Thursday, May 25, 2017

Litigious Couple Gets Belted For $17K+ In Court Sanctions For Bringing Improper Lawsuit Against Foreclosing Bankster; Homeowners Failed In Five Earlier Lawsuits, Receiving Judicial Warning To Refrain From Further Filings Based On Same Occurrences

In San Francisco, California, the Northern California Record reports:
  • The California First District Court of Appeal recently upheld a superior court's decision to award $17,685 to defendants Deutsche Bank National Trust Company and OneWest Bank N.A., ruling that the plaintiffs sought "to delay the foreclosure... of their former home, harass the defendants and frustrate the legal system."

    The plaintiffs, Morris and Shawn Maxwell, had alleged that the financial institutions "illegally foreclosed" on their rental property in San Mateo before selling it to a third party. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs did not pay mortgage for five years.

    In its April 26 decision, the appeals court decided that the plaintiffs didn't have a strong enough argument against the San Mateo County Superior Court's decision that they pay the defendants $17,685 to cover attorney fees, which the superior court decided was appropriate to punish the plaintiffs for not having a "proper purpose" for suing the defendants.(1)

    The appeals court explained in its decision that the Maxwells brought the lawsuit against Deutsche Bank National Trust Company and OneWest Bank N.A. in February 2014 because the defendants foreclosed on the Maxwells' San Mateo County home.

    The appeals court said in its decision that the Maxwells believed the superior court had erred "in ordering them to pay monetary sanctions of $17,685" and considered the amount to be excessive.

    The appeals court said in its decision that "the trial court made clear in its ruling that it was ordering plaintiffs to pay monetary sanctions for litigating for an improper purpose."
Source: Appeals court orders plaintiffs to pay $17,000 for suit with 'improper purpose' against Deutsche Bank.

For the court ruling, see Maxwell v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, A142562 (Cal. App. 1st. Dist, April 26, 2017).
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(1) From the court ruling:
  • Defendants contended plaintiffs had filed five previous lawsuits based on allegations identical to those in the present suit, all as part of an “unsuccessful harassment of [defendants] with this repeated groundless action.” The first four of these suits were dismissed with prejudice and the fifth was voluntarily dismissed by plaintiffs just before the court issued a tentative ruling sustaining defendants’ demurrer with prejudice as barred by the doctrine of res judicata.

    In the most recently dismissed suit, a federal judge warned plaintiffs that they should not file any further suit based on the same occurrences because it would be barred by the doctrine of res judicata and expose plaintiffs to sanctions.

Facing Foreclosure, Landlord Gets Pinched For Alleged Attempt To Torch Now-Vacant Building By Booby-Trapping It With Improvised Bomb, Pales Of Gasoline

In Rochester, New York, WHEC-TV Channel 10 reports:
  • A Webster man has been charged with trying to burn down an apartment building he owns in Rochester.

    Investigators says Eric Reynolds rigged the building on Ridgeway Avenue, which is empty and under foreclosure, with explosive devices. Someone walking by smelled gasoline and alerted the fire department.

    Fire officials say one of the devices that was in the building actually detonated, but it failed to light the fire. Investigators believe Reynolds planted devices in the apartment building hooked to gasoline and rigged with timers in an effort to burn the place down.

    Investigators tell us Reynolds came to the scene on Ridgeway Avenue the night it was discovered and was acting odd, so Wednesday [May 17] night, police and fire investigators issued a search warrant at his home in Webster. We saw them removing evidence bags early Wednesday morning, that they now say tie him to the crime on Ridgeway.

    Reynolds will be arraigned Thursday morning on the felony charges of arson and criminal possession of a weapon. The investigation into his intent is still ongoing.

    Greg Johnson lived in the building on Ridgeway for five years. He says he worked for Eric Reynolds. "I rented from him for about a year or better before he asked me to start helping him rent the apartments and stuff like that."

    He says Reynolds would come and go to collect rent. "He'd come with a big black German Shepard, smoking a big cigar and walking through the building with a gun on his waist."

    But then the tenants learned the building was in foreclosure and moved out. A few days ago, someone passing by it smelled gasoline and called the fire department. When firefighters got inside, they say it was booby-trapped with explosive devices and pales of gasoline.

    "The level of sophistication is definitely higher than something we normally encounter fortunately but it makes it that much more dangerous because it's not something we're trained for, we're not bomb technicians," says Deputy Chief James Hartman, RFD.

    "We do not know right now what the motivation was of the individual who set this system up, whether it was just to damage property or whether it was to harm people," says Hartman.

    Johnson says, at this point, intent doesn't matter. "There are human lives around there. There are kids around all that type of stuff. Who knows what time that could've went off -- as school is letting out. There's a bus stop right next to the building... All those things got to be taken into consideration."

City Moves To Shut Down Eviction Loophole; Sneaky Landlords Now Prohibited From Coordinating Water Shutoffs, Code Enforcement Condemnations To Have Tenants Immediately Booted While Avoiding Formal Court Proceedings

In Niagara Falls, New York, WIVB-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • Last week the Niagara Falls Water Board amended its shutoff policy, after a pregnant woman was left virtually homeless when her landlord ordered the board to turn her water off, and the city’s Department of Code Enforcement condemned the property.

    Colleen Atwood, who was 9 months pregnant, contacted Call 4 Action, the Water Board eventually restored service, and when the board changed its policy, the biggest change was nicknamed the “Atwood Clause”.

    The change requires property owners to acknowledge shutting off water to an occupied property is against the Niagara County Sanitary Code, but the Niagara Falls Water Board has no authority to enforce the law. The Niagara County Health Department can enforce it.

    When it comes to running water at rental properties, Paul Dicky of the Niagara Health Department said, the Health, Hygiene, and Occupancy Code tops even unpaid water bills, “Which requires all rental properties be supplied with a safe and sanitary supply of water.”

    Dicky is the Health Dept.’s Director of Environmental Health and he said, by law, a landlord cannot have the water shut off as long as the property is occupied. If it is shut off, health officials will notify the owner to turn the water back on, “We hold the landlords accountable.”

    If a landlord is successful in getting the water disconnected for an occupied property, while tenants still live there, Dicky said that success could be short lived.

    “If our inspection finds that the water has not been restored, they could be liable up to a $250 fine, and we would still require immediate correction of the violation,” meaning after paying $75 to get the water turned off, the landlord would have to pay another fee to turn the water back on.

    But there is a catch. Dicky said if the tenants’ water is shut off and they move out, the building is no longer occupied, and there is no violation of the health code.

    His advice, if you are a tenant and get a shutoff notice, you should notify the water board immediately that you are still living there, which should put the brakes on turning off the water.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sentenced To 4 To 12 Years For Using Forged Deeds To Hijack Homes In One County, Title Snatcher Dodges Add'l Prison Time After Pleading Guilty To 12 More Thefts In Neighboring County; Judge: 3 To 9 Year Jail Stay To Run Concurrently With Earlier Sentence

In Troy, New York, The Troy Record reports:
  • A Rensselaer man who has admitted to bilking people in several counties out of thousands of dollars by selling or renting homes he did not own was sentenced Monday [May 15] for crimes involving 12 Rensselaer County properties.

    Zarak O. Ali, 43, was sentenced Monday in Rensselaer County Court to three to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to felony counts of second-degree forgery and first-degree falsifying business records. However, that sentence will run concurrent with a four- to 12-year prison term he was sentenced to May 5 on similar charges in Albany County,(1) meaning he will serve no time beyond that initial sentence.

    Ali admitted in February to forging deeds for foreclosed properties in the town of Brunswick and the cities of Rensselaer and Troy between January and March 2016, filing them with the Rensselaer County Clerk’s Office and renting or selling the properties. He has also pleaded guilty to similar charges in Columbia, Schenectady and Saratoga counties.

Another Attorney Gets Law License Yanked For Rules Violations In Connection With Loan Modification Matters, Screwing Financially Strapped Homeowners Out Of Illegal Upfront Fees

In Los Angeles, California, the Northern California Record reports:
  • The State Bar Court of California recently disbarred Bruce Anthony Thomason, a Laguna Hills attorney, for allegedly accepting advanced fees in loan modification matters.

    The March 12 order found that Thomason was guilty of multiple acts of misconduct in three separate client matters. In the first matter, the attorney charged nearly $4,000 in advanced fees for loan modification services, which was made illegal in the state several years prior. In addition, Thomas also allegedly failed to release client paperwork in a timely manner.

    In the second client matter, Thomason was charged with failing to perform legal services with competence for his client. The attorney also violated the California Rules of Professional Conduct for not only accepting over $2,000 in advanced fees, but also for representing a client in a loan modification matter in Florida, where the attorney was not licensed.

    The final matter included charges against Thomason for accepting $2,700 in advanced loan modification fees and for appearing on behalf of his client without authority. For this matter he was also charged with not updating the address on file with the California State Bar's Membership Records. In all three matters, Thomason was charged with failing to respond to the state bar after a Notice of Disciplinary Charges (NDC) was sent to him.

    Thomason failed to participate or provide a response to the state bar during the investigation. A default response was entered on his behalf, and the State Bar Court of California recommended disbarment.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Elderly Man Accuses Local Pastor Of Duping Him Into Signing Over Title To Home For A Loan, Then Selling Property Out From Under Him; Complaint To Cops Goes Nowhere, Told "It's A Civil Matter!"

In Miami Gardens, Florida, WPLG-TV Channel 10 reports:
  • Edward Fuller is one of several people who contacted Local 10 News after an investigation aired about the business practices of Miami Gardens pastor Eric Readon.

    He claims the pastor has taken him for over $500,000 and tricked him into signing over his dream house.

    Victims claim they loaned Readon money, handed over cash to rent homes and gave him a deposit to buy his car. All claimed they were not repaid.

    Fuller said he took his case to Miami-Dade police but was told that, because he willfully signed papers and was not forced to, it was a civil matter.(1)

    He has yet to find an attorney to take his case.

    Fuller, 70, has plans, the permits and the pictures from the home. "I can walk through this house blindfolded and tell you exactly where everything is," he said.

    Fuller doesn't have his dream house and claims he was blindsided by Readon. "He sold my house," Fuller said. "He sold the house Feb.13. He sold that house for $380,000."

    How much did Fuller get from that? "I got not one red cent," he said.

    The home is located in the 10900 block of Northwest 19th Avenue.

    Fuller bought the property more than 30 years ago and had a plan. After a 35-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, his retirement project was to build a dream house for his family. "This was like my gift to my daughters once I was gone," Fuller said. "It's just that simple."

    After retirement, the walls and the roof went up.

    Fuller admits he ran out of money to finish. Then, he claims, one day Readon appeared. The pair had never met before.

    "Somehow, he got the information that I was having a problem getting it completed," Fuller said.

    Fuller claims Readon took him to a hard money lender for a loan.

    Project Youth Outreach Unlimited, a nonprofit corporation, was made the contractor on the $125,000 construction loan.

    Readon is the president of that nonprofit.

    But there was a catch. To get the loan, Fuller had to sign 50 percent of his property over to Readon. Since conventional lenders had turned him down, Fuller agreed and work on the house began again.

    Fuller let Readon have full control over the $125,000 loan. When the money ran out, the house was still not finished.

    Fuller claims in order to get more funds using his good credit, the pastor persuaded him to sign over the other 50 percent of the house, so Fuller's credit would be free and clear.

    That meant Project Youth Outreach Unlimited and Readon now owned the entire house.

    "'I promise you, man, you're going to get your house back,' This is what he told me," Fuller said. '"You're going to get your house back.'" But it never happened.

    Fuller only learned Readon sold the house for $380,000 when he did a property records search.

    "I said, 'Eric, you sold my house,'" Fuller said. "He said, 'I got my own personal money tied up in this house,' and he said, 'I can't lose my money.'"

    Readon canceled plans to speak to Local 10 News.

    As Local 10 reported last month, others have said they gave Readon cash deposits to rent homes and buy cars and loaned him cash. Some did get money back, but only after Local 10 began to ask questions.
For more, see Man, 70, accuses Miami Gardens pastor of taking his dream home (Edward Fuller searched for attorney to fight pastor Eric Readon in court).
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(1) The fact that this 70-year old man willingly signed over the home and was not forced to doesn't automatically make this a civil matter. A basis for a theft or larceny (ie. theft by deception or false pretenses) from an elderly person, obtaining property by deception or false pretenses (or similar crime) may exist if an investigation would reveal that false or deceptive promises were made to dupe the elderly homeowner into signing over the home, or that the elderly homeowner was otherwise taken advantage of. See, for example, Ex-Lowell building inspector guilty of bilking dying woman of her home.
If the police summarily dismissed this case as a civil matter without first conducting an investigation, chances are that the police (and/or the local prosecutor's office) either:
  • don't have the resources needed to handle this case, or
  • lack the expertise necessary to be alert to the possibility of a theft crime occurring in the context of a business contract, or
  • are just clueless and are using it as an excuse to get rid of the person making the complaint.

Michigan AG Temporarily Slams Brakes On 'Involuntary' Probate Scheme Used By Real Estate Broker, Some Public Officials To Hijack Control Of Dead People's Homes

In southeastern Michigan, WXYZ-TV Channel 7 reports:
  • The Michigan Attorney General is suspending a controversial probate practice that 7 Investigator Heather Catallo recently exposed.

    She’s been showing you how several local families are losing large parts of their inheritance to certain public officials who have teamed up with real estate brokers.

    Now Attorney General Bill Schuette wants this practice to stop while his office takes a very close look at what’s been happening with these cases.

    “It’s sad to me that people are out there doing that,” Joanne Zaremba told Catallo last month.

    Joanne is one of several rightful heirs who say they were blindsided when someone else opened a probate estate in a deceased relatives name. That meant Joanne could have lost her late mother’s home to a complete stranger. And she’s not alone.

    “We were summoned to court, someone opened a probate estate in his name,” said Kristin Rekowski about her late father.

    Real Estate Broker Ralph Roberts has teamed up with some Attorney General-appointed lawyers called Public Administrators. The Public Administrators and Roberts’ company, Probate Asset Recovery, bill the estates for thousands of dollars, plus Roberts gets real estate commissions when they sell the homes.

    “I find properties. I believe there’s a benefit, so I then tell a public administrator, here’s the benefit there,” said Roberts in November 2016.

    “So you’re getting the real estate fees, and you’re getting the Probate Asset Recovery fees,” asked Catallo. “If we’re successful, yes,” said Roberts. Roberts admitted he often take 1/3 of the total estate assets.

    In many of the cases, the houses at stake are in foreclosure or the owners were behind on their taxes. Now that we’ve exposed this practice, the Attorney General is suspending all Public Administrators from opening any new estates with homes that are in foreclosure or those that owe taxes.

    During the suspension, Attorney General Schuette’s will be reviewing whether they need to come up with additional rules for how to handle these estates.

    Schuette also indefinitely suspended Public Administrator Cecil St. Pierre from Warren as part of this probe into the probate practice.

    If this has happened to you, click HERE to file a complaint with the Michigan Attorney General, who appoints Public Administrators.

    Click HERE to file a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission.

    Click HERE to file a complaint with the State of Michigan against a real estate agent/broker.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Welcomed Two Years Ago By Trusting Residents In Troubled Condo To Straighten Out HOA's Operation, Court-Appointed Receiver Now Faces The Boot After Belting Unwitting Owners With Over $2 Million In Legal & Administrative Fees

In Miami, Florida, the Miami Herald reports:
  • They welcomed him with open arms, because they thought he was their salvation.

    In March of 2015, a judge assigned a professional to rescue a 310-unit condominium in Miami Gardens, at the request of lawyers for Miami-Dade County. The “receiver” was to collect payments in arrears, correct dangerous code violations, carry out repairs and settle county fines running in the millions.

    Eleventh District Circuit Court Judge Eric Hendon named former judge Jorge J. Pérez as the receiver.

    Owners at the Mirassou condos — mostly working class people like teachers, mechanics and nurses — said they did not know how much the receiver was going to cost them. The judge's order said only that the costs should be “reasonable.”

    But two years later, the owners are now asking Hendon to remove Pérez, who along with his team is charging more than $2 million. The condo collected only about $900,000 in the past two years, and still owes millions of dollars in fines to the county.

    “We are poor families. We live on a salary. We're not millionaires, and now we have to pay that man nearly $2 million,” said owner and school counselor Tania Portela. “Where are we going to get that money?”

    Pérez is now seeking a loan from TotalBank so that he can be paid money owed to him and his team, according to a letter submitted as part of the court case.

    Mirassou owners would pay off the loan over seven years in a special assessment that would add nearly $100 to their monthly maintenance bills, which range from $220 to $375.

    Judge Hendon was scheduled to rule on the loan during a hearing Friday [May 19], but he recused himself from the case on Thursday morning. According to court documents, the judge wanted to “avoid the appearance of impropriety” after receiving an “exparte communication” from Pérez at 12:21 a.m. Thursday. In an email, Pérez asks Hendon “as a friend, an officer of the court and your receiver and friend” to “impose full control of the courtroom Friday” by not allowing cameras in the hearing.

    Pérez’s request came following a report aired on Wednesday by Univisión 23 of an investigation with el Nuevo Herald on the Mirassou receivership case. In his letter, Pérez called the news report “lies” and said his mother was “in a fragile state” as a result of seeing him “being slandered” on TV.
    ***
    Several owners said they did not know that they had the right to object, or that they had to do it in writing. They also did not know that information about Pérez’s fees are available on the court's Web page.

    We were blind, in part because of our ignorance and in part because we trusted [the system],” said María Roque, a teacher and board member of the Mirassou association.

    “He was the law, picked by a judge to save us,” added Portela.
    ***
    Overall, the records showed Pérez and his team billed about $2.6 million. The owners' association has only collected $970,000 in the past two years, according to a March 10 report in the court files.

    Your honor, it's like we needed to paint a wall ...and you forced us to hire Michelangelo,” Pedro Ortega, who owns several apartments in Mirassou, told the judge during a court hearing in February.
    ***
    Pérez faced similar complaints in a 2013 case still pending in federal bankruptcy court in South Florida.

    In that case, Pérez angered owners of the luxury One Bal Harbor Resort and Spa when he billed $2.4 million for 18 months of work as receiver.

    “The receiver and his law firm systematically exploited their appointment as a fiduciaries by the state court as a bottomless trough to enable a feeding frenzy to line the pockets of those involved,” wrote Charles Tatelbaum, the attorney who represented some owners in that case.

    A negotiated agreement reduced Pérez's fees by 50 percent, to $1.4 million, but some of the owners are still contesting the fees in court.

Activists In Southeast Michigan Begin Efforts To Battle Land Contract, Contract For Deed Rackets That Lure Unsophisticated Homeseekers With Little Cash & Crappy Credit Into Predatory Homebuying Agreements

In Detroit, Michigan, Bridge Magazine reports:
  • Denise Pope put a down payment on hope as much as a house.

    Sure, the home wasn’t much: An 800-square-foot wood bungalow, barely big enough to contain her four children and husband. There were holes in the walls, probably from thieves getting to copper pipes. Like most empty Detroit homes, it lacked a furnace and water heater.

    But it was in a good neighborhood, Rosedale Park, near a big playground. And the house came with a promise: Put $3,500 down, pay $500 per month plus $82 in taxes, and it would be hers in a little over two years.

    “I thought this could be our way up,” said Pope, 35, a custodian and longtime renter. “We could fix it up, put in some value, build some equity and maybe one day rent it out or have an asset to pass onto my kids.”

    It didn’t work out that way. Within months after moving in last year, Pope received two legal notices. One informed her the house was in tax foreclosure over a $4,900 debt that predated her even setting foot in the home. A few months later, she was served with eviction papers due to a rent squabble that is still playing out in the courts.

    It’s a familiar story with land contracts, a form of seller financing with a deep, unsavory history in cities nationwide. They’re flourishing again as an alternative to mortgages in Rust Belt cities since lending regulations tightened after the housing collapse.

    This is becoming a big problem all over besides just Detroit ‒ like Flint, Battle Creek and other urban areas,” said Lorray Brown, co-director of the Michigan Law Poverty Program, which is helping draft legislation to regulate land contracts.

    The business model for many land contracts: Buy cheap homes at tax auctions. Do no repairs. Sell for as much as 10 times the purchase price to desperate or naive buyers at high interest rates. Make the owner assume all back debt and upkeep. Evict the buyer if payments are late.

    Predatory land contracts are blamed for costing generations of African-Americans their homes – and family wealth – in Detroit and Chicago from the 1940s to early 1970s. And activists fear history is repeating, so they’re drafting reforms in Lansing and hoping to organize buyers.

    These have been around for such a long time. We were foolish to think the practice had ended,” said Mike Gallagher, a retiree who was part of a well-known Chicago activist group that fought against contract buying in the 1960s.

    He’s leading a group of activists who plan to travel to southeast Michigan this week to knock on doors of contract buyers.
    ***
    “These (land contracts) are sold as a way to achieve the American dream and accumulate wealth, but you’re not buying the title to the house,” said Gallagher, the land contract activist.

    Basically, you are fixing up someone’s house for years. You can make it all the way through to the end of the contract and, if one thing goes wrong, one late payment, you end up with nothing. By and large, these deals are structured to fail.”

    Pope’s contract stipulated the home was sold “as-is” and that she assumed all debts. But after the foreclosure notice, she stopped including the $82 for taxes in her monthly payment because she said it was clear the seller wasn’t paying taxes to the county, Pope said.

    This February, there was a rap on the front door. It was court officers serving her with eviction. Her total delinquency: $164, according to court papers reviewed by Bridge.

    “That’s when I decided to fight,” Pope said. “I’m not giving up.”

    Activists were ‘ahead of their time’

    Neither are Gallagher or Jack Macnamara, although both thought they’d won this battle nearly 50 years ago.

    As a young man, Jack Macnamara helped organize land contract buyers in Chicago. He thought the battle was won. Now, he’s preparing to fight it again in Detroit.

    Macnamara helped form the Chicago Buyers League in the 1960s when he moved to the Lawndale neighborhood as a young Jesuit. He met family after family in contracts that forced them to pay tens of thousands of dollars more than their homes were worth. They couldn’t get mortgages because Federal Housing Administration guidelines made them practically impossible to obtain in urban neighborhoods.

    The Buyers League grew to 500 residents who picketed landowners’ homes, lobbied City Hall and went on strike, withholding monthly payments in hopes of renegotiating land contracts.

    The Chicago Tribune wrote that the strike “convulsed the city,” leading to mass evictions and showdowns with police who would drag out people’s furnishings onto the street and activists who would put them back in as soon as the authorities left.

    Eventually, more than 400 contracts were renegotiated, saving an average of $13,500 per family. Data on land contracts collected by the league helped Congress pass the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act that ended federally backed redlining.

    And then, the episode largely faded to history until the story was recounted in “Family Properties,” a 2009 book by Rutgers University Professor Beryl Satter (who has relocated to Detroit), and “The Case for Reparations,” a famed essay in The Atlantic in 2014 by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    “I guess we were a little ahead of our time. Detroit is similar or even worse than Illinois,” Macnamara told Bridge.

    He and his group collected reams of data, which later were used by federal officials, that estimate failed land contracts cost black Chicago residents $500 million between 1940s and 1970s, about $3 billion in today’s money. Nationwide, disparities in homeownership are cited as prime factor in the wealth gap between whites and blacks. In 2013, the median wealth for white families was $141,000, compared to $11,000 for blacks and $13,700 for Hispanics.

    The contracts have become popular again after the subprime mortgage crisis, which led to the foreclosure of more than 65,000 Detroit homes. Reforms passed after the housing crash make it more difficult for the poor to get mortgages, so private lending is flourishing, Macnamara said.

    All these things – subprime loans, land contracts – they’re all just another way of screwing the underclass,” he said.

    Gallagher and other volunteers plan to spend several days in Detroit, knocking on doors of land contract buyers. Their goal initially is to collect data and information and lay the groundwork for buyers to organize, he said.

    They’ve made similar trips in recent months to Pittsburgh and two Ohio cities, Akron and Youngstown.

    Legislative remedy

    Efforts are underway, meanwhile, in Lansing to craft legislation to add protections to contract buyers.

    The Michigan Poverty Law Program is working with Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, on the legislation. Among other things, it would require the filing of land contracts with county registers of deeds (it’s now optional) and inspections before sales.

    Other possible proposals include requiring third-party appraisals and forbidding sellers from passing on taxes or liens to home buyers.

    Bieda told Bridge he expects to introduce legislation in the next few months. He said he hasn’t yet approached Republicans about the bills, which is typically required for passage in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

    One concern is that legislative remedies could discourage legitimate land contracts and encourage “scammers to get creative and find another way around it,” said Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition.

    The Detroit nonprofit assists buyers stuck in “egregious, horrible, predatory” land contracts by buying out their contracts, Phillips said. The homeowners repay the loan through a zero percent land contract to United Community Housing Coalition.

    “We are using the same tool but in the right way,” said Phillips, whose group is assisting the Chicago activists but focused now on helping homeowners facing tax foreclosure.

    The Genesee County Land Bank employs a similar strategy, selling 330 tax-foreclosed homes to occupants last year to occupants through land contracts, said its executive director, Michele Wildman. The agency is amid a review of the program, though, to ensure that houses remain in good condition and buyers comply with terms of the contracts.

    Another possible concern? Just about every solution to predatory lending in the past 50 years has led to more predatory lending, said Lindsay Helfman, a lecturer at the University of Michigan who is writing her dissertation at Temple University on lending in Detroit in the 1970s.

    Many homes that are now being sold on land contracts, for instance, had been foreclosed on after subprime loans failed.

    “The real estate market in Detroit is just broken,” Helfman said. “There’s basically a dual housing market of (mortgages and private sales). So it’s profitable to exploit people who have limited options in housing.

    “This problem has always been so big that (officials) just throw their hands up and create Band-Aid programs that end up creating even more predatory lending.”

    A fighter

    Sitting on her couch, which doubles as her bed, Pope still allows herself to dream.

    One day, she and her family will have a big backyard. Bedrooms for everyone. A spacious dining room.

    Until then, she’s tethered by her land contract. Pope’s eviction case was dismissed after she produced receipts showing she made her monthly payments (minus the taxes). The foreclosure is on hold while Pope sues the contract seller in an attempt to make the company pay the back taxes, said her attorney, Joe McGuire.

    Pope had hoped to pay off the home by next year, keep it as a rental property or sell it for profit and move into a bigger house. That may not happen now.

    The easiest thing in the world would be to walk away. But she won’t.

    “This has opened my eyes to land contracts but I’m a fighter,” Pope said.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Arizona Bar Gives Attorney The Boot For Playing Fast & Loose With Client's Lawsuit Settlement Funds; Ordered To Pay $45K+ In Restitution

The State Bar of Arizona recently announced:
  • Attorney Robert L. Earle of Sedona was disbarred from the State Bar of Arizona after receiving clients' settlement checks and keeping unwarranted sums.

    On March 1, 2017, an aggravation/mitigation hearing was held before the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Arizona Supreme Court and a hearing panel, where Earle argued he had no time to prepare for the matter because his files had been stolen by the State Bar of Arizona.

    The hearing panel found clear and convincing evidence that Earle violated ethical rules after listening to witness testimony and reviewing 29 exhibits that were admitted to support the allegations.

    In Count One, approximately $47,449.84 in client and/or third-party funds were missing or unaccounted for from his firm’s trust account. He made unauthorized cash withdrawals, and as of June 28, 2016, money owed to several clients, third parties, and lien holders was unpaid.

    In Count Two, Earle obtained a jury verdict and award of $106,000 in favor of his client. A portion of the settlement in the amount of $33,800 was paid by one defendant to his client, which he mismanaged by making an unauthorized cash withdrawal of the full amount and disbursed it to himself and his firm.

    In Count Three, Earle frequently failed to communicate with, and overbill, his client in a Yavapai County Superior Court case. The assigned judge issued an order on March 22, 2016 for settlement conference to be held on April 19, 2016. Met with disappointment, Earle notified his client on April 13, 2016 about the meeting that would be held a few days later, after knowing about it for several weeks. At the hearing, Earle lied to the court by stating that his client was not able to attend the hearing due to the risk of losing his job—even after his client said he wouldn't. His client was held in contempt and was fined $1,211.

    The court ordered Earle to appear at an "Order to Show Cause" hearing on Aug. 31, 2016 to show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with the court’s June 20, 2016 order to return his client’s file. He failed to appear.

    In Count Four, a settlement totaling $40,000 was awarded to Earle's client for a personal injury case resulting from a car accident. He claimed delays in paying his client any of the settlement funds and claimed he had paid all medical providers in the case. To date, he has only paid his client $12,000; has not paid medical providers; and has not provided accounting to the State Bar for the $40,000 sum.

    In Count Five, Earle was admonished and ordered to pay restitution to his client and the State Bar within 30 days of the March 17, 2015 order. More than a year later, the Bar received a letter from him seeking assistance regarding payment to the complainant, as he claimed the address was not valid. The Bar advised him that it would facilitate the payment process and that it would accept the full amount of the client's restitution by money order or certified funds. Neither the State Bar nor the client received full restitution as ordered.

    Earle failed to comply with the State Bar's screening requests and failed to file an answer, or otherwise defend, against the allegations in the counts listed.

    Leading up to his disbarment, Earle was serving an interim suspension that was ordered on Dec. 5, 2016.

    Robert L. Earle's disbarment was effective March 23, 2017. He was ordered to pay a sum of $45,171.65 to three clients and must pay for the costs and expenses associated with his disciplinary proceedings to the State Bar of Arizona.(1)

    Consumers may report attorney misconduct by calling the State Bar of Arizona Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (A/CAP) hotline at 602.340.7280.
Source: Attorney Robert L. Earle of Sedona Disbarred for Embezzling Client Settlements.
------------------
(1) The Arizona Supreme Court established the Client Protection Fund ("CPF" or "the Fund") in Client Protection Fund Button1961 to promote public confidence in the administration of justice and to preserve the legal profession's integrity by reimbursing people who have lost money because of dishonest conduct of lawyers admitted and licensed to practice in this state. The Fund may not award more than $100,000 to any one claimant and not more than $250,000 in the aggregate regarding claims against any one lawyer. Claims must be filed within five years from the time the claimant knew or should have known of the dishonest conduct causing the loss. This limitation period can be waived at the discretion of the Fund's Trustees. Go here for the Supreme Court of Arizona Client Protection Fund 2016 Annual Report.

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.

California State Bar Continues Weeding Out Sticky-Fingered Lawyers For Ripping Off Client Settlement Funds

In Los Angeles, California, the Northern California Record reports:
  • Pasadena attorney Mary Derparseghian was disbarred by the State Bar Court of California on Jan. 19.

    The decision came after both the attorney and the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel appealed the original disciplinary ruling suspending the attorney for two years for misconduct a client matter.

    In the first matter, Derparseghian was hired by two clients in February 2010 to represent them in a complaint against their homeowner’s association. The clients paid the attorney $5,000 in advance fees that Derparseghian failed to deposit into her client trust account. The attorney earned her clients $111,500, of which $65,799.76 was to be allotted to them. Derparseghian failed to maintain that balance in her trust account and withdrew nearly $90,000 for herself. The clients contacted the attorney for their settlement, but Derparseghian allegedly misaddressed a letter to the clients that explained the settlement process and requested signatures for the funds to be released.

    The clients did not receive the letters and filed complaints with the State Bar of California.

    In another matter, the lawyer was accused of not properly representing a client, including not telling him about a necessary court appearance and not getting in a continuance request.

    The original decision to suspend Derparseghian was overturned upon appeal when it was determined that the attorney’s actions were intentional and additional aggravating factors were discovered than mitigating.
Source: Pasadena attorney disbarred for misappropriating funds.
--------------------
(1) The California State Bar's Client Security Fund is a discretionary fund that can reimburse clients who have lost money or property due to theft or dishonesty by a California lawyer. It is a State Bar program funded entirely by California lawyers. The amount the fund may reimburse for theft committed by a California lawyer depends on when the loss occurred. A maximum of $50,000 is reimbursable if the loss occurred before January 1, 2009. A maximum of $100,000 is reimbursable if the loss occurred on or after January 1, 2009.

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.

Attorney Accepts Public Admonition From Virginia Bar, Coughs Up $227K+ To Cover Losses Caused By Sticky-Fingered Employee's Heist From Law Firm's Client Trust Account

In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the Virginia Lawyers Weekly reports:
  • A Fredericksburg lawyer has accepted a public admonition for lapses that allowed a trusted office staffer allegedly to make off with more than $200,000 from the lawyer’s trust account. H. Glenn Goodpasture deposited more than $227,000 of his personal money into the account to cover the loss, according to a report from [the] Virginia State Bar ...

Employee-Wife Gets 3 Years For Glomming $2.3 Million In Real Estate Closing Proceeds From Law Firm Trust Account While Employer-Hubby Avoids Criminal Prosecution, Keeps Law License After Bar's Public Reprimand (ie. Hand-Slap)

In Columbus, Georgia, the Ledger-Enquirer reports:
  • Sonya Eddings was sentenced to three years in federal prison Monday [April 10] afternoon, more than five years after her family and world crumbled under the weight of a scheme to steal $2.3 million from the law firm trust account of her then-husband, Michael Eddings.

    She told U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land that she took responsibility for her role in the scam that involved millions of dollars passing through the real estate closing trust account of Michael Eddings’ law firm over a four-year period from 2007 to October 2011. But she also said that he knew of the indescrepancies in the trust account.

    Sonya Eddings and their daughter, Candace Eddings, who was 16 when the scam was discovered, told the court they wanted to save their family and they were manipulated by Michael Eddings in an effort to preserve his law license.

    “His whole point was to protect his law license — no matter what,” Sonya Eddings told the court of her motivation for taking the blame for the scheme.
    ***
    Michael Eddings, now remarried and a criminal defense attorney working primarily in Atlanta and Columbus, was never charged with any crime. Since October 2011, he has maintained his innocence, saying he had no knowledge of the scheme and that his then-wife was solely responsible for the missing money.

    In December 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court handed Michael Eddings the lightest possible professional punishment for the funds missing from the firm’s trust account. He was ordered to receive a public reprimand and was allowed to continue to practice law without suspension or disbarment.
    ***
    Sonya Eddings, who has been living with an aunt in Philadelphia, was her husband’s office manager and was transferring money related to real estate closings from the trust account, then moving it to separate accounts for two failing food-service businesses the couple owned.
For the story, see In emotional sentencing hearing, Sonya Eddings explains role in $2.3M scheme.
------------------
(1) The Clients' Security Fund of the State Bar of Georgia was created for the purpose of maintaining the integrity and protecting the good name of the legal profession by reimbursing to the extent deemed proper and feasible by the Board losses caused by the dishonest conduct of members of the State Bar of Georgia. Go here for eligible claims. See generally, Part X of the State Bar Rules. Attorneys from the State Bar of Georgia Office of the General Counsel act as staff for the Clients' Security Fund. For more information regarding the Clients' Security Fund, please call 404-527-8720.

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.

Employee-Wife Gets 55 To 78 Months For Purloining Over $140K From Law Firm's Client Trust Account While Employer-Hubby Gets 90 Days For Unrelated Misdemeanor Charges, Law License Suspended For At Least 2 Years

In North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the Wilkes Journal-Patriot reports:
  • The N.C. Bar Association has suspended the license of attorney R. Tyson “Ty” Ferrell, who has practiced law in Wilkes County for many years.

    Ferrell, 52, pleaded guilty in Wilkes Superior Court earlier [in April] to 15 misdemeanor counts of failure to withhold state tax. He was sentenced to a total of 90 days in jail, suspended 60 months with two years of supervised probation and three years of unsupervised probation.
    ***
    Ferrell’s license was suspended for five years as part of a consent decree between the attorney and the N.C. State Bar. The decree was heard and signed in Wilkes Superior Court by Judge Patrice Hinnant of Guilford County.

    As part of the decree, Ferrell will be unable to practice law for two years, with the last three years of the judgment suspended. Should he complete a number of requirements placed upon him by the state bar, Ferrell could apply to have his license reinstated after two years.

    Ferrell’s estranged wife, Kristy Cass Ferrell, 40, of 4941 Old Salisbury Road, Union Grove, was sentenced in Wilkes Superior Court by Hinnant in February to not less than 55 nor more than 78 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to numerous felony offenses occurring while she was employed as an assistant in Ferrell’s office.

    Kristy Ferrell pleaded guilty to multiple counts of embezzlement and obtaining property by false pretense, forgery of a certificate of title, insurance fraud and conspiracy, all felony offenses.

    She was also ordered to pay certain amounts in restitution, including $93,000 to the N.C. Bar Association and $48,500 to Jay Mathis.

    A co-defendant in the case, Graham Randell Waddell, 46, of 1011 Austin-Little Mountain Road, Ronda, was ordered jointly responsible for compensating Mathis.

    Waddell pleaded guilty in October to similar offenses, including multiple counts of obtaining property by false pretense, and received a suspended sentence in Wilkes Superior Court.

    He was also ordered to pay $52,000 in restitution.

    Waddell, who is Kristy Ferrell’s ex-husband, was also employed by Ty Ferrell as an assistant at his office.

    All charges were filed after an investigation by the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office.

    The bar association, according to the decree, maintained that Kristy Ferrell and Randell Waddell, between February 2012 and July 2015, misappropriated over $100,000 from Ty Ferrell’s clients. The money was in the law firm’s trust account at Yadkin Valley Bank.

    Ty Ferrell’s failure to supervise the work of his wife and her ex-husband “enabled… the theft of client funds,” according to the consent decree. This was found to be a violation of the bar association’s rules of professional conduct.

    Kristy Ferrell’s parents, Josephine and Stanley Cass, have also been charged in connection with this investigation. Their cases have not yet been heard.
Source: License of attorney Ty Ferrell is suspended.
-----------------
(1) In North Carolina, the Client Security Fund was established by the state's Supreme Court in 1984 to reimburse clients who have suffered financial loss as the result of dishonest conduct of lawyers engaged in the private practice of law in North Carolina. There is a $100,000 dollar limit on reimbursements for an applicant who suffered a reimbursable loss (or losses) as the result of the dishonest conduct of one lawyer.

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.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Fair Housing & Reasonable Accommodation: Landlord Who Allegedly Failed To Give Known-Asthmatic Tenant Advance Notice Of Landscape Mulching Work Coughs Up $290K To Settle Tenant's Family's Lawsuit Who Say Fatal Asthma Attack Was Triggered By Mulching

In Hartford, Connecticut, the Connecticut Law Tribune reports:
  • The family of a 61-year-old Connecticut man who died from an asthma attack, allegedly because the owners of his apartment did not inform the family they were doing mulching and landscaping work, has settled a lawsuit for $290,000.

    Marcial Torres suffered a severe asthma attack in April 2008, about a year after his wife and then 8-year-old granddaughter asked the apartment manager to notify them in advance of any mulching work. The Torres family, who lived on the first floor in New Britain's Evergreen Apartments, were allegedly never notified and Torres had an asthma attack in November 2009. A 40-page lawsuit was filed in October 2010.

    While the defense denied that conversation occurred, the family's attorney said it did.

    "I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the meeting occurred," said attorney Tracey E. Hardman. "The mulch was applied just once a year and they were asking for a very minimal and reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act."

    The settlement was reached March 29 between Hardman and Simsbury-based attorney Peter Ponziani, who represented Evergreen Apartments, Roy's Landscaping and apartment manager Lorraine Ross. Ponziani, of Litchfield Cavo, was not available for comment. The two-day session was mediated by Hartford Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina. The case was scheduled for trial in April.

    During the 19 months following his asthma attack until his death, Torres suffered a severe brain injury and was in a coma-like state, Hardman said. "His wife would set her alarm every three hours during that period to turn him and to be sure he did not get bed sores or rashes which would have caused him even more suffering." Not once in 19 months "did she sleep more than three hours at a time," Hardman said.

    Hardman said Elba Torres, who now lives in Florida, "is relieved this is over. It honored her husband's memory."

    Hardman said she disclosed that, if there were a trial, Yale University pulmonologist Geoffrey R. Connors would have testified that "mulch is a known and active asthma trigger."

    The money should be dispersed to Elba Torres and her daughter later this month, Hardman said. It will be paid by Country Mutual Insurance.
Source: Fatal Asthma Attack Results in $290,000 Settlement (may require subscription; if no subscription, TRY HERE, then click the appropriate link). contamination epa environmental protection agency

Some Tenants Caught By Surprise By State Health Department's Vacate Orders For Homes Where Children Have Tested Positive For Lead Poisoning & Landords Have Failed To Comply With Abatement Orders

In Toledo, Ohio, The Toledo Blade reports:
  • Mesha Wallace knew her granddaughter had tested positive for lead poisoning more than a year and a half ago and the health department determined that her home was the likely source.

    She made sure Mariah Gaston, now 3, took the recommended vitamins and had a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and iron-rich food. But Ms. Wallace said she had no idea there was a vacate order on her home, or that in the eyes of health officials, it wasn’t safe for anyone to live there.

    “No one never told me that I was supposed to leave, the landlord or the health department,” said Ms. Wallace, 36.

    The Ohio Department of Health this month published a list of 540 addresses in the state that have orders to vacate. The orders were issued after children who lived in the homes tested positive for lead poisoning and property owners failed to comply with health department orders to make improvements.

    Lucas County has 27 properties on the list, the fourth most of any municipality in Ohio. All are in Toledo.

    No one should be living in any of the houses on list, said Josh Niese, who oversees the lead program for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, which provided the local addresses to the state for publication.

    But people are living in them.

    The Blade found more than half of the homes on the list are occupied or show signs of recent occupancy. Several residents — most of them renters — who answered their doors said they were unaware there were orders to vacate, though many were familiar with the property’s history of lead problems or the child who had been poisoned there.

    Each home on the list has been investigated for lead hazards after a child living at the address registered a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater, double the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for elevated levels. Owners on the list have not complied with orders to make improvements to the properties, prompting the order to vacate.

    A placard describing the vacate order should be placed on each home.

    Following inquiries from The Blade, Mr. Niese said health department officials are reviewing department policy. He said placards “should have been placed” on every home, but he said there is no way to guarantee that they stay up. The health department could not produce documentation showing when each property had a placard affixed to it or whether each property owner or tenant had been notified of the order.

    “We have understood the deficiencies in the current process, and we are doing everything to shore up the process so it is corrected,” he said. “We are changing our policies to make sure this doesn’t happen moving forward.”

    Lead poisoning can damage a child’s brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, and cause learning and behavior problems, according to the CDC. Lead-based paint, widely used in the United States before the federal government banned its residential use in 1978, is prone to releasing dust and chips that can be ingested.

    The lead-tainted houses appear across Toledo. A full list of all properties in the state that should be vacated because of high lead levels is available at odh.ohio.gov/​pbhazproperties.

    One woman answering the door with a young child in tow said she had moved in the previous week and knew nothing about lead hazards on the property; at another, a teenager said his family had moved in about a month ago and was unsure about the home’s history.

    Another said she was told her landlord had done the necessary repairs.

    A handful of houses where no one answered the door had signs of occupancy, including cars in the driveway, dogs barking inside, and children’s items on porches. The Blade found only a handful of the properties appear to be undergoing repairs.

    After a child tests positive with a blood-lead level of 10 or greater, the case is referred to the health department for assessment.

    “We will typically do a risk assessment of the home,” Mr. Niese said. “If we feel the home is a source we can issue orders on the home to have them corrected.”

    In addition to looking for visual signs of lead hazards such as peeling or chipping paint, inspectors use an X-ray fluorescence gun that detects the presence of lead, he said.

    Property owners have 90 days to correct problems and can apply for three, 30-day extensions, Mr. Niese said. After that, vacate orders are placed on the house and are lifted only after a follow-up inspection confirms required improvements have been made.

    He said the department is reviewing why so many people continue to live in properties that have been deemed unsafe.

    “We are working through ODH to clarify jurisdiction and authority and try to handle it on the local level,” he said, adding that they are determining what authority the department has to enforce the vacate orders and whether they will need to seek out additional public health or housing orders.

    “The situation we are in right now is unacceptable, so we need to address it and fix it,” Mr. Niese said. In the meantime, he said the department will work with property owners and tenants to answer questions. He referred tenants needing assistance to United Way’s 211 system for resources.

    The orders on homes like Ms. Wallace’s are separate from Toledo’s lead-safe rental law passed last year, and are on the state’s list because a child living there has been poisoned.

    The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department is also tasked with overseeing and enforcing the city law, passed by city council in August and amended in April. It mandates rental properties with one to four units built before 1978 and home day-care centers be inspected by independent local inspectors and issued lead safe certificates. Inspections check for visual signs of hazards such as peeling and chipping paint, and test with dust wipes for lead dust concentrations.

    Proponents of the law laud it as a preventive measure to keep children from being poisoned like those living in the 27 properties outlined by the state. But the law has met fierce criticism from landlords and some tenants who live in historic neighborhoods like the Old West End, who say it targets good landlords and is burdensome and expensive.

    An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 rental units are to be inspected over a three-year cycle with the first deadline next year.
For more, see State orders unsafe homes in Toledo vacated due to lead (Families unaware; Official says health dept. is addressing its ‘deficiencies’). contamination epa environmental protection agency

NYC Landlord Accused Of Using Harassment Tactics, Dangerous Construction Practices In Effort Drive Rent-Regulated Tenants From Their Apartments To Cough Up $225K To Settle NY AG Lawsuit; Unsafe Lead Dust Kicked Up Into Air Allegedly Triggered Asthma Attack Landing One Resident In Hospital Emergency Room

On the Lower East Side of New York City, DNA Info (NYC) reports:
  • Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached a $225,000 settlement with landlord Sami Mahfar following an investigation that uncovered harassment tactics, dangerous living conditions and failure to provide heat and hot water.

    The years-long investigation started by Schneiderman in November 2014 found that Mahfar's companies tried to force rent-regulated tenants at several Lower East Side buildings — 22 Spring St., 102 Norfolk St., 113 Stanton St., and 210 Rivington St. — out of their homes with dangerous construction and aggressive buyout offers.

    The companies carried out demolition and construction work on the properties that kicked up unsafe levels of lead in the air. Some of the tenants in the buildings were pregnant or had children, said the settlement.

    At 102 Norfolk St., dust covering the building's stairs was found to contain as high as 40,000 micrograms per square foot and 110,000 micrograms per square foot of lead, according to the settlement agreement. The limit for lead concentration on floors per the city's health code is 40 micrograms per square foot.

    The construction work caused health problems for tenants — a high school student at 210 Rivington St. had an asthma attack that landed him in the emergency room, which his family believes was a result of the lead-contaminated dust, according tot he settlement.

    The companies also hired Misidor LLC, a "relocator" whose principal repeatedly threatened tenants that if they didn't accept the buyout offers they would be forced to endure the disruptive construction. Mahfar's SMA Equities claimed that relocator was left over from a previous building owner and was dismissed when tenants complained.

    The companies continually carried out work without making the proper filings with city and state agencies and lied in filings made with the Department of Buidlings.

    The settlement, announced by Schneiderman's office Thursday [May 4], requires Mahfar to cough up $175,000 to the city's Housing and Preservation Department and $50,000 to the State of New York. The money allocated to HPD will go towards remediation of rent-stabilized housing, and will buy new X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Equipment used to test for lead in paint.

    The settlement also called for a third-party manager to oversee the buildings.

    Tenants had brought their own lawsuits against Mahfar over the conditions in their buildings, resulting in rent abatements and other concessions, according to the settlement.

    “Landlords must not use harassment or subject tenants to unsafe construction to drive rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes. Unfortunately, across the city, unscrupulous landlords look to take advantage of New York’s real estate market at the expense of their rent-regulated tenants – and we won’t hesitate to fight back using all tools at our disposal,” said Schneiderman in a statement.
Source: Notorious LES Landlord and Attorney General Reach $225K Settlementcontamination epa environmental protection agency

NYC Health Dept. Temporarily Slams Brakes On Ongoing Renovations At Local Hotel Over Excessively High Lead Levels In Dust Created By Unsafe Construction Practices

In New York City, DNA Info (NYC) reports:
  • Dust created by ongoing renovations at the Chelsea Hotel has tested positive for lead 26 times the federal environmental standard, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said.

    The department halted renovations at the historic West 23rd Street hotel and collected samples at the end of March after receiving a complaint about dust created by unsafe construction work.

    Some of the dust that was collected tested positive for lead, a spokeswoman said Wednesday [April 12].

    “We have recently identified dust lead hazards at [the hotel] and we’ve ordered the owners to address the conditions,” she wrote in an email.

    The hotel’s owners must “take steps to conduct work safely and contain exposure to dust particles,” she added.

    Dust from one of the windowsills was found to have 6,500 micrograms of lead per square foot, well above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's “acceptable standard” of 250 micrograms per square foot for interior windowsills, a test report provided by the Health Department shows.

    A set of stairs leading from the sixth to seventh floors of the hotel had dust that contained 280 micrograms of lead per square feet, above the 40 micrograms per square foot standard for floors, the report shows.

    Health Department inspectors visited the hotel twice after the initial inspection and didn’t find any “visible signs of dust” in areas where the hotel’s remaining tenants live, so construction has resumed, the spokeswoman said.

    "Minimizing exposure to lead in all forms is best," but young children are at the greatest risk of exposure because they're more likely to ingest lead-positive dust while playing, she noted.

    A trio of hoteliers, including BD Hotels co-founders Richard Born and Ira Drukier, recently purchased the hotel and are in the process of redeveloping it into condos and hotel space.

    Adding to the construction issues, the city’s Department of Buildings recently hit the owners with a series of stop-work orders and a slew of civil penalties.

    In December, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development took the owners to housing court after finding they hadn’t corrected violations that should have been remedied following an October 2015 order, an HPD spokeswoman said Wednesday.

    A housing court judge in February ordered the owners to correct all of the existing violations at the hotel, with the owners forking over $30,000 in civil penalties, she said.

    Nevertheless, there were 149 open HPD violations at the site as of Tuesday, the most recent of which was issued on April 5, she said.
Source: Chelsea Hotel Construction Dust Has Lead 26 Times Federal Limit, City Says. contamination epa environmental protection agency

Home Depot Admits It's Under Criminal Investigation For Alleged Unsafe Practices For Handling Lead Paint Issues In Home Renovation Work

In Atlanta, Georgia, WSB-TV Channel 2 reports:
  • Atlanta-based Home Depot is under fire over allegations that contractors skipped safety precautions, putting workers and customers at risk for lead poisoning.

    The company admits the EPA launched a criminal investigation into alleged unsafe practices for removing lead from homes across the country.

    Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston has learned the EPA’s criminal division are looking at several cases where workers with Home Depot may not have followed procedure to remove dangerous lead paint.
    ***
    Home Depot released information on the case [recently], saying in January, the company became aware of the investigation by the EPA’s criminal investigation division into the company’s compliance with lead-safe work practices.
    ***
    We’ve been in contact with Home Depot. They said they couldn’t go on camera because of the investigation. But they said in a statement: “Lead-based paint work make up only about 4 percent of our total business and these rules only apply to segment of that total. We’re taking it very seriously, we’ll continue to cooperate with the investigation.”
For the story, see Home Depot accused of unsafe practices; Criminal investigation launched. contamination epa environmental protection agency

As EPA Resumes Soil Cleanup For Lead, Arsenic At East Chicago Homes, Apartments, University Researchers Announce Plans To Conduct Study Of Lead Levels In Local Residents' Bones

In East Chicago, Indiana, The Times of Northwest Indiana reports:
  • [A]bout 50 residents, attorneys and researchers were in attendance [recently] at the East Chicago Library’s Pastrick branch, where Purdue University researchers announced a collaboration with Harvard and Boston University to test lead levels in East Chicago residents' bones.

    Linda H. Nie, an associate professor at Purdue University in Lafayette, said blood testing provided by the East Chicago Health Department offers only a snapshot of a person’s current lead levels.

    Bone lead levels, tested with an X-Ray fluorescence device, can measure long-term exposure. [...] The study will be limited to 20 to 40 people.

    Ellen Wells, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Purdue, said she hopes to launch a more in-depth, long-term study on other health impacts due to lead exposure in East Chicago.

    At [the recent] meeting, EPA staff said the agency will resume cleanup this month at “priority properties” — defined as properties with lead levels of at least 1,200 parts per million lead or 68 ppm arsenic in the top 6 inches; 400 ppm lead in the top 6 inches and a child under 7 or pregnant woman living at the property, regardless of blood lead levels; or 400 ppm lead in the top 24 inches and a child under 7 living at the property with blood lead level at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter.*

    The CDC recommends public health intervention at blood lead levels of 5 mcg or higher, but EPA on-site coordinator Dan Haag said after the meeting the consent decree reached in March with companies responsible for the pollution set the limit at 10 mcg/dl based on blood draw testing last year or later.

    About 120 properties in Zone 2, the middle part of Calumet, and more than 70 properties in zone 3, the eastern section of the neighborhood, will be cleaned this spring, according to the EPA.

    As part of the agreement, the EPA last month secured $16 million in funding from companies responsible for contamination in the Superfund site’s Zone 2.

    The funding, in part, will help pay for soil cleanup, indoor dust sampling and, where needed, indoor cleaning, Haag said. The EPA will also conduct preliminary testing for lead-based paint, EPA staff said.

    The state and federal government reached a $26 million settlement in 2014 with Atlantic Richfield and DuPont for the environmental cleanup in zones 1 and 3. Zone 1 encompasses the West Calumet Housing Complex and former Carrie Gosch Elementary School, while zone 3 includes homes in East Calumet.
For the story, see Purdue researchers want to test East Chicago residents' bones for lead.

See. generally, Where does lead go? Into bones. contamination epa environmental protection agency

Friday, May 19, 2017

State Appeals Court Refuses To Undo Developer's Purchase Of Mobile Home Park Sold Out From Under Soon-To-Be-Booted, Lot-Leasing Homeowners, But Leaves Door Open For Other Forms Of Relief If Violation Of Right Of First Refusal Under State Law Can Be Proven

In St. Anthony, Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports:
  • The court battle is likely to continue for Lowry Grove residents fighting to keep their mobile home park open.

    The Minnesota Court of Appeals said in a ruling issued Monday [May 8] that the sale of their St. Anthony park cannot be undone, though it left the door open for other forms of relief.

    A three-judge appellate panel upheld the $6 million sale of the park to The Village, an affiliate of Wayzata-based Continental Property Group. But the unanimous opinion reversed an earlier decision by the district court judge as to what forms of relief may be available to residents if they go on to prove that the transaction violated state law governing the sale of mobile home parks.

    The appellate court said the residents can ask Hennepin County District Judge Joseph R. Klein for non-monetary relief, such as court-ordered relocation costs, educational benefits for children displaced from schools, transportation benefits or even an injunction affecting the park’s planned closure. Residents can also still seek monetary damages.

    “It’s a partial win, but it’s not necessarily a partial win that will keep the park open,” said Jack Cann, an attorney for the Lowry Grove Residents Association.(1) “Still, the Court of Appeals’ decision makes it so it’s going to cost them.”

    The residents, working with Aeon, an affordable housing nonprofit, allege in their lawsuit that the sale of the land to The Village broke state law.

    Traci Tomas, vice president of The Village, has said that the deal complied with the law. She also described Monday’s ruling as “a win.”

    “I am confident the district court will determine that … there was nothing illegal about the sale of Lowry Grove,” Tomas said in a statement. An attorney for The Village said residents have signed an agreement that they will leave the park by the end of June.

    “The Village owns the property and that is not going to change,” said attorney William Skolnick, who represents The Village. “In terms of the Lowry Grove mobile home park, that is not going to exist after June 30.”

    The dispute traces back to the June 2016 sale of Lowry Grove to a development company. State law gives manufactured-home owners the right of first refusal to buy the land.

    Last year, Lowry Grove residents worked with Aeon to match The Village’s $6 million offer. The previous owners of the park, Lowry Grove Partnership, turned down Aeon’s offer, saying it didn’t meet the state statute’s requirements. The Lowry Grove owners then sold to The Village, which prompted the lawsuit.

    If the suit isn’t resolved in the coming months, it is expected to go to trial by the end of the year.

    At a neighborhood meeting Monday night, homeowners said they now plan to take their grievances to City Hall.

    About half the nearly 100 homeowners in Lowry Grove have already left. Those remaining say they have no place else to go.

    “I’m very frustrated,” said Antonia Alvarez, a Lowry Grove resident who has organized her neighbors against the redevelopment. “Lowry Grove is home. We want to keep it open.”
Source: Court reopens relief options for St. Anthony mobile home park residents (Lowry Grove residents, and the nonprofit Aeon, can still pursue other forms of relief).

For the court ruling, see Aeon v. Lowry Grove Partnership, LLP, A16-1755 (Minn. App. May 8, 2017).
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(1) Representing the lot-leasing mobile home owners is the Housing Justice Center (HJC, formerly known as the Housing Preservation Project, or HPP), a St. Paul, Minnesota-based nonprofit public interest advocacy and legal organization whose primary mission is to preserve and expand affordable housing for low income individuals and families.

Oregon Affordable Housing Non-Profit Saves Troubled Mobile Home Park From Shutdown; Buys Out Landlord, Announces Improvement Plans To Stabilize Aging Premises For Low-Income Lot-Leasing Homeowners

In Saginaw, Oregon, The Register-Guard reports:
  • The low-income residents of Saginaw Trailer Park have a new landlord, one that is planning to improve living conditions in the long-troubled manufactured home park.

    The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County on Friday [May 5] purchased the 14-acre property with manufactured homes and recreational vehicles for $1.35 million from Michael Brown of Oakland.

    The nonprofit agency expects to spend another $1.8 million or so on renovating the park, bringing the estimated total investment in the property to $3.15 million, spokesman Paul Neville said Monday.

    The Saginaw Trailer Park is off Highway 99, about three miles north of Cottage Grove. Neville wasn’t sure how many people live there, but he said 40 of the 41 mobile homes and RVs are occupied.

    St. Vincent de Paul plans to make extensive improvements, including constructing a community center with a playground and replacing dilapidated living units, Neville said.

    “Our aim is to first stabilize things and keep this park in existence,” he said. “Over time, we incrementally will bring in new mobile home units. We have to inspect the (existing) units, and we have to talk to people. We have to figure out who has title to the units, because some are park-owned and some are tenant-owned. There is just a lot to be done.”

    St. Vincent de Paul will bring social workers to the park to meet with residents to help them “through this transition, and to provide general assistance in helping to improve their quality of life,” Neville said.

    Saginaw is the sixth mobile home park in Lane County acquired by St. Vincent de Paul. Other agency-owned parks include the Garfield Apartments and Trailer Park in Eugene, Harwoods Mobile Manor north of Eugene’s Santa Clara area, the Hillcrest and Oakridge mobile home parks in Oakridge, and the Tivoli Mobile Home Park in Junction City.

    The Eugene-based nonprofit agency also is acquiring the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park in northeast Portland.

    “Affordable housing is in short supply everywhere in this state, particularly in rural areas,” SVDP Executive Director Terry McDonald said. “We need to take advantage of every opportunity to protect and preserve mobile home parks, which are a vitally important — and endangered — source of affordable housing.”

    The Saginaw Trailer Park’s previous managers had been fined by the state Department of Environmental Quality for failing to maintain the septic sewer system and improperly dumping ­partially treated sewage.

    Previous owners resisted Lane County orders to clean up the property and to obtain building and electrical permits, St. Vincent de Paul said.

    On at least two occasions, the county ordered that the park be closed because of violations, but previous owners managed to avoid closure, according to the agency.

    McDonald said the park’s troubled past is one reason the agency bought it. St. Vincent de Paul’s recent park acquisitions have been aimed at providing residents with better, safer places to live, he said.

    Three years ago, SVDP bought the 63-space Oakridge Mobile Home Park. Before St. Vincent de Paul purchased the park, it was the source of more than half the police calls in Oakridge, McDonald said. Since then, the number of crime reports has dropped from an average of four a day to three or four a month, he said.

    St. Vincent de Paul is paying for the Saginaw Trailer Park purchase and renovation through funding from the Oregon Housing and Community Services Manufactured Park Preservation Program, a loan from the Network Oregon Affordable Housing and a grant from the Affordable Housing Program.

    The park also will get a new office, roads, signs and lighting, Neville said. Construction is expected to start in the fall, he said.

    Saginaw Trailer Park residents will not face a rent increase in the first year, Neville said. After that, “modest rent increases” are likely, he said. “Part of our goal is to keep rents low and affordable,” Neville said. “We are in the business of providing affordable housing.”

    Oregon has about 130,000 mobile homes, he said. Most of the mobile homes are antiquated, but many occupants cannot afford to live in more expensive types of housing, Neville said.

    For a lot of these people, there is no other option, and the next step is homelessness,” he said. “It’s important to keep this sort of affordable housing.”

Over 200 Lot-Leasing Homeowners Get Help From Non-Profits To Form Co-Op, Then Purchase & Finance Buyout Of Mobile Home Park Landlord

In Kingston, Massachusetts, Wicked Local Kingston reports:
  • The residents of the 212 homes at Town & Country Estates can say they spent Wednesday [April 26] buying a mobile home park.

    The applause at the announcement “It’s done, It’s done” spoke for itself as the new owners of the mobile home park celebrated one of the most significant purchases of their lives.

    It was also a significant day for the nonprofit Resident Ownership Capital LLC (ROC USA) and its affiliate Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) celebrating their 200th resident-owned community.

    Joe Mauriello, president of the Town & Country Mobile Home Estates Tenants Association, joined by secretary Roberta Love and treasurer Mary Hayes, represent the seven-member board that has been hard at work on this deal. Just signing the papers Wednesday took several hours.

    Mauriello said they have been working on this off and on for 10 years now, and had tried once before to buy the park, but this time with the help of ROC USA and CDI they were able to finance the park. He said owning the park means they have control over their future.

    “We don’t have to look for a landlord, we are the landlord, so that being a co-op and a nonprofit we’re not out to make any money so the only rent that we’re going to be charging ourselves is that which is enough to sustain the place.” he said.

    He said resident Joe Bruno heard about ROC USA and CDI, the part of ROC that helped the association get organized, and contacted CDI’s Andy Danforth. ROC has been working with them for the last three years, he said, including the last year of actively working on the purchase. Love described the process as intense.

    The only cost to the residents is a $100 fee to join the co-op because ROC USA is nonprofit and a member-owned corporation. A website will be created by ROC and CDI for anyone who wants to live there to look for information. About 300 people live at the park.

    “Without ROC or CDI, we would not be owning this park today,” Mauriello said.

    When a property is for sale, ROC and CDI help the residents form a corporation, in this case the Town & Country Kingston Estates Cooperative Corporation, ROC Network’s Director Mary O’Hara explained. ROC approved two loans to the co-op. She said they are celebrating a real milestone.

    “We are really excited for this community and excited for the whole network of communities because they’re a great addition,” she said.

    She said members gain security, control over rents and control over decisions about any improvements they want to make under the direction of their board of directors. When Mauriello steps down as president, Donald Ducharme will take on that position starting July 1.

    Ducharme said they all appreciate the work that has been done by the board of directors and are looking forward to having the ability to make decisions for the people who live there. He said there’s a lot of talent among the residents and now their talents can be appreciated.

    An offer to purchase the park from the previous owner gave the residents the opening they needed to buy the property for $6.2 million. They had the right to match the offer. While there will be an increase in rents, from $346 a month to $410, the stability factor is huge.

    Housing specialist Colleen Preston works for CDA and lives in one of the Carver communities that was purchased by residents in 2012. She can speak from experience about the stability factor. Town & Country residents were convinced. O’Hara said 100 percent of them wanted to buy the park.

    The two cakes decorated with the words “We own it!” and the sign that reads “Hooray! Tis the day, to ourselves we now will pay. Congrats family!” say it all.
Source: Mobile home park purchase gives these Kingston residents stability (The residents of the 212 homes at Town & Country Estates can say they spent Wednesday buying a mobile home park).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Poor Residents In Another Recently-Purchased, Aging Housing Complex Get The Boot As Gentrifying Landlord Announces Plans For Major Renovations, Ending Participation In HUD's Section 8 Rent Subsidy Program

In Nashville, Tennessee, The Contributor reports:
  • “As a mother, it’s a very stressful situation to not know where you’re going, for your kids to ask you, ‘Are we moving?’ Many nights, I’ve broken down and cried,” Idella Woodard said. A mother of two boys, she is worried about where she’ll live after a real estate firm's purchase of her apartment building in West Nashville has forced her to exit her home.

    Woodard joined fellow renters April 24 to protest in front of Covenant Capital Group, the firm that earlier this year notified tenants at Prestige Pointe and Premier West Apartments of non-renewal on their leases, and stated the property group would no longer be participating in the Section 8 voucher program.
    ***
    Woodard, who was supposed to be out of her apartment days ago, is hoping for at least a 30-day extension so her sons can finish out the remaining few weeks of the school year without changing schools.

    Between the two complexes, more than 220 children will have to change school after residents are required to vacate the buildings.

    Virginia Tidwell, 71, attended the protest hoping to hear more options for her family, and worries that they won’t be able to find an affordable rental in Nashville on a fixed income. At this time, she isn’t sure where they will end up once they're required to leave.
    ***
    In a statement, [Covenant CEO Govan] White said the buildings are in poor conditions and “have been in bankruptcy and foreclosure for years.”

    "Due to the urgent need for extensive renovation to both properties — both have uninhabitable units due to lack of upkeep prior to our ownership — we cannot extend leases further and nor can residents remain during these major construction projects.”
Source: Facing displacement, Nashville renters protest real estate firm. section 8 contract expire rent subsidies

Dozens Of Poor Tenants In Building Financed w/ Federal Affordable Housing Tax Credits Face The Boot From New Owner; Legal Aid Lawyer Argues Recent Foreclosure Doesn't Completely Wipe Out Landlord's Obligation To Provide Apartments For Low-Income Renters

In Garner, North Carolina, WTVD-TV Channel 11 reports:
  • They arrived at Wake Baptist Grove Church, not far from their apartments, still in a state of confusion.

    "Just basically devastated; are you kidding me?" said Yolanda Smith. "We're trying to determine what is really going on."

    Smith is one the dozens of Forest Hills Apartment residents caught off guard by what they took as preemptive eviction notices. Wake County commissioners were surprised as well.
    ***
    The notices were placed on residents' apartment doors on Thursday by staffers at Eller Capital Partners, the complex's new owners, informing many of these low-income residents they have to move by this Sunday.
    ***
    "I think it's just cruel and vindictive. I think they're on an attack on the poor," said community activist Octavia Rainey.

    County commissioners, a Garner town councilor and the town manager all attended the community meeting at Wake Baptist. And residents got another dose of hope.

    "Your landlord cannot evict you," George Hausen told the audience. Hausen is the executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina.(1)

    Hausen informed residents of their fair housing rights. He says for years Forest Hills' previous owner was entered in a tax credit deal with the federal government to provide low-income housing. That deal was canceled when the property went into foreclosure in 2015. But Hausen argues Eller Capital still has a legal obligation towards those low-income residents for 3 years following the foreclosure.

    "So my reading of that is that the foreclosure took place in February 2015, I think there's a strong legal argument that says you have a right to maintain your tenancy until February of 2018," Hausen said.

    Hausen will take that argument to a judge in his effort to block the evictions. In the meantime, he is advising resident to continue to make good faith efforts to pay their rent every month as a legal paper trail they met their commitments.
For the story, see Garner eviction notices called 'an attack on the poor'.
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(1) Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. section 8 contract expire rent subsidies