortgage loans in minority neighborhoods. See, generally, Feds, Wells Fargo Reach $125M Deal To Settle 'Ghetto Loan' Peddling Allegations.

Landlord Who Allegedly Tried To Boot Blind, PTSD-Suffering Tenant's Assistance Animals Agrees To Cough Up $20K (Tenant's Share - $15K) To Settle Massachusetts AG's Charges Of Fair Housing Violations

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • Multiple individuals will receive monetary damages and several property owners and management companies across the state will strengthen their anti-discrimination and fair housing policies after three separate settlements were reached over claims of disability-based housing discrimination against tenants, Attorney General Maura Healey announced [recently].

    The AG’s Office finalized settlements in three separate cases resolving allegations that the defendants, mainly property owners and managers, discriminated against tenants by failing to reasonably accommodate their disabilities.
In one case:
  • New Depot and Housing Solutions own a rental property located in East Wareham that consists of approximately 32 affordable housing units managed by HallKeen through property manager Dianne Callahan.

    According to the AG’s complaint, these defendants engaged in discriminatory and unlawful housing practices against a tenant on the basis of his disability by failing to provide reasonable accommodations. The tenant is blind and suffers from PTSD and relies on assistance animals.

    The complaint alleged that the defendants ultimately rushed to court to seek an order to remove the tenant’s assistance animals rather than engage in an interactive dialogue as required by law, and therefore effectively denied the tenant’s request for a reasonable accommodation.

    Pursuant to a consent judgement filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the defendants have agreed to pay a total of $20,000, including $15,000 in damages to the tenant and $5,000 to the Commonwealth. An additional $5,000 will be suspended pending the defendants’ compliance with the terms of the settlement, which also require the defendants to institute a comprehensive fair housing and anti-discrimination policies and train staff on fair housing rights.
For more, see AG Healey Obtains Multiple Settlements in Fair Housing Cases on Behalf of Tenants With Disabilities (Properties Located in Worcester, Roxbury, and East Wareham; Settlements Secure $155,000 in Restitution for Tenants, Penalties and Funding for Educational Programs).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Southeast Los Angeles Homeowners Living Around Toxic, Now-Shuttered Battery Recycling Plant Fear Loss Of Lead Remediation Help As Struggling Regulators Change Cleanup-Qualifying Formula That May Leave Many Out Of Luck

In Los Angeles, California, reports:
  • Struggling with what officials call the largest and most expensive toxic contamination in California history, embattled state regulators have changed the formula for assessing the level of lead-laced soil in residential areas—a move that could result in a significant number of homes falling off the priority cleanup list.

    The little-noticed switch has confused residents living around the now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in southeast Los Angeles(1) and raised suspicions that those with high levels of lead could be bumped so far down the cleanup list that the state will run out of cleanup money before it helps them.

    Two lawmakers who represent the predominantly Latino working class neighborhoods promised action after CALmatters questioned them about it.

    “I was not aware of this change in process … but will conduct my due diligence to understand the factors now being considered,” Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) said in a statement. “We know the lead leaked by Exide is harmful to the community; this is not debatable.”

    Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said the state Department of Toxic Substances Control in charge of the cleanup is already in “deep distress,” citing a recent annual report that “shows numerous deficiencies.” He also said he hadn’t been informed of the formula change, telling CALmatters: “There needs to be more transparency how they make these changes, why they are making this change, when did they make this change and will these changes have an adverse impact on the communities that surround the Exide facility.

    One year ago the state—using a formula that made a home eligible for priority cleanup if any one of its several soil samples showed a hot spot of contamination—had identified 208 homes for priority cleanup (and cleaned some of them). But then in July it jettisoned that approach and substituted a federal formula, calculated primarily by averaging all the soil samples from a property. As a result, even though twice as many homes had then been tested, the rule change shrunk the priority list to 52 properties.

    Testing has continued ever since, with the department saying it has sampled more than 6,700 properties to determine which have enough lead contamination to qualify for cleanup, and which of those have concentrations high enough to earn them a place on the priority list.

    But how many properties are eligible for the priority list is a mystery—department spokesman Jorge Moreno said the most recent number he could provide was from last summer.

    The state toxics department allowed the Exide battery plant to operate for 33 years under a temporary permit, despite documenting dozens of environmental violations at the 15-acre site. During its operation, the plant spewed chemicals into the air, including lead, which settled into local yards, playgrounds and gardens.

    Nobody knows for certain what the price tag for comprehensive cleanup will be. Thus far the average cost per property is $2,000 to test and $42,000 to clean. Given the expectation that many of the more than 10,000 properties being tested will qualify for remediation, and factoring in administrative costs, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and others have said cleanup costs could rise above $400 million—an estimate the state toxics department hasn’t disputed.

    But the state has allocated nowhere near that amount. Last year—two years after Exide first reported finding lead in the soil of homes near the plant—Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature committed $176 million to clean up 2,500 of the most contaminated parcels within a 1.7 mile radius of the plant.

    In the months since, the state toxics department has been working on the required draft plan and environmental impact review. Department officials said the stalled cleanup could resume as early as this summer. Full cleanup, assuming the funds are found to do it, could take many years.

    Meanwhile thousands of families continue to live with lead-contaminated soil around their homes, trying their best to keep their kids and grandkids away from it while they wait.
For more, see Toxic Priorities: Switching cleanup rules, state risks leaving homes contaminated.
(1) See, generally, Newsweek: In Southeast Los Angeles, Your Front Yard Might Be a Toxic Waste Site (The similarities to the situation in Flint, Michigan, are both eerie and depressing: poor people of color poisoned by lead as most public officials look on with a dismaying lack of concern.). foundry environmental protection agency EPA smelter

City's Failure To Caution Homeowners, Residents Of Environmental Hazard Created By Since-Shuttered Foundry That Spewed Toxic Lead, Arsenic For 120 Years At Issue In Upstate NY Lawsuit

In Geneva, New York, WHAM-TV Channel 13 reports:
  • In the fall of 2016, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced a massive project to replace the soil on 220 properties in Geneva because of elevated lead and arsenic levels. The project, which is expected start this year, will cost close to $17 million.

    The DEC was able to link the contamination to the former scrap iron foundry located on Jackson Street.(1) But 13WHAM has learned that state and local officials knew about potential dangers in the soil of some properties for decades.(2)

    Documents show the DEC first tested the property next to the foundry site in 1986 and found spilled fluids and excessive levels of lead and other metals.

    In 1998, the City of Geneva acquired the foundry property and did more testing that showed elevated metal levels next door to the site and in properties at least a block away.

    In 2005 and 2006, even more testing. More than 40 properties were tested with more than half showing elevated lead levels, and almost two-thirds showing elevated levels of arsenic in the soil. Some tests showed levels more than two and even three times higher than what is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Throughout all of this testing, it appears no one living in the area was ever notified about the potential dangers.

    13WHAM submitted Freedom of Information Requests to the City of Geneva, the DEC and the Department of Health asking for a copy of any warnings sent to residents during the investigation. Not one was provided.

    The City of Geneva declined to comment on this story due to a pending lawsuit.
    The State Department of Health warns that exposure to high levels of arsenic has been linked to multiple types of cancer in drinking water and can have negative effects on a person's nervous system.

    The DOH also warns that elevated lead levels in children has been linked to harmful effects on a developing nervous system.

    Last October 13WHAM first met the Helstrom family and three year old Jonah, who had tested for elevated levels of lead in his system.

    "For a year, I was watching for lead in paint and watching ever toy recall. I couldn't figure what was going on," said Kara Helstrom.

    In January, the Wiles family told 13WHAM they had no idea there were problems when they purchased a home in the area two years ago. "Had I known that, I probably wouldn't have moved here," said Kelvin Wiles.
    SUNY Buffalo professor and expert on industrial pollution, Dr. Joseph Gardella Jr., told 13WHAM it was the City of Geneva's responsibility to notify people of this investigation.

    "The results of these studies should have been reported to residents and property owners in writing immediately. As the city paid for studies, they too, instead of what appears to be a cover up, should have reported this to property owners. Delays in cleanup because of funding shortages are common. Delays in reporting data that MUST be shared with the property owner are unconscionable," said Gardella.

    "It's like being in the dark and having a light turned on that shows what is really going on," said Wiles.

    136 people in Geneva are now part of a lawsuit aimed at the state, the City of Geneva and Ontario County.(3)
For the story, see 13WHAM Investigation: Geneva soil contamination.

See also:
(1) According to this story, this Foundry spewed toxic lead and arsenic particles from its smokestacks for 120 years, from 1868 to 1988. Those substances settled at the Foundry site and in neighborhoods surrounding the plant.

(2) See, generally:
(3) Legal claims filed over Geneva contamination (The claims accuse the city of Geneva, Ontario County and New York state of failing to warn residents of the presence of lead and arsenic in their soil, allowing some of them to become sick as a result). Environmental Protection Agency EPA smelter

98 Montana Residents' Lawsuit Challenges Mining Company To Step Up, Conduct Appropriate Environmental Cleanup Of Their Land, Homes Contaminated By Nearly A Century Of Contamination Caused By Its Now-Shuttered, Toxin-Spewing Smokestack

In Opportunity, Montana, The Associated Press reports:
  • George Niland wonders whether he should wear a respirator when he mows his lawn. Serge Myers laments not being able to garden in his backyard. Rob Phillips puzzles over why his 22 acres have been marked as an unblemished island surrounded by a sea of contamination.

    The three men all live in the shadow of a 585-foot-tall smokestack that has been preserved as a state park that nobody can visit because of pollution at the site. Visitors are guided to a viewing area about a mile away to see the stack, which is taller than the Washington Monument.

    Residents rallied to keep the stack as part of the legacy of southwestern Montana's mining days, when copper was king and the ore processed in the nearby town of Anaconda was used to electrify the United States.

    The flip side of that legacy is the arsenic and other toxic metals that spewed from the smokestack for nearly a century and settled in the ground for miles around the old copper smelter.

    Three years after BP-owned Atlantic Richfield Co. shut down the Anaconda smelter in 1980, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated 300 square miles surrounding it as a Superfund site because of the risk to human health and the environment. The major concern was high concentrations of arsenic in the soil and water, a contaminant that can cause cancer and a range of other diseases.

    Niland, Myers and Phillips are among dozens of residents in this small company town next to Anaconda who say federal officials have botched the environmental cleanup, which is in its 34th year, and they want a shot at cleaning their own yards. They claim the EPA and Atlantic Richfield have given their community short shrift, partially cleaning only two dozen yards, and now have no plans to return.

    "We've watched it over the years, and they've cleaned completely around us," said Niland, a former worker for the railroad that hauled ore and slurry between Butte and Anaconda. "We didn't even know we were contaminated until we got our dirt sampled and then found out that, geez, we shouldn't even let the kids play out there."

    Ninety-eight Opportunity residents are suing Atlantic Richfield, also known as Arco, to force the company to pay for the cleanup they want: the removal and replacement of all their soil to a depth of 2 feet, and permeable barriers installed underground to keep arsenic in the shallow groundwater from flowing onto their property.

    Their aim is to cut the level of arsenic in the soil to about 15 parts per million, which they say is the natural level of arsenic in the soil. However, the EPA's remediation plan won't clean a residential yard unless it contains more than 250 parts per million arsenic — a level that Opportunity residents call arbitrary and worry is still unsafe.

    "We'd like it cleaned up to what it would have been had the smelter not existed," Phillips said.
For more, see Montana landowners say government botched arsenic cleanup. foundry environmental protection agency EPA smelter

Exide's Plans To Reopen Portion Of Shuttered Battery Plant Raises Neighborhood Homeowners' Environmental Concerns

In Bristol, Tennessee, the Bristol Herald Courier reports:
  • Exide Technologies — which closed its Bristol, Tennessee, battery plant in 2013 — plans to restart a portion of the plant, and some local residents are worried it would negatively impact air quality.

    On Jan. 23, Exide filed a construction permit application with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Air Pollution to restart the plant’s formation room.

    The company, which previously made lead acid batteries for automobiles and other machinery, would fill, charge, cool and form dry unformed batteries to be sold offsite, according to the application.

    The details of the restart, including when it would open and how many would be employed, aren’t known. An Exide official didn’t return phone calls or emails Tuesday [March 14] from the Bristol Herald Courier and Bristol Tennessee City Manager Bill Sorah refused to comment.

    But a number of local residents are already voicing concern on social media. A petition on the website, that seeks a meeting with TDEC, states that local residents deserve to learn more about the permit and plans for the community given Exide’s environmental safety record [for example, go here, and go here]. As of Tuesday night, the petition had been signed by 201 residents.
For the story, see Exide wants to restart part of Bristol battery plant; local residents worried about air quality. environmental protection agency EPA contamination lead foundry smelter

Company To Expand Soil Remediation Program For Homeowners In Ex-Mining Town; Thousands Of Soil Samples Already Taken From Properties Near Former Smelter Site

In Clarkdale, Arizona, the Camp Verde Bugle reports:
  • With about 80 percent of eligible property owners in the original targeted area agreeing to a soil remediation program to test, remove and replace soil affected by historical smelter operations, Freeport Minerals Corporation has announced plans to expand the program.

    According to John Patricki, project manager for the voluntary remediation program, the original study area of Upper Clarkdale, Lower Clarkdale and Patio Park will now be expanded to include the Mountain Gate, Centerville, Palisades and Panorama neighborhoods.

    The soil testing has the oversight of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Yavapai-Apache Nation Environmental Protection Agency. The Clarkdale copper smelter was operated by the United Verde Copper Company from 1915 to 1932 and by Phelps Dodge Corporation from 1935 to 1953. As the corporate successor to Phelps Dodge Corporation, Freeport Minerals entered into the ADEQ Voluntary Remediation Program to investigate potential impacts to soil from historical smelter operations.

    “Our initial study area focused on properties near the former smelter, including the neighborhoods of Upper Clarkdale, Lower Clarkdale, and Patio Park,” said Patricki. “As of February 2017, more than 500, or about 80 percent, of eligible property owners have signed up for the program, and we have collected thousands of soil samples from those properties.”

    Based on the sampling results from the study area, Patricki said Freeport has expanded the study area to include the neighborhoods of Mountain Gate, Centerville, Palisades and Panorama located south of the initial study area.
    Freeport officials previously explained that the process for determining the need for soil remediation includes taking samples of 6-inch depths down to 2-feet that are then averaged together to determine whether "compounds contaminants of concern" exceed the threshold to prompt remedial work. Soil samples have been sent to an independent laboratory and tested to determine the concentrations of arsenic, copper, lead, tin, zinc, and boron in the soil.
For the story, see Freeport Minerals Corporation expands Clarkdale soil remediation program. foundry environmental protection agency EPA smelter

Friday, March 24, 2017

Family Buys $900K Dream Home Out Of Foreclosure, Then Finds Out Structure Was Improperly Built On Sewer Easement; County Orders Demolition After Finding Sewer Line Leaks, Citing Potential Sinkhole Danger, Prevention Of 'Malodorous Surprises' Backing Up Into Neighboring Basements

In Farmington Hills, Michigan, WDIV-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • A Farmington Hills family is battling the water resources commissioner after being told that it has to tear down its $900,000 home.

    The Dhillon family bought the nearly $1 million house out of foreclosure thinking they got a real bargain. But now, the house has turned out to be the money pit of all money pits.

    Six years ago, the Dhillons got a letter that told them they had to tear down their home and pick up the tab for the entire demolition. The Dhillons have been waging that battle with the county ever since.

    The house sits atop a sewerage easement installed in the 1970s that went in before a house ever sat there.

    When the house was built in the early 2000s, the legal filings said the builder, who was also the homeowner at the time, removed a manhole to the sewer, sealed it off and put the house on top of it.

    The county has since sent video robots inside the sewer line and discovered leaks.

    "According to the drain code, if a drain is obstructed, the drain commissioner shall cause the obstruction to be removed," the water resources commissioner said. "This is an obligation, not an option."

    That means the Dhillons have to level their home to prevent sewage from backing up in neighboring basements.

    The Dhillons said they don't have enough money to demolish their own home and find somewhere else to live. In their court filings, they said, "The Dhillons are innocent homeowners. They were not involved in any way with design, construction or inspection of the home, or with the home's connection to the sewer line. They are not to blame for the situation."

    The Dhillons want to go to mediation, but the county, which has tried to figure out ways around tearing down the house, said it's against mediation and a teardown is the only answer.
Source: Farmington Hills family told to tear down $900K home to prevent sewage backup (Infrastructure issue could cause sewage to back up in neighboring basement).

See also, Oakland County: $900,000 home has to go — and owner must pay (Drain officials want to bulldoze $900K house built atop sewer line that is leaking and could cause sinkhole).

Court Slams Brakes On Eviction By Nationwide R/E Operator That Uses 'Rent-To-Own' Racket To Peddle 'Money-Pit' Houses To Unsophisticated, Low-Income Buyers; Outfit Lost Title To Home Over Property Tax Non-Payment, But Moved To Boot Renter Anyway; 79-Year Old Victim Had Already Spent $20K In Fix-Up Costs; Legal Aidsters Seek $3K In Lawyer Fees From Landlord

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:
  • It took a month, but Kaja Holdings 2 LLC admitted in court this week that it cannot evict Jesse White from the house he has rented since 2015.

    The reason: Kaja "has recently learned that (it) no longer owns the subject property," the firm confessed in a motion to dismiss the eviction action it filed against the 79-year-old White on Feb. 16.

    White's response: He's asking the court to order Kaja to pay his lawyer's fees of $2,940, a sum that is slightly more than five months rent that White used to pay Kaja.

    Kaja "and its attorneys knew that the (eviction) complaint was without any reasonable basis in law or equity when they filed it, but decided to file it anyway," Amanda Adrian, White's Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee attorney,(1) wrote in her motion seeking fees of $300 per hour.

    The court motions are the latest twists in the strange case in which Kaja sued to evict White more than three months after the company lost title to the house White rented on the 4100 block of N. 26th St.

    The tale began in March 2015 when White signed a lease with an option to buy that called for him to pay $570 a month in rent and made him responsible for all repairs and maintenance for the three-bedroom house.

    About $41 of the rent was to go toward the $40,000 purchase price. The lease states that White was responsible for any taxes due at the time it was signed, though it does not state whether he was responsible for future taxes.

    City treasurer records had listed Kaja as the property owner until Oct. 31, when the city took title.

    White has told city officials that the house was in terrible condition when he moved in. It lacked plumbing fixtures, working water, water meters and electricity. White has said he spent $20,000 of his own money making repairs.

    Unknown to White at the time is that Kaja is affiliated with Vision Property Management, a South Carolina company that manages about 5,500 rent-to-own properties nationwide. The company is under investigation by the state Department of Justice and has come under scrutiny from the various media outlets and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

    Former tenants have complained that they were evicted from their homes by affiliates of Kaja after they spent thousands of their own dollars to renovate and repair the rental properties thinking that one day they would be homeowners.

    When the tenants, who are generally low-income, were evicted from their homes they were left with nothing to show for the time and money they invested in the properties.

    White's story has an unusual twist, in that Kaja lost title because it owed $8,199 in back property taxes for 2014-'16. Combined, 22 companies linked to Vision Property Management owe the city about $152,000 in delinquent taxes, a review of city records conducted at the beginning of March showed.

    The city seized the property on Oct. 31 and informed White of its action the next day.

    "Do not pay any future rent to your former landlord," the Nov. 1 notice from the Department of City Development states. White is currently renting the house from the city for $500 a month. Amy Turim, the Department of City Development's real estate development services manager, hopes to sell the house to White.

    "We're working on a couple of different pathways to turn a tough situation for Mr. White into an opportunity," she said, explaining that the city and White are looking at various programs to make the purchase affordable for White, who is retired and lives in the house with his two teenage sons.

    City records show the house still needs about $45,000 worth of work, including a new roof, to bring it up to code.

    Despite losing title to the house, Kaja filed to evict White, alleging he had not paid rent since June 2016. White said he paid each month's rent.

    Adrian, White's attorney, contends that despite its claims that it recently found out that it did not own White's home, Kaja's own actions prove it knew it didn't own the house when it sought to evict White.

    On Jan. 27, Kaja applied to regain possession of the house by paying its back taxes and other fees, Adrian wrote in her motion seeking fees. That was about three weeks before the company sued to evict White.

    Kaja and its lawyers "knew that (Kaja) did not own the property — and was therefore not entitled to possession of it — when they commenced this (eviction) action," Adrian wrote.

    In addition to dismissing the eviction suit and paying her fees of $300 an hour, Adrian is asking Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Ellen Brostrom to also remove White's name from state's online court record system known as CCAP.

    If Kaja is ordered to pay the fees, the money would go to Legal Aid, which does not charge clients for its legal services. The $300 rate Legal Aid is seeking is based on Adrian's experience, rates charged in the Milwaukee market and the type of work she did on behalf of White.

    In her motion, Adrian argued the sanctions were warranted because Kaja "has wasted judicial resources, sullied defendant's CCAP record, and forced defendant to respond to a meritless action."

    Central city landlords frequently check CCAP before renting to a person and frequently will not rent to people who have an eviction on their record even if the eviction action is dismissed, she wrote.

    Kaja's attorney, Thomas Cassady, declined comment on Adrian's requests.
For the story, see Firm admits it can't evict Milwaukee man from home it doesn't own.
(1) The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee is a non-profit, public interest law firm that provides free legal services to Milwaukee’s most vulnerable residents who are too poor to afford legal counsel.

Tenant Spent About $50K To Renovate Home (Special Bathrooms, Ramps, Etc.) To House Eight Wheelchair-Bound Residents, Now Landlord Decides Not To Renew Lease, Telling Everyone To Pack Their Bags & Take A Hike!

In Granada Hills, California, KTTV-TV Channel 11 reports:
  • Eight paraplegics are being forced out of the place they call home.

    The organization Freedom to Live rented the Granada Hills house for the last five years, but on Sunday [March 5], the landlord issued a 60-day-notice for all the tenants to move out.

    “It’s not an easy life being a paraplegic and quadriplegic, it’s one of the hardest things,” tenant Juan Elisarraras said. “We’ve been put through a grilling test and now we’re being put out on the street.”

    Elisarraras, who is paralyzed from the chest down from a gunshot wound, just moved to the house in March and he’s afraid to unpack if he can’t stay.

    This home is specifically set up for quadriplegics and paraplegics with wheel chair ramps and special bathrooms.

    The founder of Freedom to Live, Sian Welch, said she put about $50,000 into renovating it.

    Now the landlord doesn’t want to renew the lease, citing on the 60-day-notice that he wants to move back in.

    Welch said she asked for an extension, since it’s difficult to move eight wheelchair-bound patients who have come to find freedom and independence living here.

    “I can take the bus. I can travel to places that I’ve never been to before, go shopping and live the life a normal person in this world does,” Elisarraras said.

    FOX 11 reached out to the landlord on Thursday afternoon, but has not heard back.

    Freedom to Live is asking for the public’s help fundraising for a future move or a permanent home for tenants in the program.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lawsuit: Midwest Landlord Of Complexes Built & Financed With Affordable Housing Tax Credits Is Using 'Friendly Foreclosures' To Foreclose On Himself To Weasel Out Of 30-Year Gov't Commitments To Offer Reduced Rents To Low-Income Tenants; Concerns Raised That Legal Maneuver May Be Growing Business Model To Improperly Jack Up Rents

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, The Grand Rapids Press reports:
  • A prominent and influential West Michigan landlord is dodging its commitments to provide low-income housing for its tenants, housing advocates say.

    Eenhoorn LLC has arranged foreclosures for least seven of its low-income housing developments in Michigan and other Midwest states, said John Smith, a lawyer with Legal Aid of West Michigan.(1)

    Those foreclosures allow Eenhoorn to get out of 30-year commitments to offer reduced rents to low-income tenants at their properties. The commitments were made by the original developers when they used government-issued tax credits to build the housing projects.

    The Michigan Housing Development Authority has asked the Internal Revenue Service to rule on whether Eenhoorn should be denied the ability to convert their subsidized apartments into market rate units.

    "We seek guidance from the IRS to protect the residents of affordable housing in this state from planned foreclosure schemes," then-MSHDA director Kevin Elsenheimer wrote to the IRS on Sept. 19, 2016.
    the foreclosures do mean Eenhoorn can now charge higher market rate rents when its low-income units open up, Smith said.

    "This process could eliminate more than 540 units of subsidized housing that would have been offered to low-income tenants for another 30 years," Smith said in an April 7, 2016 letter alerting MSHDA to the foreclosures.

    'A growing business model'

    Smith and other housing advocates said they fear the foreclosures will become a trend unless the federal government steps in to stop the practice.

    "We are concerned that these are not isolated incidents, but rather what might be a growing business model," Smith said. "I don't think anyone has seen anything this extensive before."
    Mark Schwartz, executive director of Regional Housing Legal Services in Philadelphia, said he has been watching similar foreclosures develop in Virginia, Texas and New Jersey in recent years.

    "The trouble is that in the 30-year history of the program, the Treasury Department has never provided any guidance as to what that provision means," said Schwartz, who has become an informal clearinghouse on planned foreclosures for housing advocates.

    Low income housing projects funded by tax credits have been successful, but the IRS has done little to stop the foreclosures that have siphoned off the number of available low income housing units, he said.

    "I think this is something that caught the local agencies by surprise. They weren't looking for it," Schwartz said.

    Eenhoorn's foreclosures

    According to a paper trail unearthed by Smith and other Legal Aid lawyers, Eenhoorn bought ownership control of the properties and loaned them money backed by mortgages. The entities that held the mortgages took the properties back through a legal process called "deed in lieu of foreclosure" when the properties fell behind on the mortgages.

    The foreclosures allowed Eenhoorn to get out of the final 15 years of its 30-year obligation to provide low-income housing at the properties, said Smith, who discovered the foreclosures while representing a low-income and disabled resident of The Lofts, a downtown Grand Rapids apartment project at 26 Sheldon Blvd. SE.

    [Eenhoorn attorney Nyal] Deems said the mortgages were extended to revive unprofitable housing developments. Eenhoorn owned the properties for between nine and 12 years before foreclosing on them, he said.
    At the apartments Smith has identified, Eenhoorn purchased properties that were financed with low-income housing tax credits, a federal program in which developers are given tax credits that offer their investors full tax write-offs for 10 years.

    Although the tax write-offs disappear after 10 years, the developers are required by the IRS to subsidize rents to low-income residents for up to 30 years.

    A foreclosure cancels those requirements and allows landlords to charge higher rents for the final 15 years, provided they give their low-income tenants a three-year grace period to find new housing after the foreclosure.

    In a 2014 newsletter, the IRS asked state housing agencies to notify them of "planned foreclosures" that appeared to intentionally shorten the period in which low income rents are supposed to be available.

    Little appears to have been done since then, according to Schwartz.
For the story, see Is prominent landlord using foreclosure loophole to ditch low income tenants?

For story update, see:
(1) Legal Aid of Western Michigan provides free legal assistance to low income persons and Seniors in non-criminal, non-fee generating matters. It currently serves people in 17 counties in the lower Western part of Michigan with offices in Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Niles and St. Joseph. section 8

Section 8 Housing Benefit On Road To Worthlessness In Hot Bay Area Rental Market; Soaring Rents That Exceed HUD Maximums Lead Landlords To Exit Program, Leaving Renters Holding Vouchers That Property Owners Won't Accept

In San Francisco, California, KALW-Radio 91.7 FM reports:
  • Eva Castillo* thinks of herself as a strong person. She was raised in the Sunnydale projects in San Francisco, sharing a bedroom with three brothers. Now, she works construction — often as the only woman on the job. But when she was evicted, she says she felt truly helpless for the first time in her life.

    “I ain’t never been in this situation before,” she says. “I've been working ever since I've been eight — and it feels like I’m working for nothing.”

    Castillo has been in homeless limbo ever since the eviction, a year ago. She and her four teenage daughters are scattered now, crashing at five different places.

    “You don't know what tomorrow's going to hold, having to figure out where you're going to sleep at and all those things — it’s stressful.”

    Castillo was evicted not through any fault of her own, but because she was using Section 8 vouchers to help pay her rent, and her landlord decided to leave the program. So, after eight years in her home in the Bayview District of San Francisco, Castillo and her daughters moved out.

    The way the section 8 program works is voucher-holders pay what they can afford — about 30% of their income — and then the voucher pays the rest. The local housing authority, along with Castillo’s landlord, decided the fair market rate for her three-bedroom spot was $2,800. Castillo makes pretty good money, so she paid $2,500. Then the voucher picks up the difference, in this case, the remaining $300.

    But the thing is, anyone who knows San Francisco real estate knows you can find someone willing to pay more than $2,800 for a three bedroom these days — even in a less-fancy neighborhood like The Bayview. Castillo’s landlord knew she could get more from her property, so she quit the program. And because so many other landlords are opting out too, Castillo's having a hard time finding anywhere to go.

    “I find myself looking further and further out. I'm looking in Brentwood now,” says Castillo. "My whole life is out here [in San Francisco], my work...”

    Because Castillo can’t find anyone to take her voucher in San Francisco, she’s going to have to transfer her registration to wherever she’ll move. It’s called “porting” — it’s a little bureaucratic shuffle that takes about two weeks. But that means that whenever she gets close to landing a place, she has to ask the landlord to wait. She says several houses have slipped through her fingers because the landlords have gone with a tenant that’s ready to move in right now.

    In fact, just last night, a place she was hopeful about fell through.

    Since I first met Castillo, six months ago, her voucher has expired. So, now she’s looking for a place she can afford without assistance. She thinks it’s doable, since it’s just for her and her youngest. But if this had happened when her daughters were all kids, she doesn’t know what she’d do.

    Castillo says she feels like she did everything right and still collapsed into homelessness. And the story is the same all around her.

    “Everybody that I grew up with is either on drugs, living in another county or another state,” she says. “Because California is too rich for us poor people to be too poor.”

    The Promise of Section 8 reform

    The Section 8 program has never been big enough to subsidize everyone that qualifies to be on it. But in the past, if you won that lottery, you were safe. The program was a good deal for landlords with property in low-rent districts. But in today’s Bay Area housing market, low-rent districts are quickly getting bid up.

    Eric Johnson, the director of the Oakland Housing Authority, says Section 8 participation in gentrifying neighborhoods has “dropped to nothing.”

Northern California Real Estate Operator Gets 12 Months Prison Time, $240K In Fines, Restitution For Role In Bid Rigging Racket At Courthouse-Held Foreclosure Auctions

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • A Northern California real estate investor was sentenced yesterday [March 15] for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

    John Michael Galloway was charged on Dec. 3, 2014, in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California. He pleaded guilty to one count of bid rigging in Oakland, California, on Nov. 16, 2016. Yesterday, Galloway was sentenced to serve 12 months of imprisonment and ordered to pay a $74,899 criminal fine and $265,050 in restitution.

    Between June 2008 and January 2011, Galloway conspired with others not to bid against one another, instead designating a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa County.

    The members of the conspiracy then held second, private auctions to award the properties to members of the conspiracy and determine payoffs for other conspirators who had agreed not to bid against each other at the public auctions. The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held. The primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and eliminate competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Contra Costa County public foreclosure auctions at noncompetitive prices. When real estate properties are sold at public auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with the remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

NJ Woman Gets Seven Years For Abusing POA To Pilfer Over $120K From 87-Year Old Woman; Pocketed Cash Included $90K+ Mortgage Refinancing Proceeds Secured By Victim's Home

In Phillipsburg, New Jersey, reports:
  • A 59-year-old woman who faced up to 30 years behind bars was sentenced to seven years in prison for stealing more than $120,000 from an 87-year-old lifelong Phillipsburg woman.

    Frances M. Wise, of the first block of Woodlawn Road in Phillipsburg, was convicted by a jury in October of theft, theft by deception and misapplication of entrusted property -- all second-degree crimes that each carry a sentence of up to 10 years.

    The theft counts were merged for sentencing purposes and she was sentenced Feb. 10, the Warren County Prosecutor's Office said in a news release.

    Wise, who had power of attorney from 2009-13, drained Josephine Bacskai's bank account of more than $30,000 and took out two mortgages totaling more than $90,000 on the Stanley Street home, authorities charged.

    Shortly after she was found guilty, Wise told that she didn't commit the crimes. She provided documents showing the mortgage and numerous small charges on the victim's account, but said they were done at Bacskai's request. Wise said she had been railroaded by the legal system.

    She was ordered at sentencing to pay Bacskai $143,000 in restitution, the prosecutor's office sad.

    Lisa Martinelli, who took over the power of attorney in 2013, noticed the thefts, the prosecutor's office said. She spoke at the sentencing.

Lender Accepts Mortgage Payments ($8,500) From Woman For 10 Months On Her Recently-Deceased Dad's Home, Then Invokes Death Default Clause To Foreclose Anyway

In Powhatan County, Virginia, WTVR-TV Channel 6 reports:
  • A family home was sold to the highest bidder Friday [March 10]; it was an auction overshadowed by tears. Peggy Stroud wept as a bidder bought the home she grew up in on Urbine Road.

    Stroud said the home is the place where her mother took her last breath, and her father was shot to death on the porch two years ago.

    For months after his death, Stroud says she paid the bank her dad's mortgage, nearly $8,500 total. She was stunned to learn that all of those payments still did not stop a foreclosure.

    "The mortgage lady said there was a death default on the promissory note he signed and that means when he died the entire balance was due upon his death,” Stroud said.

    No one told me that for about 10 months after he passed away,” she continued. “They accepted every payment.”

    Several local attorneys said that the promissory note her father signed decades ago, is legally binding, and that the bank was within its right to foreclose on the property.

    "It's hard for me,” Stroud said. “Legal and moral are two different things. I think ethically that at least I deserve my money back.” “If you are not going to work with me to save the house, the only thing I have left of my parents, then give me my money back," she said.

    Local real estate attorney Shane Frick, who is not affiliated with this case, said death default provisions are not that common, but they do exist. "Depending on the circumstances, it certainly can mean they can foreclose on you,” Frick said.

    He said it is a default under the mortgage and that continued payment doesn't mean the clause can be stopped. “Again, each situation is different," Frick explained.

    Stroud said the death default clause was something she had never heard of, and had no idea to ask about. Now she hopes her story will be an eye-opener for others.

    "If you inherit property and it still has a lien or a mortgage, absolutely ask if there's a death default on the promissory note," Stroud said.

    That something Frick says is sound advice, whether you are buying or inheriting property. "It's an important question to ask,” Frick explained. “You really want to do your due diligence so you fully understand what you're getting yourself into.”

Lawsuit Tags South Beach HOA For Allegedly Clipping Prospective Buyers & Renters For Non-Refundable Application Fees In Excess Of Maximum Amount Allowable Under Florida Law; Plaintiff Seeks Class Action Status

In Miami Beach, Florida, The Real Deal (South Florida) reports:
  • A recently filed lawsuit alleges the Icon South Beach’s condominium association charges non-refundable application fees in excess of what is allowed by Florida law.

    The suit, which seeks class action status, was filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court by Icon South Beach renter Derek Schwartz, but could end up involving more than 100 plaintiffs, according to the complaint.

    Attorneys representing Schwartz and Icon Condominium Association did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

    In order to rent or purchase one of the 290 units at Icon South Beach, a 42-story luxury tower at 450 Alton Road, a potential buyer or tenant must fill out an application and seek approval from the condo association, the lawsuit states. However, the Icon board charges applicants a $250 processing fee that is $150 more than the Florida Condominium Act allows, the lawsuit says.

    “This deceptive and unfair scheme was used by Icon to line its pockets at the expense of Florida consumers,” the lawsuit says. “The Florida Condominium Act prohibits condominium associations from charging transfer fees of more than $100 per applicant.”

    Schwartz is seeking unspecified damages for himself and anyone who qualifies for the class action, as well as an injunction from the court to stop Icon Condominium Association “from charging such illegal transfer fees in the future.”

    The lawsuit also accuses the condo association of violating the state’s law against deceptive and unfair trade practices. If the court authorizes the class action status, anyone who paid the $250 application fee would be able to join the lawsuit.
For the story, see Icon South Beach renter pursues class action lawsuit against condo association over application fees (Suit says board charges applicants $250 fee, $150 more than the Florida law allows).

For earlier posts on the excessive application fee racket allegedly being run by Florida condominium associations, see:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Strong Evidence, But Not Strong Enough, Says Florida Appeals Court In Throwing Out $8.3 Million Judgment Against Foreclosure Rescue Operator Who Allegedly Used Unfair, Deceptive Trade Practices When Peddling Forensic Loan Audits, Foreclosure Defense Services; Unresolved Issues Of Material Fact Precluded Summary Judgment, Case Kicked Back To Trial Judge For Further Proceedings

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Daily Business Review reports:
  • An $8.3 million judgment against Margate-based mortgage company Outreach Housing LLC for allegedly defrauding clients facing foreclosure after the housing market collapse has been overturned.

    The company faced allegations from the Office of the Attorney General, accusing it of unfair and deceptive trade practices to mislead homeowners with delinquent mortgages into paying Outreach—instead of their lenders—as a means of escaping foreclosure.

    Outreach lost the first leg of the litigation when Broward Circuit Judge Michael L. Gates determined liability by summary judgment. The case turned in its favor on appeal, however, when a state judicial panel found unresolved questions precluded summary judgment.(1)
    Clients claimed Outreach solicited business through homeowner interviews eliciting information about inaccuracies in loan documents to convince prospective customers of a legal basis for challenging their contracts. They said it offered loan mitigation and foreclosure defense to clients who provided two-thirds of their monthly mortgage payments to negotiate on their behalf.

    But the Attorney General's Office claimed the company violated Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act by misleading homeowners, while it only strategically delayed foreclosure to keep them paying.
For more, see Judgment Against Mortgage Company for Defrauding Clients Overturned.
(1) From the court's ruling:
  • "In sum, the summary judgment evidence and the affidavit in opposition showed that material issues of fact remain. While the OAG's evidence is strong, if believed by the trier of fact, Outreach had a different version and explanation of what occurred," Warner wrote. "The OAG did not erase the doubt created by the opposing evidence. We must reverse."

Ex-Cop/Ex-Con Gets Pinched For Allegedly Passing Himself Off As An Attorney Providing Foreclosure Defense Services, Filing Fraudulent Liens On Behalf Of Financially Strapped Homeowners

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, WPLG-TV Channel 10 reports:
  • Over the course of the past four years those who met Kenneth Anthony Frank were told he was an attorney – but it turns out no one by that name is in the Florida Bar.

    Frank was arrested Wednesday [March 8] after a complicated, winding investigation through financial records and real estate transactions.

    "Hard work, research, getting victims to actually talk about and helping to explain the complexity of the crime," Robbie Werner, an intern with a private investigator, said about the arrest.

    In fact, Werner decided to become a private investigator specifically to help put together a case against Frank – who now faces 21 counts of fraud, forgery, theft, filing false legal papers and practicing law without a license.

    He field false legal papers in both county and federal courts, according to court documents. Investigators were able to get a sworn testimony in May from Garry Saunders, who told them that he met Frank in 2012, shortly after his Deerfield Beach went into foreclosure.

    That case closed in May 2012 – but even after the final judgment was issued there was civil litigation, with many of those filings signed "Garry Saunders Pro Se."

    Saunders testified that most of the filings under that name were prepared Frank. Eventually Saunders' home was sold and that's when he and Frank retaliated against the people and entities involved in the purchase of Saunders’ home by filing fraudulent liens.

    Frank prepared the liens, which were issued to three properties for $1 million and one property for $90,000.

    And that wasn’t the only case that appeared in court documents of Frank allegedly posing as an attorney.

    Detectives report Frank would swoop in to help as a real estate professional or lawyer, collect fees and rents and file court papers -- all without any license in an alleged scheme to steal.

    There are other people out there who claim to be victims, but those detailed in the arrest report spool a story of an ex-con from New York who essentially gamed the real estate and foreclosure processes.

    "He was introduced to me as an attorney. He started to do a foreclosure defense on my house," Charles Nixon said.

    Werner said he’s not surprised. "He knew it front to back, soup to nuts, from the appellate court to bringing things federal, " he said.

NJ Appeals Court Throws Out Scammer's Conviction For Admittedly Pocketing $138K Of Sister-In-Law's Money Meant To Pay Home Mortgage; Prosecutor Failed To Prove Intent To Deceive At Time Defendant Was Given The Cash

In Washington Township, New Jersey, reports:
  • A man who was convicted in 2013 of misappropriating money he was given to pay a family member's mortgage won a partial victory under an appellate court ruling released Thursday [March 9].

    Robert Schwartz, 56, of Washington Township, pleaded guilty to a third-degree charge of theft by deception and was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay $138,352 in restitution to his sister-in-law, Karen Giosa, and her husband, Frank.

    Frank Giosa gave Schwartz [...] $175,000 in 2007 with the understanding that the money would be used to pay the Giosa family's mortgage on their Gloucester Township home.

    At some point, he stopped making the mortgage payments, but didn't tell the Giosas. They learned they were in trouble when they received a foreclosure notice in 2009, the family previously said.

    Schwartz was indicted on a second-degree theft by deception charge and entered a guilty plea to the third-degree charge in October 2013 as part of a plea agreement.

    Seven months after he was sentenced, Schwartz filed a motion to vacate his guilty plea. That motion was rejected. He also filed a motion to vacate his indictment on statute of limitation grounds, which was also rejected.

    Schwartz appealed both rulings and appellate judges agreed with him on one -- vacating his guilty plea.

    The appellate court found that the trial judge erred in denying the motion to withdraw his guilty plea because the charge of theft by deception requires proof that Schwartz obtained the money "by creating a false impression" of how it would be used.

    According to trial testimony, Schwartz began putting money toward mortgage payments, meaning that his initial intention was honorable. It was only later that he began keeping money for himself, according to court testimony.

    "Because defendant failed to admit, and the admitted facts failed to show, that he deceived or created a false impression at the time he obtained Giosa's money, he did not give an adequate factual basis for theft by deception," the court found. "If he later formed a criminal intent, and purposely retained the money for himself rather than pay off the mortgage, that might constitute theft by failure to make required disposition of property received ... but that crime was neither admitted nor charged."

    As a result, his conviction and sentence are vacated and Schwartz is now permitted to re-plead or take the case to trial.

Monday, March 20, 2017

NYC Feds Score Extradition Of Fugitive Pinched By Ukrainian Cops; Defendant Allegedly Ran Scheme That Used Offers Of Loan Modification Help To Target, Then Trick, Financially Desperate Homeowners Into Signing Away Title To Their Homes

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (New York City):
  • Preet Bharara, the [now-former] United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, [among other federal and state officials], announced [on March 10] the extradition from Ukraine of HERZEL MEIRI, who was indicted on March 16, 2016, on fraud and money laundering charges in connection with a scheme to fraudulently induce distressed homeowners to sell their homes to a company he owned and controlled. MEIRI, who arrived in the District yesterday, had been arrested by Ukrainian authorities on October 27, 2016.
    U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Herzel Meiri allegedly concocted a callous scheme to swindle desperate homeowners out of their homes. As alleged, Meiri lied to his victims, who thought that they were getting the financial help they needed but instead were being tricked into signing over their homes.
    According to the allegations in the Fourth Superseding Indictment, which was unsealed in November 2016, as well as the Complaints previously filed in this action[1]:

    Since at least 2013, MEIRI and his co-defendants have defrauded distressed homeowners throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. MEIRI and others falsely represented to these homeowners – some of whom were elderly or in poor health – that they could assist them with a loan modification or similar relief from foreclosure that would allow the homeowners to save their homes. But rather than actually assisting these homeowners, the defendants deceived them into selling their homes to Launch Development LLC (“Launch Development”), a for-profit real estate company owned and controlled by MEIRI.

    MEIRI and others lured victims through Homeowners Assistance Service of New York (“HASNY”), which purported to provide assistance to homeowners who were seeking to avoid foreclosure of their homes. As part of the scheme, MEIRI directed employees of Launch Development to solicit owners of distressed properties and invite them to meet with HASNY representatives so that they could learn more about avoiding foreclosure and saving their homes.

Federal Jury Slams Foreclosure Relief Scammer Who Ran Bogus Loan Elimination Scheme; Defendant Pocketed Hefty Upfront Fees, Monthly Payments In Exchange For False Promises That Victimized Homeowners Could Wipe Out Unpaid Mortgages, Own Their Homes "Free & Clear"

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Fresno, California):
  • After a four-day trial, a federal jury found Martin Calzada, 29, of Norwalk, guilty today [March 10] of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and eight counts of mail fraud affecting a financial institution, [...]. The trial was held before United States Chief District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill.

    According to evidence presented at trial, Calzada conspired to defraud homeowners facing foreclosure. Calzada and other employees of Star Reliable Mortgage, which had offices in Bakersfield, Visalia, and Salinas, targeted distressed homeowners with a fraudulent “loan elimination” scheme.

    Between approximately August 2010 and October 2011, Star Reliable charged clients an upfront fee for its services – ranging from $2,500 up to $4,500 – as well as monthly fees, based on false promises that the clients could own their homes “free and clear” as a result of Star Reliable’s services. Clients paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Star Reliable and at least $300,000 was transferred from Star Reliable into Calzada’s bank accounts.

    In furtherance of the scheme, Calzada and other employees at Star Reliable filed at county recorders’ offices fraudulent documents on behalf of the homeowner-clients, which purported to replace the legitimate property trustees with fictitious trusts affiliated with the defendant and Star Reliable, all in an effort to “cloud title” and halt or stall the foreclosure process.

    Additionally, Calzada, and other employees working at his direction told Star Reliable clients to stop paying their mortgages. They also falsely represented that Star Reliable clients had one million dollars in a U.S. government account that could be used to pay-off a homeowner’s mortgage.

    This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office.

Another Attorney Takes Hit For Role In Loan Modification/Foreclosure Defense Racket; Voluntarily Submits Bar Resignation, Gets Disbarred On Consent For Screwing Financially Strapped Homeowners Seeking Help Saving Their Homes, Making False Promises To Pocket Hefty Upfront Fees, Monthly Payments

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Record reports:
  • The state Supreme Court decided Feb. 23 to disbar attorney Daniel Domenick, 19 days after he tendered his resignation from practicing law.

    In its decision, the Court said that Domenick was disbarred on consent from the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ordered that he pay costs to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ["ODC"], according to Pennsylvania Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 208(g).

    According to the decision, Domenick had agreed to represent clients in financial hardship and wrongful foreclosure cases, in which he would advise clients, draft pleadings and try to negotiate on behalf of his clients with mortgage lenders and loan providers.

    Domenick had agreed to do this for a large payment in advance and monthly payments of the fees he charged, which would usually be debited from his clients' bank accounts after they gave written permission.

    Domenick failed, according to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, to do work that merited the fees and failed to keep those advance fee payments separate of his property. The ODC also explained that Domenick tried to get help from local attorneys for clients in areas where he couldn't practice, but that he failed to retain those attorneys' services and ended up doing illegal work in many jurisdictions.

    The ODC explained Domenick charged and collected illegal fees and/or overcharged fees for his work both in areas he could legally practice and areas he couldn't legally practice.

    The ODC also explained that Domenick took exorbitant fee payments from clients in mortgage foreclosure cases, including some who could not afford such fees. According to the decision, Domenick also did not refund his clients these illegal and/or outrageous fees.

    The ODC explained that Domenick opened up his own law firm, Domenick Legal Group, which he ran in association with Williams Legal Group, a firm run by a non-lawyer that presented itself as specializing in mortgage debt relief.

    The ODC said that the operator of Williams Legal Group required Domenick to use a fee structure that his firm put into place. The ODC also explained that this person, who lost his Ohio real estate license in 2009, lied to Domenick when he told Domenick that his business model cleared disciplinary challenges in the past and that his way of doing business was found ethically proper. The decision said that Domenick took this person at his word regarding ethical matters.

    The ODC explained that this person collected a percentage of the legal fees that Domenick took from his clients and that Domenick knew and gave permission to that person to do so. Domenick kept 12 to 27 percent of the gross receipts that his clients gave him. The operator of Williams Legal Group could access and control Domenick's bank accounts, which Domenick also knew about and reluctantly allowed, and this person gave one of his employees a bookkeeping job at Domenick's law firm.

    The decision said that Domenick had his clients sign forms allowing direct debits from their bank accounts, allowing the operator of Williams Legal Group to issue electronic checks that were payable to Domenick's law firm and drawn from the accounts of each of Domenick's clients.

    Eventually, as the ODC found, Domenick began to regret working with this person and developed depression. According to the decision, this led Domenick to seek counseling through Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers in the fall of 2015 and go through inpatient treatment last year.

    The ODC explained that Domenick worked to distance himself from the operator of Williams Legal Group in late 2015 and by January 2016 had cut ties with this person entirely, running his law firm by himself for a short time.

    The 34 clients spanning 13 states who were harmed by Domenick paid him $509,853.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Massachusetts AG Squeezes $60K (Tenant's Share: $40K) Out Of Boston Landlord For Its Alleged Lack Of Responsiveness To Wheelchair-Bound Tenant's Accessibility-Related Requests In Violation Of State Fair Housing Requirements

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • Multiple individuals will receive monetary damages and several property owners and management companies across the state will strengthen their anti-discrimination and fair housing policies after three separate settlements were reached over claims of disability-based housing discrimination against tenants, Attorney General Maura Healey announced [recently].

    The AG’s Office finalized settlements in three separate cases resolving allegations that the defendants, mainly property owners and managers, discriminated against tenants by failing to reasonably accommodate their disabilities.
In one case:
  • Mission Park and RTH together own residential apartments located in several buildings in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, including the Mission Park properties, which are managed by Trinity.

    According a complaint filed by the AG’s Office, these three entities engaged in a pattern of discriminatory and unlawful housing practices against a tenant on the basis of her disability by repeatedly failing to provide reasonable accommodations and modifications to her residence. The tenant has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

    The tenant’s mother repeatedly expressed her need for a wheelchair-accessible unit, including an accessible bathroom, doorways, kitchen counters, and entrances. The tenant also asked for permission to keep an emotional support dog. In each instance, the defendants allegedly failed to engage in an interactive dialogue, required burdensome and unnecessary paperwork, and unreasonably delayed or refused to provide the reasonable modifications or accommodations.

    Pursuant to a consent judgment filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the defendants have agreed to pay a total of $60,000, including $40,000 in damages to the complainants, $15,000 to the Commonwealth, and $5,000 to be used for education programs for tenants with disabilities. The defendants are also required institute comprehensive anti-discrimination policies and provide fair housing training for staff.
For more, see AG Healey Obtains Multiple Settlements in Fair Housing Cases on Behalf of Tenants With Disabilities (Properties Located in Worcester, Roxbury, and East Wareham; Settlements Secure $155,000 in Restitution for Tenants, Penalties and Funding for Educational Programs).

Massachusetts AG Shakes $75K (Tenant's Share: $60K) Out Of Landlord In Settlement Of Fair Housing Allegations That Wheelchair-Bound Tenant's Requests For Accessibility Modifications To Their Home Were Either Met With Undue Delays Or Improperly Denied Altogether

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • Multiple individuals will receive monetary damages and several property owners and management companies across the state will strengthen their anti-discrimination and fair housing policies after three separate settlements were reached over claims of disability-based housing discrimination against tenants, Attorney General Maura Healey announced [recently].

    The AG’s Office finalized settlements in three separate cases resolving allegations that the defendants, mainly property owners and managers, discriminated against tenants by failing to reasonably accommodate their disabilities.
In one case:
  • The Related Companies, Inc., Related Washington Heights, LLC, and Related Management Company, L.P., own or manage Washington Heights, a large housing complex in Worcester.

    According to a complaint filed by the AG’s Office, these defendants engaged in discriminatory and unlawful housing practices against a tenant on the basis of her disabilities by failing to provide reasonable accommodations and modifications. The tenant began using a wheelchair after suffering a stroke during childbirth.

    In January 2013, the tenant and her husband requested an accessible unit with a wheelchair ramp but allegedly were told the waitlist was years long and they would be better off moving elsewhere. At that time, they began requesting reasonable modifications to make their home accessible, the majority of which allegedly were met with undue delays by the defendants and some requests were denied altogether, including making the sidewalk ramp to the entryway of the apartment safe and usable for the tenant.

    The AG’s Office alleged that the tenant’s recovery was adversely impacted by the lack of accessibility. She was unable to leave her home on her own and, at times, unable to even move from one room to another. Her husband’s health was also adversely impacted by the delays after he injured his back while caring for his wife.

    Pursuant to a consent judgement filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the defendants have agreed to pay a total of $75,000, including $60,000 in damages to the tenant and $15,000 to the Commonwealth. The companies will also be required to update their antidiscrimination policies, pay for training on fair housing laws for all employees and for educational programs for residents regarding their rights as tenants and resources available for tenants with disabilities. As a condition of the consent judgment, the defendants will also work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on an assessment of the property’s compliance with applicable federal law.
For more, see AG Healey Obtains Multiple Settlements in Fair Housing Cases on Behalf of Tenants With Disabilities (Properties Located in Worcester, Roxbury, and East Wareham; Settlements Secure $155,000 in Restitution for Tenants, Penalties and Funding for Educational Programs).