Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Absentee Landlord Agrees To Give Up Ownership Of Three Rental Homes In Settlement Of Feds' Forfeiture Action Alleging That Tenants Used Premises As Illegal Drug Houses; Properties To Be Rehabbed & Sold By Local Non-Profit As Owner-Occupied Residences

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Rutland, Vermont):
  • The United States Attorney’s Office announced [] that the government and its public and private partners have completed an agreement to convert forfeited Rutland drug houses to safe, renovated housing. The government had previously filed suit to forfeit the drug houses, [...], because those properties were used to distribute crack and heroin.(1)
    The settlement was made possible by the cooperation of multiple governmental, non-profit, and for-profit parties, including: (1) the United States, which is the plaintiff in the lawsuit; (2) Ericob Vermont Realty Corp, the former owner of the property; (3) the City of Rutland, which was owed property taxes and other fees on the properties; (4) the mortgagee for the property; and (5) [Neighbor Works of Western Vermont ("NWWVT")], which will renovate and resell the properties.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the owners of the properties agreed to forfeit them to the United States. After forfeiture to the United States, the United States Marshals Service (“USMS”) agreed to transfer the properties to the City of Rutland. The City of Rutland, in turn, agreed to cancel all of its outstanding taxes, fines, and fees and transfer the properties to NWWVT. NWWVT agreed to rehabilitate the properties and sell them for owner-occupied housing.

    Under the terms of the City of Rutland’s deed to NWWVT, the three properties may only be used for owner-occupied, single family residences, duplexes, or condominium residential units. Finally, NWWVT agreed to pay $82,500 (minus the USMS’ costs) to the mortgage holder on the properties in return for the mortgage holder discharging its mortgage liens. The USMS agreed to cap its costs at $5,000 and, in fact, kept its costs to approximately $750.
    The settlement ensures that these three residential properties will be transformed from ownership by an absentee landlord into owner-occupied, single family residence, duplexes, or condominium residential units, thereby reducing the risk that the properties will again provide shelter for drug dealers.
    Many former tenants have been convicted and sentenced to significant time in federal prison. They include, among others: Eric Dixon, now serving 87 months in federal prison; Ernest Murray, now serving 60 months in federal prison; Andrew Harris, now serving 60 months in federal prison; Terrance Chenault, now serving 87 months in federal prison; and Joshua Minix, now serving 87 months in federal prison.
Source: Innovative Public-Private Agreement Will Convert Drug Properties To Renovated Housing Stock In Rutland, VT.
(1) According to the US. Attorney's press release:
  • The United States’ forfeiture lawsuit was brought pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(7), which, under certain circumstances, allows for forfeiture of property used to commit or facilitate the commission of felony drug offenses.

    The federal forfeiture law also requires owners of such rental properties to take reasonable and safe steps to discourage or prevent drug dealing on the property, such as contacting law enforcement and seeking to evict the tenants involved. In its lawsuit, the government alleged the owners of the Park Avenue properties had failed to take such reasonable steps.

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