Saturday, August 27, 2016

Assistant Property Manager, Maintenance Man Cop Guilty Pleas In Conspiracy To $queeze Bribes Out Of Unqualified Prospective Tenants To Add Them Onto Already-Closed Waiting List For Boston Section 8 Subsidized Housing Complex

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Boston, Massachusetts):
  • A former maintenance technician for Roxse Homes, a subsidized housing development in Boston, was sentenced [] in U.S. District Court in Boston for his role in a scheme to rent apartments at the housing development to individuals who were not qualified, in exchange for cash bribes.

    Ismael Morales, 36, of Jamaica Plain, was sentenced [...] to two years in prison and two years of supervised release. [...] His co-defendant, Mathis Lemons, 42, of Brockton, also pleaded guilty to the same charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 20, 2016.

    Lemons was the assistant property manager and Morales worked as a maintenance technician for Roxse Homes, a subsidized housing development on Tremont Street in Roxbury.

    At Roxse Homes, eligible low-income families and individuals can obtain rental housing for a subsidized rate with Section 8 housing benefits from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2014, there was a shortage of federally subsidized Section 8 housing in Massachusetts, and Roxse Homes maintained a long waitlist of applicants desiring apartments in the complex. The Roxse Homes waitlist had been closed to external applicants since 2009.

    From September 2014 to February 2015, Lemons and Morales conspired to rent apartments to individuals who were not eligible for subsidized Roxse Homes apartments because they were not on the waitlist. Morales solicited and accepted money from individuals, and provided those individuals with blank rental applications. Morales also instructed some of the individuals not to date their applications, or to date their applications in 2006 or 2009, when in fact the applications were actually completed in 2014. Lemons then added the unqualified individuals to the Roxse Homes computerized waitlist, and falsely inputted their application dates as 2006 or 2009.

Feds Shake $200K Lawsuit Settlement Out Of Southern California Landlord Accused Of Filing False Affidavits Regarding Active Duty Status Of Servicemember/Tenants In Eviction Actions

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that Lincoln Military Housing, which owns and operates dozens of on-base and off-base military housing communities throughout Southern California, has agreed to pay $200,000 to resolve allegations that it unlawfully evicted active-duty servicemembers and their families by obtaining default judgments against them, in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This is the first case that the Justice Department has filed alleging the unlawful eviction of servicemembers from their homes.

    The SCRA provides servicemembers with protections against certain transactions that could adversely affect their civil legal rights while they are in military service. Under the SCRA, if a tenant who is on active duty is sued for eviction and does not make an appearance in the case for any reason, the landlord must file an affidavit with the court stating whether the tenant is in military service, showing necessary facts to support the affidavit. To evict a tenant in California, a landlord must first obtain a court order. The complaint alleges that Lincoln Military Housing requested default judgments against servicemembers without filing the affidavits required by the SCRA to alert the court of the tenants’ military status. As a result, servicemembers were put at risk of being evicted without having an opportunity to participate in the case and without having an attorney assigned to represent them.

    Despite the fact that the servicemembers who are receiving compensation under the settlement were all in military service at the time of their evictions, Lincoln Military Housing filed affidavits stating that no defendants were in military service.

    Under the consent order, which is still subject to approval by U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Lincoln Military Housing must pay each aggrieved servicemember $35,000, vacate the eviction judgment, forgive any deficiency balance and ask the credit bureaus to remove the evictions from their credit reports. In addition to compensating the servicemembers, Lincoln Military Housing must pay a civil penalty of $60,000 to the United States.
    ***
    The settlement also requires Lincoln Military Housing to make systemic changes to its business practices, including providing SCRA training to its employees and developing new policies and procedures consistent with the SCRA. The policies and procedures will require Lincoln Military Housing and its agents to review the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) database and file a proper affidavit of military service before seeking a default judgment against a tenant in an eviction action.

    Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office. Office locations may be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php. Additional information on the department’s enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting servicemembers is available at www.servicemembers.gov.

    This matter resulted from a referral to the Justice Department by the Legal Services Support Team at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Source: Lincoln Military Housing Agrees to Pay $200,000 to Settle Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Violations (Case Marks First Time the Justice Department has Filed Suit Alleging Unlawful Eviction of Active-Duty Servicemembers).

Upstate New York Municipality, Liability Insurer Agree To Cough Up $150K To Settle Fair Housing, ADA Lawsuit In Connection With City's Zoning Change Denial For Residential Mental Health Facility

In Ogdensburg, New York, the Watertown Daily Times reports:
  • City Council has approved a settlement with Step by Step, Inc.,(1) over a federal discrimination lawsuit brought by the mental health services organization following council’s May 28, 2015, vote denying the group a zoning change.

    With no discussion Monday, City Council voted unanimously to settle the federal discrimination lawsuit brought by Step by Step by paying $150,000 to the organization. A total of $75,000 of that amount will come from the city’s general fund, while the other half of the money will be paid by the municipality’s insurance carrier, according to city officials.

    In a resolution brought forward following an executive session Monday, the council indicated that settling the lawsuit was mutually beneficial to Step by Step, Inc., and city taxpayers.
    ***
    The legal flap over Step by Step’s bid to open a mental health services operation in the former Lincoln School on Knox Street began in earnest on May 28, 2015, when Council voted 5-1 against rezoning the residential neighborhood surrounding the former school site.

    Multiple public hearings were held prior to the vote in which neighbors of the proposed mental health clinic expressed concerns about neighborhood aesthetics and safety should Step by Step’s mental health clients be allowed to use the former school and its 2.08 acre campus.

    Step by Step sued the city in U.S. District Court, Utica, in July 2015, alleging that the city intentionally discriminated against its patients in violation of the Fair Housing Act and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying its application to rezone 1515 Knox St., from a residential family zone to a Planned Unit Development.

    On April 5, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge David N. Hurd ruled in Step by Step’s favor and ordered the city to approve the application. In his ruling, Judge Hurd agreed with Step by Step lawyers that city officials in Ogdensburg intentionally discriminated against its patients in violation of the Fair Housing Act and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act.(2)

    City Council complied with the court order and approved the zoning change from single family to a planned development district on April 18.
For the story, see Ogdensburg to pay Step by Step $150,000 to end discrimination lawsuit.

See also, Judge orders Ogdensburg to approve zone change for residential mental health facility.
------------------
(1) Step-By-Step, Inc. is a consumer-run, non-profit organization committed to bringing services, support and care to persons discovering and recovering with mental illness in St. Lawrence County, New York.

(2) See Step By Step, Inc. v. City Of Ogdensburg, No. 7:15-CV-925 (N.D.N.Y. April 5, 2016).

Virginia Fair Housing Group Squeezes $33K From Landlord, Real Estate Brokerage To Settle Allegations Of Housing Discrimination Against Non-English Speaking Rental Applicant

In Richmond, Virginia, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:
  • Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia Inc. said Wednesday it had settled a discrimination complaint for $33,000 with two Richmond-area companies for alleged housing discrimination against a person who did not speak English.

    Richmond-based HOME filed the complaint against Executives Inc. Realty Group, a real estate brokerage in Chesterfield County, and CBP Properties LLC, a local property owner.

    The complaint alleged that a policy maintained by Executives Inc. requiring that at least one lease signer be able to sufficiently communicate in English constituted discrimination based on national origin.

    HOME alleged that the policy unfairly excluded otherwise qualified families from obtaining the housing of their choice because of their national origin.

    In December 2013, a Spanish-speaking woman accompanied by her bilingual daughter attempted to view a rental home in Richmond listed by Executives Inc. The woman was allegedly denied access to see the home when a receptionist learned that no adult on the lease would be able to speak sufficient English.

    In 2014, HOME investigated the claim, confirmed the policy and then filed a formal complaint with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD referred the case for investigation to the Virginia Fair Housing Office.
    ***
    To settle HOME’s claims, Executives Inc. changed its language policy, which now instructs staff to provide housing opportunities to prospective tenants regardless of their English proficiency.

    Executives’ Inc. staff will continue to attend regular fair-housing training. It also will reimburse HOME for costs and expenses incurred during the investigation.

    The original complainant settled her own fair-housing complaint with Executives Inc. to the satisfaction of both parties, according to a statement from HOME.

Facing Impending Eviction, Non-English Speaking Couple Dodge Boot, Score Fair Housing Complaint Settlement After Non-Profit Lawyers Intercede; Housing Authority Landlord Allegedly Violated State Law By Failing To Provide Tenants An Interpreter At Eviction Hearings

In Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Civil Beat reports:
  • The Hawaii Public Housing Authority is revamping its policies for providing translation and interpretation services for thousands of residents after settling a discrimination case brought by an immigrant couple.

    Valantin Sirom and Sasinta Seremea filed a complaint at the [Hawaii] Civil Rights Commission last summer when they were evicted from public housing after two hearings in which the Housing Authority did not provide an interpreter.

    The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii,(1) which represented the couple, contended the Housing Authority discriminated against them based on their national origin by not providing a free interpreter or translating important documents, including a notice that they had the right to an interpreter.

    A Housing Authority board voted to evict Sirom and Seremea last summer, but dismissed their eviction last September after the Legal Aid Society interceded.

    It’s been 10 years since Hawaii established a law saying that most residents who speak limited English are entitled to free interpreters at government agencies, and translation of vital documents like eviction notices.

    But despite the state law, as well as a similar federal requirement under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, state and county agencies have struggled to comply: [...].
    ***
    In this case, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority failed to let Sirom and Seremea know that they were legally entitled to a free interpreter at two hearings regarding their eviction last year, the Legal Aid Society claimed.

    The state language access law doesn’t include any penalties for violations or any way for individuals to sue if the law is violated. That’s why Legal Aid attorney Reyna Ramolete filed a fair housing complaint alleging Sirom and Seremea were discriminated against due to their national origin.

    The Housing Authority said in an email that the agency did not admit liability in settling the case, and noted that it sometimes settles cases to save taxpayer money.

    As part of the settlement, the agency must pay Sirom and Seremea $2,000. It also must adopt a language access plan that includes staff training and new procedures for communicating with people of limited English proficiency.

    For example, eviction notices must now be accompanied by a form that’s translated into commonly spoken languages explaining the option to have a free interpreter.

    The new policies apply to more than 13,000 public housing residents who reside in more than 6,100 units.

    “The settlement should serve as a reminder that state and federal fair housing laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of national origin or ancestry and that both Legal Aid and HPHA can play important roles in protecting against discrimination,” said William Hoshijo, executive director of the state Civil Rights Commission.
For more, see When Not Speaking Fluent English Can Get You Evicted (After a family was almost kicked out, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority agrees to adopt new translation and interpreter procedures).
--------------------
(1)The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii is a non-profit, public interest law firm with offices statewide, and provides civil legal aid to low-income residents of the state.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Court Nixes Unit Owners Income Tax Deductions For Payments To Replace Collapsed 150-Foot Section Of 800-Foot Long, 75-Foot High Retaining Wall Supporting 575-Unit NYC Co-Op Housing Complex; Based On Engineering Reports, Judge Attributes Casualty To Progressive Deterioration Over 20-Year Period, Not Singular Event; Excessive Rainstorms Over 5 Month Period That Triggered Incident Merely A Contributing Factor

In the Washington Heights section of Upper Manhattan, CPA Practice Advisor reports:
  • Suppose that your personal residence is substantially damaged and will cost you tens of thousands of dollars to fix. Is the repair cost deductible on your tax return as a casualty loss? It doesn’t always seem fair, but it depends on whether the damage was caused by a singular event or gradual deterioration over time.
    ***
    The taxpayer in the new case is a tenant-stockholder of Castle Village Owners Corp., a [575-unit] cooperative housing corporation in Manhattan. Castle Village owns a tract of land, which includes five high-rise residential buildings. The grounds were supported by a retaining wall of stone masonry construction that was built between 1921 and 1925.

    In 1985, Castle Village retained an engineer to inspect retaining wall. In a letter to Castle Village, the engineer indicated that a portion of the retaining wall showed signs of movement and instability and that several cracks were observed and relief drains weren’t functioning properly. For the next 20 years, various engineering and architectural firms addressed a number of issues relating to the retaining wall.(1)

    On May 12, 2005, a 150-foot portion of the wall collapsed.(2) The consultants whom Castle Village had retained over the previous 20 years had reported their findings about the retaining wall in numerous letters, reports, proposals, and/or memoranda sent to Castle Village. Most of the major problems those consultants had observed and described in those documents were observed in and around the 150-foot section of the retaining wall that collapsed.(3)

    Appearing before the Tax Court, the taxpayer stated that the cause of the collapse of the retaining wall was excessive rainfall during the months of January through May 2005. She said the rainfall overstressed the recently installed drainage system and caused rapidly accelerating movement in the wall in the four weeks immediately preceding the collapse. Thus, the taxpayer argued she was entitled to a casualty loss deduction. After applying the limits, she deducted $23,188 on her 2005 tax return.

    But the Tax Court disagreed with the taxpayer. According to the Court, the cause of the collapse of the retaining wall was due to a progressive deterioration in and around that wall that had begun at least 20 years before the collapse on May 12, 2005. Although the spring 2005 rainfall and the 2004 drainage modifications may have been contributing factors, they didn’t cause the collapse.
For the story, see Casualty Loss Deduction Collapses in Tax Court.

For the court ruling, see Alphonso v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2016-130 (U.S. Tax Court, July 14, 2016).
-----------------------
(1) See generally, Board of Inquiry Report – Castle Village Retaining Wall Collapse, New York City Department of Buildings (April 2007).

See also, Report: Retaining wall collapse along Henry Hudson Parkway could have been prevented.

(2) See The New York Times:
(3) Ibid., footnote 1.

Landlord's Reluctance To Implement Permanent Fix For Aging, Often-Broken Elevators In 11-Story, 170-Unit Federally-Assisted Apartment Complex For The Elderly May Be Matter Of Life Or Death For Frail & Disabled Tenants; Congresswoman Calls For Temporary Evacuation

In Ypsilanti, Michigan, Michigan Radio reports:
  • Residents of Towne Centre Place(1) in Ypsilanti are fed up.

    For the past year, people living in the 11-story apartment complex for disabled and elderly residents have had to stay home for up to half a day at a time, sometimes several times a week, because the elevators stopped working -- or else brave the stairs and hope the elevators are working again when they get back home.

    79-year old Sarah McChristian lives on the 11th floor. She has arthritis, but says if necessary, she can walk down 11 flights, and even walk back up -- with lots of stops on the way to catch her breath.

    "My heart just goes out to the people who can't walk down the stairs," says McChristian, "and I know that it could be a matter of life and death."

    McChristian says one man recently had a heart attack and had to be brought out of his apartment window by firefighters because the elevators were down again. "That could happen to anyone," she says. "It could happen to me."

    Alma Jackson Ogletree also lives on the 11th floor. She is 91 years old and must use a walker or a wheelchair to get around.

    She says she sometimes has to call her son to bring her food or medicine when the elevators are not working.

    McChristian says a number of residents are considering filing a lawsuit. During a meeting with an attorney, they were told it would cost Towne Centre Place $300,000 to replace the aging elevators, "and the owners don't want to spend the money."

    Congresswoman Debbie Dingell has also gotten involved. She's asked the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to find temporary housing for residents until the situation is fixed.(2)
    ***
    Michigan Radio sent a reporter to the apartment complex on August 12. Only one elevator was working, and signs warned that only two people should use it at a time, or only one person in a wheelchair.
For more, see Where "the elevators are out" could be a matter of life or death.
---------------------
(1) According to the landlord's website, Towne Centre Place is federally-assisted, 170-unit elderly family community.

(2) Congresswoman calls for temporary evacuation of troubled Ypsilanti senior tower
:
  • [T]he situation "resulted in great hardship and at times dangerous conditions" to the complex's 170 residents, many of whom are elderly, disabled, and receiving Section 8 assistance, Dingell wrote. [... O]fficials say the functioning elevator is only a two-person elevator that can't support emergency personnel and a medical gurney.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ohio State Court's Client Protection Fund Shells Out Nearly $300K To Reimburse Ripped Off Clients Of 11 Ethically-Impaired Attorneys, And Clients Of 4 Others Who Passed Away Prior To Completing Their Professional Services

Court News Ohio reports:
  • The Board of Commissioners of the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection awarded $297,671.06 to 48 victims of attorney theft at its quarterly meeting June 10 in Cleveland.(1)

    In all, 15 former or suspended Ohio attorneys were found to have misappropriated client funds. Four deceased attorneys also were involved in the claims presented to the board. Here are the award amounts, which attorney was involved in the misappropriation, and the county of origin.

    Cuyahoga County

    The board determined that former clients of seven attorneys were eligible for reimbursement.

    A former client of suspended attorney Gary R. Axner was reimbursed $1,350 as a result of Axner’s failure to provide the services requested. Axner’s license to practice law in Ohio was suspended indefinitely on July 13, 2015.

    A former client of former attorney Kenneth J. Freeman was reimbursed $1,200 as a result of Freeman’s failure to provide the services requested. Freeman was permanently disbarred from the practice of law in Ohio on March 6, 2013.

    Five former clients of former attorney Paul M. Kaufman were reimbursed a total of $50,990 as a result of Kaufman’s failure to account for and/or distribute funds belonging to his clients. Kaufman resigned from the practice of law in Ohio, with discipline pending, on April 1, 2015.

    A former client of former attorney Kevin Purcell was reimbursed $3,600 as a result of Purcell’s failure to provide the services requested. Purcell resigned from the practice of law in Ohio, with discipline pending, on May 28, 2015.

    A former client of deceased attorney James T. Schumacher was reimbursed $229.06 as a result of Schumacher’s failure to complete the services requested before his death on Oct. 10, 2013.

    Two former clients of deceased attorney Stephen O. Walker were reimbursed $21,000 as a result of Walker’s failure to complete the services requested before his death on Sept. 11, 2014.

    Two former clients of former attorney James W. Westfall Jr. were reimbursed a total of $2,769 as a result of Westfall’s failure to provide the services requested. Westfall resigned from the practice of law in Ohio, with discipline pending, on Aug. 30, 2013.

    Erie County

    A former client of former attorney Roger S. Stark was reimbursed $3,000 as a result of Stark’s failure to account for funds belonging to his client. Stark resigned from the practice of law in Ohio, with discipline pending, Aug. 17, 2015.

    Franklin County

    The board awarded reimbursement to former clients of four attorneys.

    Fifteen former clients of suspended attorney Mohammed Noure Alo were reimbursed a total of $75,905 as a result of Alo’s failure to provide the services requested. Alo’s license to practice law in Ohio was suspended indefinitely on Aug. 17, 2015.

    Two former clients of suspended attorney Javier H. Armengau were reimbursed a total of $7,000 as a result of Armengau’s failure to provide the services requested. Armengau’s license to practice law in Ohio was suspended on Sept. 15, 2014 following his felony conviction.

    Former clients of deceased attorney Ted R. Howard were reimbursed $420 as a result of Howard’s failure to complete the services requested before his death on Feb. 18, 2015.

    Former clients of suspended attorney Joseph D. Reed were reimbursed $1,000 as a result of Reed’s failure to provide the services requested. Reed’s license to practice law in Ohio was suspended on March 8.

    Hamilton County

    A former client of former attorney Harold K. Garrison was reimbursed $1,500 as a result of Garrison’s failure to provide the services requested. Garrison resigned from the practice of law in Ohio, with discipline pending, March 24, 2014.

    Huron County

    Five former clients of suspended attorney Charles R. Smith III were reimbursed a total of $5,413 as a result of Smith’s failure to provide the services requested. Smith’s license to practice law in Ohio was suspended indefinitely on March 10.

    Mahoning County

    Two former clients of suspended attorney Frank N. Fagnano were reimbursed a total of $854 as a result of Fagnano’s failure to provide the services requested. Fagnano’s license to practice of law in Ohio was suspended indefinitely on Feb. 3.

    Montgomery County

    Two former clients of deceased attorney James R. Greene III were reimbursed a total of $12,500 as a result of Greene’s failure to complete the services requested before his death on May 28, 2014.

    Morrow County

    Former clients of former attorney William M. Adams were reimbursed $1,930 as a result of Adams’ failure to provide the services requested. Adams resigned from the practice of law in Ohio, with discipline pending, on April 18, 2014.

    Preble County

    Three former clients of suspended attorney James W. Thomas Jr. were reimbursed a total of $106,186 as a result of Thomas’ failure to account for client funds. Thomas’ license to practice law in Ohio was suspended indefinitely on April 20.

    Trumbull County

    A former client of suspended attorney Robert L. Johnson was reimbursed $825 as a result of Johnson’s failure to provide the services requested. An Interim Default Suspension from the practice of law in Ohio was entered against Johnson on March 4, 2014
    ---------------------------
    The Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, formerly known as the Clients’ Security Fund, was created in 1985 by the Supreme Court of Ohio to reimburse victims of attorney theft, embezzlement or misappropriation. The fund is not taxpayer funded, but is financed by registration fees paid by every Ohio attorney. Ohio has more than 44,000 attorneys engaged in the active practice of law. Less than 1 percent of those attorneys is involved in claims reimbursed by the fund.

    Law clients who believe they have sustained financial losses resulting from attorney theft, embezzlement or misappropriation should contact the fund by calling 614.387.9390 or 1.800.231.1680.
Source: 48 Victims of Attorney Theft Awarded Nearly $300,000.
---------------------------

(1) The Ohio Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection is an agency of the Supreme Court of Ohio created to reimburse victims of attorney theft, embezzlement or misappropriation. The Board of Commissioners of the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection determines which claims are eligible for reimbursement. After the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection staff investigates the claims, they are submitted to the Board for a determination of eligibility.

The maximum award amount is $75,000 per client.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Client Security Fund Coughs Up $573K To Swindled Victims As Lawyer Who Used Trust Account As Personal Piggy Bank Gets Carted Off For 5 1/2 To 18-Year Prison Stay; Federal Sentencing For Failure To Pay Income Tax On Pilfered Loot Remains Pending

In Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, PennLive.com reports:
  • Though the Carlisle attorney who pleaded guilty to bilking numerous clients to feed a gambling addiction won't be sentenced until [Wednesday, August 17], more than $500,000 has already been reimbursed to his victims.

    That makes up most of the client funds that Karl Rominger, 43, was charged with misusing.(1) The reimbursed funds have come from a state program that protects clients from such thefts.
    ***
    Rominger also pleaded guilty last month in federal court to tax-evasion charges.

    Meanwhile, Carlisle-based attorney and president of the Cumberland County Bar Association Hubert Gilroy said the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security has reimbursed much of the $767,000-plus that Rominger owes in restitution.(2)

    And some local attorneys, including Gilroy, have been working to make sure the victims get the money they are owed in this complex case that took intense forensic-accounting to unravel.

    "A number of attorneys in Cumberland County have stepped up and worked with a number of these victims to help them make applications to the client security fund, and we're doing that on a pro bono basis. We're not charging them anything," Gilroy said. "We police our own profession and take care of these victims as soon as possible."

    So far, the fund has paid out $573,783.06 to Rominger's victims, said the fund's executive director, Kathryn Peifer Morgan.

    The organization is funded through a portion of the annual licensing fee attorneys pay, she explained. Disbarred or suspended attorneys whose former clients are paid back through the fund must reimburse the fund – plus 10 percent interest – before they can be considered for reinstatement, she added.
Source: Most of client funds stolen by ex-Sandusky lawyer Karl Rominger reimbursed to victims through state program.

See also, 'I'm ashamed,' ex-Sandusky lawyer Karl Rominger says as he gets state prison for stealing $767K:
  • A far more humble, even tearful Rominger stood before a judge in a Cumberland County courtroom Wednesday afternoon and received a 5 1/2- to 18-year state prison sentence for stealing more than $767,000 from his clients. [...] That damage was mitigated only partially by payments from the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security that made some of the 18 victims financially whole, [prosecutor Jaime] Keating said.
    ***
    Keating called several victims to make impact statements. Natasha Humphreys-Alamo, told how Rominger diverted an insurance settlement her hard-pressed family was to receive from an auto accident.

    "That insurance settlement was all we had," she said. Rominger betrayed her not only as an attorney, but as a friend, Humphreys-Alamo said. Like Keating, she said she believes high living as much as gambling caused the thefts.
    ***
    Chuck Wingate, Bethesda Mission [for the homeless] executive director, said Rominger's thefts from the estate cost the charity $75,000 to $100,000 in income, forcing it to deplete its reserves to meet an ever-growing need.

    "Our clients and guests are the most vulnerable people in town," he said. "As Christians, we have forgiven Mr. Rominger. But we do know that actions have consequences."
--------------------
(1) Included in the pilfered loot was $147,883 representing the proceeds from the sale of a divorcing couple's marital home. See Former Sandusky lawyer Karl Rominger's plea to stealing client funds heals one marriage.

(2) The Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security was established by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1982 to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss as a result of a misappropriation of funds by their Pennsylvania attorney.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

Wisconsin Lawyers' Fund For Client Protection, Insurance Reimburses $150K+ To Victims As Disbarred Attorney Gets Two Years Prison Time For Pilfering Money From Two Estates; Defendant Allowed One Deceased Client's Home To Be Lost In Foreclosure While Siphoning Cash To Fund Strip Joint Sprees

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:
  • A disbarred Mequon lawyer who stole more than $150,000 from two estates, and spent much of it at strip clubs, was sentenced Monday to two years in prison.

    An attorney for Perry Friesler, 73, said his client had been suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder when he committed the crimes and had recommended probation was the proper sentence so Friesler could continue treatment and perform community service.

    Over 40 years of legal practice, Jeremy Levinson said, Friesler was "honorable, diligent and devoted in all affairs, professional and otherwise," until his daughter began dying of Tay-Sachs disease. In 2012, a year after she died, Friesler tried to take his own life, which led to involuntary commitment and the first diagnoses and treatment of his mental health problems, Levinson said.

    Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley acknowledged that Friesler experienced sad and tragic events but said they didn't cause the crimes, which extended over a period of 3 1/2 years of repeatedly writing checks from estates to himself, spending the money on selfish pursuits, and lying to the heirs and the courts to delay the truth.

    Benkley called it unreasonable to allow Friesler "to go home to a leafy cul-de-sac in Mequon, do some community service and put this all behind him." Because of the betrayal of trust, the duration and amount of the thefts and the efforts to conceal his crime, Friesler should spend three years in prison, Benkley argued.

    Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Thomas McAdams settled on the two years, plus three years of extended supervision. He said while he gave Friesler credit for the good life he led prior to his crimes, the aggravating factors required prison time to deter others in positions of trust.

    "The message needs to be, if that's violated, there will be consequences," McAdams said.
    ***
    Friesler's psychotherapist testified that hypersexualization is a common symptom of untreated bipolar disorder and said Friesler's period of frequent trips to strip clubs — where Benkley said Friesler would withdraw hundreds of dollars from ATMs nightly — would be an expected manifestation.
    ***
    Friesler pleaded guilty in February to a single count of theft greater than $10,000 in a business setting. Theft from a second estate was read-in at the sentencing. One estate was in Milwaukee County, the other in Ozaukee County. Both families were friends of Friesler's.

    One heir told McAdams that while Friesler was acting as the personal representative of his mother's estate, her home was lost to foreclosure, though she had been current on her mortgage payments.

    "How does a house get lost, like vapor?" said Matthew Port.

    According to Levinson, after Friesler's commitment and treatment in 2012, Friesler realized what he had done, ended his practice and turned himself in to the Office of Lawyer Regulation. In 2013, he agreed to give up his law license rather than defend an OLR complaint and agreed to repay nearly $160,000.

    When the Supreme Court revoked Friesler's license, Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote separately, stating only, "The court has not been advised whether any criminal prosecution has been undertaken."

    Prosecutors didn't charge Friesler until 2015.

    At Monday's hearing, Benkley said Friesler hasn't paid a cent toward the victims' theft losses, which were covered instead by the Wisconsin Lawyers Fund for Victim Compensation(1) and insurance. The heirs incurred tens of thousands of dollars in additional expenses suing Friesler and seeking the victim fund compensation, Benkley said.

    A hearing on the final restitution amount is set for October.
For the story, see Mequon lawyer gets prison for theft.
-----------------------
(1) The Wisconsin Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection (formerly known as the Clients' Security Fund) is a fund established by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reimburse clients who suffer loss of money or other property from the dishonest conduct of their Wisconsin-licensed attorney. The Fund is a remedy for clients who cannot be repaid from other sources, such as from insurance or from the attorney involved. Claimants are expected to make reasonable efforts to collect from these other sources first.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that sometimes help cover the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Maryland Builder Ordered To Cough Up $500K+ Restitution, Damages, Etc. For Pocketing Deposits From Six Families, Then Failing To Begin Or Complete Construction Of Their Homes; AG's Office Authorizes Victims To Obtain Some Financial Recovery From State Homebuilder's Ripoff Reimbursement Fund

From the Office of the Maryland Attorney General:
  • Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh announced [] that his Consumer Protection Division issued a final order finding that a home builder from Wicomico County violated the Consumer Protection Act and other laws protecting new home purchasers in Maryland and requiring the builder to pay restitution, economic damages, penalties and costs, amounting to $524,185.35.

    The Division found that Bryan Edward Adkins t/a Atlantic Bay Homes entered into contracts with six families to build homes in Wicomico and Dorchester Counties. However, after taking substantial deposits and payments from the consumers, Mr. Adkins failed to begin or complete construction of the homes, pay subcontractors or return the money paid. In two instances, he took more than $170,000.00 from the consumers and then failed to provide anything of value.

    The Division also determined that Mr. Adkins failed to provide proper protection for consumers' deposits and payments by either placing them in an escrow account or maintaining a surety bond or letter of credit for their protection and failed to disclose to the Division's Home Builder Registration Unit the filing of lawsuits and the entry of judgments, including a criminal conviction for failing to return the advance payments of one of the consumers. The Division's final order bars Bryan Edward Adkins t/a Atlantic Bay Homes from acting as a home builder in the State of Maryland unless he meets requirements set by the Division in order to be registered as a home builder under Maryland's Home Builder Registration Act.

    The Division also authorized these consumers to obtain recovery from the Home Builder Guaranty Fund(1) for their actual losses resulting from the builder's failure to complete their homes. Under Maryland law, consumers may seek recovery from the Guaranty Fund for actual losses of up to $50,000.00 resulting from the failure of a registered builder to complete their home.

    "Before any money changes hands for a new home, you need to protect the biggest investment of your lifetime," said Attorney General Frosh. "Make sure that your home is built by a registered home builder and that any deposits are protected by an escrow account, bond or letter of credit."

    The Attorney General encourages new home buyers to check whether their builder is registered by contacting the Division's Home Builder Registration Unit at (410) 576-6573 or toll-free at (877) 259-4525, or by visiting www.oag.state.md.us/homebuilder. New home buyers may also verify whether builders have a surety bond or letter of credit by contacting the Home Builder Registration Unit.
Source: Attorney General Frosh Orders Wicomico County Home Builder to Pay More Than $524,000 to Defrauded Home Buyers.
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(1) The State of Maryland has established a Home Builder Guaranty Fund that is overseen by the state attorney general's Consumer Protection Division. This fund allows consumers to seek compensation for losses resulting from an act or omission by a registered builder who constructs a new home for a consumer. When a home builder applies for a building permit, $50 of the cost of that permit is used to fund the Home Builder Guaranty Fund.

This fund is not to be confused with the Guaranty Fund administered by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, a separate fund which exists to reimburse homeowners for the actual loss caused by a licensed contractor who performed a home improvement job in an unworkmanlike, incorrect, or incomplete manner, or who abandoned a home improvement job. The Fund is supported by licensed contractors, who pay a Guaranty Fund assessment when they obtain their home improvement license and each time they renew the license.

Stiffed By Contractor & Belted With Suppliers' Mechanics Liens, 133 Vegas-Area Homeowners Score Partial Financial Relief (Approx. 39 Cents On The Dollar) From State Contractors' Recovery Fund

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports:
  • Tensions ran high [] as homeowners heard options for relief in the fallout of Summerlin Energy’s February bankruptcy filing.

    Members of the Nevada State Contractors Board reviewed more than 100 claims by homeowners, many of whom had liens placed on their homes after the company failed to pay suppliers.

    The board validated 133 homeowner complaints totalling more than $1 million. The relief funds will be available to homeowners in 30 days.

    Under state law, the board can award up to $35,000 in relief to homeowners who suffer damages from a licensed contractor. However, the amount is capped at $400,000 per contractor.

    In order to comply with the $400,000 cap, the board distributed the funds at a pro-rated amount of approximately 38.6 percent.(1)

    Paul Rozario, director of investigations for the Contractors Board, said suppliers Sun Valley Electric Supply Co. and Soligent had extended lines of credit with Summerlin Energy of about $500,000 each.

    “Because of that there was over $1 million worth of materials and supplies that were delivered to Summerlin Energy that were never paid,” said Rosario.

    In Nevada, contractors, subcontractors and material suppliers who provide work or materials for property improvements can file a “mechanic’s lien” against a homeowner’s property to ensure payment.

    In all, more than 100 homeowners had liens placed on their homes by suppliers that Summerlin Energy failed to pay. Under the arrangement, the vendors supplied the equipment and Summerlin Energy was supposed to do installation.

    Representatives from Summerlin Energy were not present Thursday. More than 60 homeowners attended.

    Because of the cap, Valley resident Carmen Morales, 51, will receive about $2,300 of the $5,900 amount that she said she was found to be damaged for by Contractors Board investigators.

    After learning about a potential fraud alert surrounding Summerlin Energy, Morales said she contacted the company and asked to cancel the upcoming delivery of her equipment. Instead, said Morales, the supplier was never told of the cancellation by Summerlin Energy and the solar panels were delivered to her home while she was at work.

    The Contractor’s Board investigation validated Morales’ claim — that the equipment was delivered but not installed by Summerlin Energy. Nevertheless, she will still need to pay the balance to the supplier.

    “It’s like a decoration on my roof,” said Morales.

    On properties where it was determined that no equipment was ever delivered, liens were removed, said attorney Donald Williams, who represents Sun Valley Electric Supply Co. Williams also said the company will work with homeowners to make their payments.

    In February, the board suspended Summerlin Energy’s licenses amid complaints from homeowners that the company abandoned projects after receiving payment and failed to pay vendors.

    In late March, the company’s licenses were revoked during a disciplinary hearing that found the company in violation of 46 of 48 causes of action. Charges included abandonment, refusal to comply with the terms of contract, failure to pay for materials, and failure to establish financial responsibility among others.

    The company’s investigation of fraud, was one of the board’s largest in its history and took more than 1,100 staff hours to complete.
Source: Residents caught in Summerlin Energy bankruptcy gain a bit of relief.
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(1) The Nevada Residential Recovery Fund was established by the Nevada Legislature to offer protection for Nevada owner-occupants of single-family residences who contract with licensed contractors and, under certain conditions, are harmed by failure of that contractor to properly perform qualified services.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Convicted Scammer With History Of Using Forged Deeds To Hijack Title To Homes In Brooklyn Moves To California, Found Guilty Again Of Running Same Racket

In Santa Maria, California, the Lompoc Record reports:
  • A Santa Maria jury returned guilty verdicts in a real estate fraud case for a man charged with several counts of commercial burglary and forgery, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.

    The defendant, Nicholas Baucom, faces up to seven years and eight months in prison.

    Baucom attempted to record a forged deed transferring residential property to himself from an unsuspecting homeowner on three different occasions, according to the district attorney. The homeowner resided out of the area and Baucom was squatting in the vacant home.

    An employee of the Santa Barbara County Clerk Recorder's Office reported the suspicious activity to the District Attorney's Real Estate Fraud Unit. The Fraud Unit investigated the case and learned that Baucom had previously been convicted in Brooklyn, New York, for recording forged deeds, transferring residential property to himself.

    The jury found Baucom guilty as charged of all eight felony counts, including three counts of commercial burglary, three counts of attempting to record a forged deed, one count of forgery of a deed and one count of forgery of a notary stamp.

    District Attorney Joyce Dudley commended the Real Estate Fraud Unit for its investigative work and prosecution of this case.

California Lawyer Gets Convicted, Then Disbarred For Role In Conspiracy That Used Forged Deeds To Hijack Title To Three Condos From Unwitting Owner, Then Pledge Them As Collateral To Pocket $1.7 Million In Loans

In San Francisco, California, the Northern California Record reports:
  • Melvin Lee Emerich, an attorney who practiced in Los Altos, was disbarred [] as a result of his [] conviction for accessory to felony grand theft, multiple counts of money laundering and filing false or forged deeds of trust.

    According to the California Bar document, Emerich was involved in a real estate scheme orchestrated by his friend Jay Shah and another man, Kaushal Niroula, to obtain fraudulent loans on properties they did not own, including three condominiums in San Francisco and a Palm Springs property that belonged to a man Niroula is accused of murdering to further the scheme.

    “Unbeknownst to the San Francisco property owner, one of Shah’s accomplices was able to get three grant deeds that conveyed ownership of the condos to himself,” the document said. “They were used as security to obtain $1.7 million in loans. Emerich set up a phony corporation and opened a corporate checking account to hold funds from the scheme.”

    Furthermore, the evidence reportedly showed that Emerich helped Shah launder the illegally obtained loan funds and wrote multiple checks from the account to himself, Shah’s company and others, Emerich also funneled funds through his sham company to pay for Niroula’s defense in his murder trial.

D.C. Feds Pinch Local Man For Role In Alleged Scheme To Record Forged Lien Satisfactions For Approx. $470K On Underwater Home In Foreclosure, Then Selling Property (Purporting To Be "Free & Clear" ) & Pocketing Nearly $340K In Sales Proceeds While Stiffing Bank

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (District of Columbia):
  • David Tyrone Johnson, 48, of Washington, D.C. has been indicted on charges that he conspired to commit bank fraud and other crimes arising from a real estate scheme involving a forged mortgage satisfaction document.
    ***
    According to the indictment, SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. loaned a friend of Johnson’s approximately $470,000 to purchase residential real estate [...] in 2008. By 2009, the friend had failed to repay the mortgage loans, and in 2010, SunTrust Mortgage filed a notice of foreclosure with the District of Columbia’s Recorder of Deeds.

    In April 2013, SunTrust Mortgage began the process of foreclosing on the mortgage and taking possession of the property, due to the friend’s failure to make good and timely payments on the mortgage loans.

    The indictment alleges that sometime before Oct. 2, 2013, Johnson caused the creation of two phony and forged certificates of satisfaction, which falsely represented that the SunTrust Mortgage loans [...] had been paid and that his friend owned the property “free and clear.” The indictment also alleges that on Oct. 2, 2013, Johnson filed these two phony certificates of satisfaction with the Recorder of Deeds.

    In or about December 2013, after the fake certificates of satisfaction allowed the friend to sell the property without paying the outstanding mortgages, the title and escrow company wired out the sales proceeds of $337,105, of which approximately $170,688 was obtained by Johnson.
Source: District Man Indicted for Conspiracy and Bank Fraud (Allegedly Filed Forged Documents, Leading to Nearly $340,000 in Ill-Gotten Gains).

Southern California Man Gets 8+ Years After Copping Plea To Using Fraudulent Cashier Checks To Buy Houses, Other Property At Public Auctions

From the Office of the Los Angeles County, California District Attorney:
  • A 46-year-old man was sentenced [] to more than eight years in state prison for using fraudulent cashier checks at auctions to buy property, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced.

    Lamar Adams pleaded guilty to one count each of grand theft, identity theft and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument and was immediately sentenced by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dorothy Reyes to eight years and four months in prison.

    Deputy District Attorney Daniel Kinney of the Real Estate Fraud Section prosecuted the case.

    Adams attended property auctions in Los Angeles County and took fake cashier checks to purchase homes or other property. He managed to obtain title to property through the scam and received more than $500,000 in fraudulent loans or refunds.

    Case BA446281 was investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department Real Estate Fraud Section of the Commercial Crimes Division.

Monday, August 22, 2016

"One-Strlke & You're Out!" Ordinance That Allowed City To Immediately Boot Unwitting Tenants & Temporarily Seize Innocent Landlords' Rental Property Over Suspected Gun Or Drug Activity On Premises That They Were Unaware Of Declared Unconstitutional; City Agrees To Cough Up $100K In Damages To 2 Renters, 3 Property Owners, Plus Victims' Legal Fees

In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania recently announced:
  • The city of Wilkes-Barre has agreed to stop enforcing its “one strike and you’re out” ordinance, which illegally authorized city officials to evict tenants immediately and prevent landlords from renting a property for six months if anyone is suspected of illegal activity involving drugs or guns on the premises, including third parties not on the lease.

    The agreement is part of a settlement of a January 2015 federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania on behalf of two tenants and three landlords. The tenants had been evicted from their homes after individuals who did not live with them and were not on the lease were accused of illegal drug activity. The landlords’ rental units were shut down for six months after police arrested the tenants for illegal drug or gun activity even though they had no knowledge of the alleged illegal activity.(1)

    “I’m happy the ordinance is no longer there,” said Adam Peters, a landlord whose Wilkes-Barre rental property was seized for six months under the ordinance. “It’s unfair to punish innocent tenants and landlords for the actions of other people.”

    The settlement also includes an entry of a judgment by the court striking down the one-strike ordinance as unconstitutional, an injunction prohibiting Wilkes-Barre from enforcing the ordinance, and $100,000 in damages [plus plaintiffs' legal fees].
    ***
    “We are pleased that Wilkes-Barre has agreed to stop enforcing the one-strike ordinance and to compensate the landlord and tenant plaintiffs who were harmed by it,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU-PA. “The ordinance was part of a disturbing trend of local governments using landlords to police the conduct of their tenants, and we hope this case will discourage other cities from passing similar ordinances.”

    The one-strike ordinance permitted city of Wilkes-Barre code enforcement officers to close a rental unit for six months if police suspected illegal drug or gun-related criminal activity in the rental unit, common areas or on the premises. There was no requirement that landlords or tenants had to have any knowledge of the illegal activity or any opportunity to stop it before the unit was closed.
Source: Wilkes-Barre to Stop Enforcing “One-Strike and You’re Out” Rental Ordinance to End ACLU-PA Lawsuit.

For the lawsuit, see Peters, et al. v. City of Wilkes-Barre.

Go here for a Wilkes-Barre "One-Strike" list of properties that were shut down by this stupid unconstitutional law.
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(1) According to the lawsuit, "[a] rental unit is closed for six months – and thus stripped of its certificate of occupancy and occupancy license – whenever a code enforcement officer assigns a single “strike” to the property. Such closures bar all persons, including the landlord, from entering or using the property for any purpose during that period without express authorization from the City."

In one case, according to the lawsuit, one tenant was initially given all of ten minutes to retrieve her clothing. However, after an intervening radio call received by the cops at the scene and a short conversation, the cops decided to place the tenant under arrest instead, handcuffing her and taking her away. After being fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell for a couple of hours, the tenant was released from custody without any explanation from the officers. The tenant has never been contacted by the police since that night. She did not receive a citation and was not charged with any crime.

NYC Housing Advocates Challenge HUD Practice Of Peddling Delinquent FHA-Insured Mortgages To Hedge Funds, Private Equity Outfits; Claim Recently-Filed Lawsuit Will Expose Historic Racism In Housing Policy, Putting Black Homeowners At Greater Foreclosure Risk

In New York City, The New York Times reports:
  • For years, the federal government avoided insuring mortgages in black neighborhoods, a practice known as redlining that exacerbated racial divides throughout America’s cities.

    Redlining has long been outlawed, but in New York City, the federal government is again disproportionately hurting black homeowners, according to a federal lawsuit filed by a nonprofit that represents low-income New Yorkers. This time, the suit says, the government is fueling racial disparities not through its lending policies but in how it handles foreclosures.

    Since the financial crisis pushed thousands of homeowners in New York and across the country into foreclosure, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has been selling insured delinquent mortgages to private investors, typically hedge funds and private equity funds, which then collect monthly payments.

    The investors, according to the lawsuit filed against the housing agency and a large private equity firm, Lone Star Funds, provide fewer protections to homeowners who fall behind on their mortgage payments than the federal government does, leading to higher rates of foreclosure.

    Most of the mortgages being sold to these investors are in predominantly black neighborhoods like in southeast Queens and the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. From 2012 to 2014, more than 61 percent of the government-backed mortgages sold to investors were in predominantly black neighborhoods, according to the lawsuit.

    Meanwhile, only about one-third of federally insured mortgages over all were issued in those same neighborhoods.

    Lawyers for the homeowners who filed the lawsuit say the concentration of the sales is putting black homeowners at greater risk of foreclosure and threatening to undermine decades of progress toward increasing homeownership in these neighborhoods.
    ***
    The lawsuit, filed [last week] by MFY Legal Services(1) and the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady in United States District Court in Brooklyn, is the latest tussle over how the government turned to Wall Street to help sort through the wreckage of the 2008 financial crisis. The mortgage sales are part of an effort by HUD to reduce the burden on its insurance fund that backstops home loans to lower-income borrowers who have gone into default.

    “This lawsuit exposes that the historic racism that has kept our communities segregated, that has blocked African-Americans from sustainable homeownership, and that increases the racial wealth gap in this country is still alive and well,” said Elizabeth Lynch, a supervising attorney at MFY Legal Services.
    ***
    The battle over the mortgage sales has exposed a conundrum that the housing agency faces over its Federal Housing Administration mortgage program, which started in the 1930s. By selling the mortgages to the highest bidder — in this case private equity firms — the agency can bolster its insurance fund that had been eroded by the flood of foreclosures in the immediate aftermath of the housing crisis. The more flush the insurance fund, the more mortgages to lower-income borrowers the department can backstop.

    But housing advocates say that the agency is contradicting its mission by selling mortgages to investors that they say are pushing homeowners closer to foreclosure with loan modifications that offer little relief.

    In some cases, the modifications can leave borrowers in even more financial distress. For example, according to the lawsuit, the terms of one typical offer of relief from Lone Star’s servicing arm require a large balloon payment five years after the modification that can, lawyers say, significantly increase a homeowner’s mortgage costs.

    Another feature of that same offer allows borrowers to pay only interest on their loans, leaving them with a large unpaid balance.

    Ultimately, advocates worry that investment firms will be able to take possession of more houses across New York City, one of the nation’s hottest real estate markets, where virtually every neighborhood is rapidly changing through gentrification.
For more, see Sale of Federal Mortgages to Investors Puts Greater Burden on Blacks, Suit Says.
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(1) MFY Legal Services is a non-profit, public interest law firm that, among other things, provides direct civil legal assistance for residents of New York City who are low-income, disenfranchised or have disabilities.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

City Of Richmond To Cough Up $70K To Settle Two Fair Housing Lawsuits Accusing It Of Selectively Enforcing Code Requirements Targeting Mobile Home Parks Occupied Primarily By Hispanic Homeowners; Threats Of Condemnation Of Homes, Criminal Court Action, Intimidation/Harassment By Intrusive Inspections With Armed Police Escorts Among Alleged Actions

From the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] that it has approved an agreement with the City of Richmond, Virginia, settling 14 complaints of housing discrimination filed against the City by Hispanic residents. The complaints alleged that the City of Richmond selectively enforced its code requirements against residents of the City’s mobile home parks, who are predominantly Hispanic.

    The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of national origin. This includes discriminating against persons because of their national origin when enforcing local housing codes.

    The complainants, who are current or former residents of mobile home parks in Richmond, alleged that, due to their national origin, the City imposed unreasonable and legally unjustified requirements that they had to meet to avoid condemnation of their homes; intimidated and harassed them by conducting intrusive inspections with armed police escorts and threatening criminal court action and large monetary fines; and failed to provide meaningful access to residents who have limited English proficiency.

    “This agreement helps ensure that all residents in Richmond, regardless of where they live or what ethnicity they are, have equal access and enjoyment of their home,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue to work with local governments to create and protect housing opportunities for Hispanic families and others with limited English proficiency.”

    Under the terms of the agreement, Richmond will pay $30,000 in damages to some of the complainants, analyze its language access needs, develop a language access plan, and conduct outreach to the Spanish speaking community. The City will also update its Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing (AI), hold regular meetings with relevant city offices about the AI, and take steps to identify additional funding that mobile home park tenants can use for repairs to their units.

    Several of the HUD Complainants were plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit filed in Federal Court, and received an additional $40,000 from the City for relocation or home safety repairs. Read the agreement with Richmond here.

    People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at (800) 669-9777 (voice), (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Additional information is available online. Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed atwww.hud.gov/fairhousing or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple and Android devices.

Bankster That Allegedly Refused To Approve Woman's Home Equity Loan Application Until She Returned To Work From Paid Maternity Leave Agrees To Cough Up $115K To Settle HUD Housing (Familial Status) Discrimination Charges

From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] that it has reached a Conciliation Agreement with Philadelphia-based Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania and Providence, Rhode Island-based Citizens Bank, collectively known as Citizens Bank, settling allegations that the bank violated the Fair Housing Act when it told a female applicant that she would need to return to work before her application for a home equity line of credit could be approved.

    The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges associated with the sale or rental of a dwelling on the basis of familial status, including denying a mortgage loan or mortgage insurance because a woman is pregnant or on family leave.

    "The fact that a woman is on maternity leave should never be the sole reason that she is denied a loan," said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "HUD is committed to continuing to enforce fair housing laws and to ensuring that lenders understand their responsibility to treat all qualified applicants the same, even those that are on parental leave."

    The case came to HUD's attention when a woman filed a complaint alleging that Citizens Bank discriminated against her based on her familial status when it delayed the processing of her loan application because she was on maternity leave, despite the fact that she was receiving her full pay.

    Under the terms of the agreement, Citizens Bank will pay the woman $40,000, provide fair housing training to its staff, and adopt a parental leave policy making it clear that all loan products are to be made available, regardless of an applicant's parental status. Citizens Bank will also make a $75,000 donation to a HUD-approved fair housing or advocacy organization. Read the agreement with Citizens Bank.

    People who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed at www.hud.gov/fairhousing or by downloading HUD's free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple and Android devices.
Source: HUD Approves Agreement Requiring Citizens Bank/Citizens Bank Of Pennsylvania To Pay $115,000 For Allegedly Denying Loan To Woman On Maternity Leave.

See generally, Being on paid maternity leave is no grounds for denying a mortgage:
  • [A]ccording to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there have been in excess of 200 cases alleging maternity-related discrimination against women seeking mortgages in the past six years.

Another Bay State Landlord Gets Bagged By Fair Housing Testers For Refusal To Rent To Section 8 Tenant; Homeless With Three Kids, Applicant Was Forced To Accept Subpar Apartment Out Of Fear She Might Run Out Of Time & Forfeit Newly-Obtained Voucher; Penalty Phase Of Trial To Determine Damage$ Upcoming

In Pittsfield, Massachusetts, The Berkshire Eagle reports:
  • A Pittsfield landlord illegally discriminated against a mother of three by refusing to rent to her solely because she presented a Section 8 housing voucher, a judge has ruled.

    Members of the Niedzwiecki family, which owns 10 units in the Pittsfield area, claimed they had negative experiences dealing with the Berkshire Housing Development Corp. in the past and were unwilling to accept its vouchers, according to the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center.

    "The Niedzwieckis' refusal to work with BHCD was an unlawful practice ... regardless of whether they had a business reason for their refusal or whether they rented to tenants with Section 8 vouchers administered by other housing authorities," according to Judge Dina E. Fein of the Western Division Housing Court, in a ruling dated July 25.

    The family's attorney, Anthony Doyle, had no comment on the decision [], but he said he's informed his clients of it and expects a hearing date to bet set within the next couple of weeks to begin the penalty phase of the case.

    Ashley Grant, legal director of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center(1) — which filed the claim — said during the penalty phase it will be determined what the court will award the affected family, though the parties may also reach a settlement among themselves before it goes to a hearing or trial.

    The center filed the motion on behalf of a woman who was attempting to use her voucher to move out of a homeless shelter, where she and her three children were living.

    The family was forced out of their prior apartment due to a foreclosure proceeding, according to Grant.

    After being denied the apartment, the family resorted to remaining in the shelter and took another less-desirable apartment out of fear of losing the voucher, said Grant. Grant said the family is struggling in the new apartment and they don't feel entirely safe in their neighborhood.

    She said housing discrimination, especially discrimination based on Section 8 housing vouchers, is prevalent throughout the state. In the Berkshires, she said, the center sees such discrimination "a lot."

    "People have a right to use their Section 8 voucher without fear of discrimination," Grant said. "The court has reaffirmed that landlords cannot pick and choose which housing authorities they will work with when it comes to vouchers."

    Grant said, once the center learned of the complaint, it sent "housing testers," out to determine if the basis for denying the apartment was discriminatory.

    Grant said the center has trained testers who will respond to claims of discrimination by sending a pair of people to apply for an apartment to determine if a protected group, in this case Section 8 voucher recipients, are being treated fairly.

    One application in the test will deliberately be more favorable than the other, apart from its inclusion of a voucher or some other potential basis for discrimination, Grant said.

    For example, Grant said another vulnerable group is families with children under 6, which some property owners will decline to rent to, rather than have lead paint removed from their properties.

    According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the housing choice voucher program provides assistance to very low-income families, the elderly and disabled to afford safe and sanitary private housing.

    The vouchers are distributed through local public housing agencies.

    A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the public housing authority on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

    Under certain circumstances, if authorized by the public housing authority, a family may use its voucher to purchase a modest home, according to HUD.
Source: Judge finds Pittsfield landlord guilty of discriminating against family with Section 8 voucher.
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(1) The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (also known as the Housing Discrimination Project, Inc.) is non-profit fair housing organization that serves Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Counties. MFHC provides free legal services and accepts housing discrimination complaints based on race, national origin, color, ancestry, religion, sex, disability, presence of minor children, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, marital status, military or veteran status, receipt of public assistance, including Section 8 housing assistance, receipt of housing subsidies or rental assistance, and genetic information.

MFHC also preserves homeownership, by advocating for distressed homeowners in mortgage lending cases, and by assisting victims of foreclosure rescue scams.

Massachusetts AG's Housing Discrimination Suit Accuses Landlord Of Unreasonably Delaying Or Refusing To Provide Reasonable Modifications Or Accommodations To Wheelchair-Using Tenant Suffering From Spina Bifida

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • Several entities have been sued for disability-based housing discrimination in lawsuits involving properties in Roxbury and East Wareham, Attorney General Maura Healey announced [].

    The AG’s Office filed a complaint against Mission Park LP, Roxbury Tenants Association of Harvard, Inc., and Trinity Management, LLC, who own or manage several residential properties in Boston, including one in Roxbury at which they allegedly discriminated against a tenant by failing to reasonably accommodate her disability.
    ***
    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 to the complaint, filed on July 6 in Suffolk Superior Court, these three entities allegedly 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.

    On a numerous occasions during the application process and while living at the property, the tenant’s mother 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—despite concerns expressed by the tenant’s health care provider that living in an inaccessible unit limited her independence and threatened her safety. The tenant ultimately waited two years for a fully accessible unit and was eventually given permission for a cat rather than a dog.

LGBT Civil Rights Group Hits Senior Living Facility With Fair Housing Suit Alleging It Failed To Protect Elderly Gay Resident After Being Made Aware Of Harassment By Other Residents

In Niles, Illinois, WBBM-TV Channel 2 reports:
  • An LGBT civil rights organization has filed what it considers to be a groundbreaking lawsuit against a senior living facility, alleging it failed to protect a lesbian from harassment by other residents.

    Lambda Legal(1) senior attorney Karen Loewy said, a couple months after Marsha Wetzel moved in to Glen Saint Andrew Living Community in Niles, the 68-year-old woman became the target of gay slurs and worse from other residents.

    “She has been taunted about her relationship with Judy [her partner of 30 years] and their son, she has been spit on, she has been threatened with bodily harm, she has been bullied, and she has been intimidated. She has also been physically injured by other residents ,” Loewy said.

    In a lawsuit filed [] in federal court , Wetzel claims Glen Saint Andrew [] violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act by doing nothing to stop the “severe and pervasive” discrimination and harassment against Wetzel.

    The lawsuit further alleges the facility retaliated against Wetzel when she complained, by accusing her of lying and banning her from public spaces in the facility.

    Loewy said the lawsuit is the first she’s aware of that accuses a residential facility of not protecting a gay person from harassment by other residents.
For the story, see Lesbian Accuses Niles Senior Center Of Allowing Harassment.

For the lawsuit, see Wetzel v. Glen St. Andrew Living Community, LLC, et al.
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(1) Lambda Legal is a New York City-based non-profit civil rights law firm that advocates for the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. nursing home assisted living facility

Saturday, August 20, 2016

31 NYC Residents Left Homeless After FDNY, Building Dept. Inspectors Raid 2-Family Home Illegally Subdivided By Landlord Into Overcrowded, Multi-Unit Firetrap; Authorities Slap Premises With Immediate Vacate Order

In Brooklyn, New York, Kings County Politics reports:
  • Following repeated complaints of an illegal conversion, 31 residents (18 adults, 13 children) were left virtually homeless last night [August 4] after FDNY and Department of Buildings inspectors raided a home on the Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights border.

    The two-family house at 6705 7th Avenue was subdivided into a five-family residence and the inspectors gave the home an immediate vacate order because of a lack of egress (exits), fire safety, compromised plumbing, electrical and gas work; and overcrowding.

    The American Red Cross was tasked with relocating the displaced residents to a Days Inn on 39th Street and 4th Avenue for up to 3 days. After the three days, the city is expected to provide emergency housing for them.

    The raid comes just days after Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson charged a landlord [...] with manslaughter following a fatal fire at a building he converted into illegal housing, and some two months after Gentile introduced a bill to strictly to curtail the proliferation of illegal conversions throughout Brooklyn, the city, and particularly in Southwestern Brooklyn.

    “We simply cannot afford to continue to put the safety of vulnerable individuals, our neighborhoods, and our communities at risk. My bill, Intro 1218 seeks to put an end to this proliferation. If my bill were law today, the bad actor landlord would be fined $15,000 per each unit beyond the certificate of occupancy and if unpaid, the fine would be subject to a lien sale on the property among additional regulations,” said Gentile.

    “We know that this case is likely one of many in my district and citywide. Time is of the essence for this viral developer scheme to be put to an end. My patience is running short as residents, many of who are immigrants, continue to be put in grave danger unbeknownst to them. From there, a negative domino effect ensues, degrading the quality of life for the neighborhood as schools become overcrowded and city services become overwhelmed,” he added.

    Gentile said he looks forward to having his Aggravated Illegal Conversions legislation heard by the New York City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings in the near future.

Rent-Stabilized Tenants File Complaint With NYC Human Rights Commission, Charging Landlord With Trying To Give Them The Boot Through Harassment, Discrimination, Unsafe Living Conditions In Effort To Illegally Boost Rents

In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY1 News reports:
  • Rent-stabilized tenants in one Brooklyn neighborhood are accusing their landlord of trying to kick them out to get higher rents.

    Residents rallied in Sunset Park [] to demand better living conditions.

    They filed a complaint with the city Commission on Human Rights, charging landlord Soo Fung Dong with harassment, discrimination and unsafe living conditions.

    They say they've been living with no heat, hot water and other utilities.

    "There will be no harassment on tenants that have been living here their entire lives," said City Councilman Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn. "There are new landlords that have bought buildings that are now trying to usher our families out into the streets so that they can remove affordable housing and stabilized housing and bring in market values. That will stop."

    "There's no heat or hot water," said one tenant. "There's mold, there's lead. In my apartment, there's lead in the radiator." Hundreds of complaints have been sent to the city since Dong bought the building on 61st Street in 2007.

    A settlement last month ordered Dong to make needed repairs on the building.
Source: Rent-Stabilized Tenants in Sunset Park Accuse Their Landlord of Trying to Kick Them Out to Get Higher Rents.

See also, Sunset Park Tenants File Human Rights Complaint Against ‘Racist’ Slumlord:
  • [R]ini Fonseca, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center,(1) represents the tenants at 430 61st St., said Neighbors Helping Neighbors tipped her about the injustices caused by Dong. “We couldn’t believe what we heard about the conditions and the treatment,” Fonseca said. “Today, residents are taking a stand and saying no more harassment.”
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(1) The Urban Justice Center is a non-profit, public interest law firm serving New York City's most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal service, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing.

Two Months & Counting With No Cooking Gas For Harassed Tenants In East Village Building; Con Ed Refuses To Restore Service Until Leaky Gas Pipe Repairs Are Made; Landlord Responds By Offering Residents Free Ice Cream

In New York City, The Real Deal (New York City) reports:
  • Ice cream, it turns out, doesn’t heal all wounds.

    Just ask the tenants of 325 East 12th Street, who gathered [] to protest an ice cream social held by their landlord, Raphael Toledano’s Brookhill Properties. Ice cream may seem like an innocuous olive branch, but for these tenants it dripped with disrespect. According to tenants, they’ve gone without gas service in the building since May 18, and free ice cream is not exactly the remedy they were expecting.

    “It’s an abomination to the human spirit, and you can’t fix it with Ben & Jerry’s,” said SaMi Chester, a tenant organizer with the Cooper Square Committee.

    Roughly a dozen protestors surrounded a lone Ben & Jerry’s truck parked on East 5th Street between Second and Third Avenues. [...] Confused passersby were offered free ice cream while the protestors shouted variations of “Ice cream, you scream we all scream for cooking gas!” The truck, which had been parked for a few hours before the protests, drove away after a few minutes of the shouting.
    ***
    A representative for Con Ed said that the shutdown was prompted by an internal gas leak at the 12th Street building and that the company can’t restore service until Toledano makes necessary repairs.

    One resident of the 12th Street building, Liz Haak, 71, said that while she has an electric stove, she’s seen other tenants unable to cook since the gas was shut off nearly two months ago. She said a contractor had made appointments with residents to return gas to their homes but had inexplicably canceled. Since then, Haak said, the landlord has done “diddly squat” and instead offered up “useless ice cream” to people who can’t cook dinner in their homes.
For more, see Tenants to Toledano: Screw your ice cream, give us gas (Residents say gas at 325 East 12th St. was shut off 2 months ago).

Over Two Dozen Lot-Leasing Residents In Mobile Home Park Left Scrambling; Get 30 Days To Pack Bags & Move Their Trailers After Landlord's Failure To Pay $23K In Overdue Utility Bills Causes City To Shut Off Water & Sewer Service, Give Everyone The Boot

In Mulvane, Kansas, KSNW-TV reports:
  • The owners of a Mulvane business are stepping up to help out the residents of a mobile home park after all 30 residents were handed a 30-day eviction notice, Monday night.

    They’ve been without water for weeks, after the park’s former owner failed to pay the bill.

    The park is virtually closed after this month, no more park.”

    A depressing reality that literally hits home for Patricia LeFors. “We’re scrambling, doing everything we can. I’m calling in loans. I’m talking to people about help. I’ve called all different kinds of agencies,” LeFors said.

    She and the 30 others that call the Mulvane Mobile Park home were evicted earlier this [month] after the Mulvane City Council refused to turn back on their sewer and water services. The former owner, Eric Henderson, owes the city upwards of $23,000 in back payments.

    “He took our money and didn’t put it back into the park like he should have and that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in,” stated Judith Randall.

    Now these residents have less than 30 days to come up with a place to live. But, it can cost upwards of $3,000 dollars to move the trailers. “Nobody’s going to have that. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Randall explained.

    That’s why Mark Kilburn and his business partner, Earl Davis, put a plan into action.

    “We got a business. We take care of the community,” said Kilburn.

    Kilburn is the co-owner of Smokemaster’s Southern BBQ. When he heard about the Mulvane Mobile Home Park situation, he knew it was time to help. “They have no other recourse to take care of things, so we just felt like there was something we needed to do to help them out,” said Kilburn.

    Kilburn, his partner and family will be grilling in Derby this Saturday, selling BBQ, to help the residents, with their search for new homes.

    “We all believe in taking care of people. It doesn’t matter if you know them or not, if they come to you and say, I have a need, you better do what you can do to take care of them. That’s just the way we were raised,” said Kilburn.

    The event is being sponsored by Smokemaster’s Southern BBQ [...]. A portion of the proceeds will go to the residents to help pay for their moving expenses.
Source: Mulvane business steps in to help mobile home residents.

For a follow-up story, see Animals abandoned after residents in Mulvane move out in a hurry:
  • While the evicted residents of the Mulvane Mobile Home Park are packing up and getting ready to move, there are dozens of animals being left behind to fend for themselves.