Saturday, February 27, 2016

Emotional Support/Companion Animals For Students Living In Residence Halls Formally Get OK By University Of Utah

In Salt Lake City, Utah, The Daily Utah Chronicle reports:
  • The standard “no dogs in the residence halls” rule is relaxed a bit for students with disabilities.

    Dependent upon approval from the [University of Utah's] Center for Disability Services, students may be eligible for an emotional support animal, also known as an assistive animal.

    These animals are typically “prescribed” to patients by mental health professionals in the hope of alleviating symptoms or providing other therapeutic benefits through companionship. Because these animals are considered part of a person’s disability treatment, landlords are required to accommodate them in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act.

    U students must provide documentation of a disability that, as outlined in the ADA, “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Students are also required to submit a letter from a qualified mental health professional detailing the needs fulfilled by their animal and the role it plays in their treatment. Disability Services then reviews the application and, if necessary, alerts housing of the accommodations granted.

    “If the resident has a need and an emotional support animal could help provide that safe and secure environment, an accommodation can be made to ensure that they stay a successful student here at the U,” said Todd Justesen, associate director of resident education on campus.

    Unlike service dogs, which are allowed in all campus buildings without prior approval, companion animals are not allowed in classrooms and must remain in the student’s apartment. Students are responsible to care for both their animal and their living accommodations. Justesen said Housing & Residential Education makes it a point to meet face-to-face with recently-approved students to discuss the policies.

    He said: “We want to make sure the animal is well cared-for and to let students know that if there’s anything else the animal needs, HRE is here to support them.”

Recent Settlement Of Fair Housing Lawsuit Against University Revolved Around Its Rejection Of Student's Four-Pound Pooch In Residence Hall Allegedly Needed As Therapy Animal; School's Lawyers Fear Door May Now Be Open To Cats, Snakes, Monkeys, Etc.

In Kearney, Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
  • The University of Nebraska at Kearney has agreed to enact new student housing policies and pay $140,000 to settle a Justice Department lawsuit that accused the university of violating federal law by not allowing therapy animals in student housing.

    The settlement [] follows a 2011 lawsuit on a behalf of a former student, Brittany Hamilton, who had asked to keep a dog in her university apartment to cope with depression and anxiety.

    The university maintains that it never violated any laws, but Chancellor Doug Kristensen said UNK settled to avoid a costly lawsuit and move forward with a new policy that ensures all students have equal access to housing.

    "I'm only disappointed that our sincere efforts to negotiate through the court were not reciprocated," Kristensen said in a statement. "We could have avoided hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on litigation and electronic discovery and deployed those funds toward what UNK does best — providing access and supporting success for all of our valued students, including those with disabilities."

    Messages left with the Justice Department were not immediately returned.

    Under the settlement, the university will adopt policies that allow students to apply for "reasonable accommodations" in their housing. Students without an obvious disability may be required to provide a doctor or medical professional's note saying the pet is necessary.

    The university had previously banned pets other than fish from its housing unless a student had a disability such as blindness that required a service animal.

    Hamilton had asked to keep a 4-pound miniature pinscher named Butch in her apartment but was denied. The Justice Department lawsuit alleged that Hamilton could not afford other housing options in or around Kearney, and needed the dog to focus on her school work.

    An Omaha nurse prescribed the dog to help her handle anxiety attacks that made it difficult to sleep and breathe. Hamilton's mother trained the dog to place its front paws on her shoulders during an attack to relieve stress, according to the lawsuit.

    Justice Department lawyers accused the university of violating the U.S. Fair Housing Act by not allowing an emotional assistance animal in the dwelling for a tenant with a mental illness.

    The university's attorneys argued that the federal law doesn't apply to college housing because the apartments only serve as temporary homes, and only a small fraction of students live in the same room for more than a year. University administrators enforce rules not seen in normal leases, including an alcohol ban and a rule that prohibits students from hosting opposite-gender guests overnight.

    University attorneys also argued that allowing dogs could set a precedent for other animals, such as cats, dogs, snakes or monkeys.

    U.S. District Judge John Gerrard ruled in 2013 that the university's student housing facilities were subject to the Fair Housing Act. University officials say the decision was the first time a court held that Fair Housing Act applied to colleges and universities.

Fair Housing Lawsuit: City Rammed Through Zoning Changes That Set Retroactive Building Density Limits In Push To Shut Down, Demolish Apartment Complexes & Give Their Predominantly Black & Hispanic Renters The Boot

In Jackson, Mississippi, the Mississippi Business Journal reports:
  • The Mississippi Center for Justice, a public interest law organization, has added a 38-page lawsuit to a stack of suits against the City of Ridgeland over a 2014 zoning ordinance that targets multi-family rental complexes.

    Joined by multi-state private law firm Venable LLP, the Center filed suit Friday in federal court in Jackson alleging that Ridgeland violated the Fair Housing Act by attempting to eliminate, through rezoning, five apartment complexes that are occupied by predominantly African-American and Latino residents. These complexes include Baymeadows Apartments, where the individuals named as plaintiffs in the suit reside.

    The suit alleges the City aimed to reduce its minority population by targeting Southeast Ridgeland apartment complexes for destruction and redevelopment. It’s a claim included in a late 2015 complaint from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

    HUD and the Center for Justice say a desire to remove black and Hispanic residents drove city officials and the Board of Aldermen to enact the sweeping new zoning ordinance that set retroactive building density limits on the apartment complexes, many of which are decades old.

    The result has been “unlawful discrimination based on race,” HUD said in an early December notice to city officials in which the agency said would conclude a further investigation within 100 days.

    The Center’s housing discrimination suit charges the action against the apartment complexes grew out of a long-held belief among city leaders that “changing demographics” were hurting schools and driving white residents out, depressing property values.

    Census data shows that Ridgeland’s white population dwindled from 76.3 percent in 2000 to 57.5 percent in 2010. Limiting affordable housing options “was seen as the best way to curb the influx of what was referred to as ‘Jackson’s rot,’” the Center suit claims.

    HUD and the Center say the worries over demographics brought creation of the 2008 Ridgeland Area Master Plan, a strategy that called for replacing apartments predominantly occupied by African-Americans and other minorities with clusters of single-family cottage-style housing.

    Ridgeland’s mayor and other city officials have declined to address either the 2014 rezoning, the growing number of lawsuits or the HUD complaint. The City’s specially hired lawyers have also declined to comment.

    Before the lawsuits, however, city officials said health and public safety problems involving the apartments put an unjustified burden on the City’s budget.

    However, if the apartments threatened public health and safety, the City has not tried to prove it, according to the Center for Justice suit.

    The suit accuses the City of rushing through the passage of the new zoning law without adhering to its own procedures for rezoning, without performing any studies or analyses that justified rezoning and, breaking from past practice, without exempting the existing use of the affected properties from the law’s restrictions.

    The Southeast Ridgeland complexes are the only properties targeted for demolition under the new zoning ordinance. Complexes in other parts of the city could be forced to close up or demolish some of their units.

    John Jopling, a managing attorney at the Center for Justice, said Ridgeland is clear in its goals. “The 2014 Zoning Ordinance was intended to displace, and will have the effect of displacing, a substantial portion of Ridgeland’s minority population,” Jopling said in a press statement accompanying the lawsuit. “This is a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act.”

    Many residents worry they will be forced to move and take children out of local schools, Jopling said in an interview Friday, and added some residents are even worried they will have nowhere to go.

    The suit seeks to have the rezoning provisions of the 2014 zoning law declared invalid and to prohibit the City from enforcing them.

    Ridgeland’s rezoning ordinance and the insistence on apartments meeting new unit density rules have led to a dozen lawsuits in state and federal courts on behalf of 15 rental complexes.

Tennessee Bank Denies Racial Discrimination Charges, But Agrees To Cough Up $1.9 Million Anyway To Resolve Allegations That It Screwed Blacks, Hispanics In Its Home Lending Practices

In Memphis, Tennessee, The Commercial Appeal reports:
  • First Tennessee Bank has reached a $1.9 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, resolving allegations that the bank discriminated against African-Americans and Hispanics, HUD said [].

    Under the agreement, the Memphis-based bank will establish a $1.5 million fund to provide interest-rate reductions on home mortgages, and down payment or closing-cost assistance to qualified borrowers in parts of Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville.

    The Memphis-based bank will also support community organizations that provide services such as home repair or financial assistance to homeowners in predominantly minority communities, HUD said.

    In the agreement, First Tennessee denied allegations that it engaged in prohibited discriminatory lending, saying the organization that brought the complaint, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, did not provide evidence to support its claims. First Tennessee said that it entered the settlement to avoid "the extraordinary expense to all parties" of a lengthy investigation by HUD.
For more, see First Tennessee reaches $1.9M settlement with HUD over discrimination allegations.

For the HUD press release, see HUD And First Tennessee Bank Reach $1.9 Million Settlement (Agreement resolves claims of discrimination against African American and Hispanic borrowers).

Another City Joins Growing List Of Municipalities Outlawing Housing Discrimination Against Renters Solely Based On Their Use Of Public Assistance Housing Subsidies

In Iowa City, Iowa, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports:
  • Iowa City is now the second city in the state to protect participants in the Housing Choice Voucher Program — commonly known as "Section 8" — under local fair housing laws.

    The Iowa City Council at [a recent] meeting combined its second and third considerations and voted unanimously to approve the amendment to the city's Human Rights Ordinance. The amendment is set to take effect June 1 and will make it unlawful for landlords to advertise that they do not accept applicants who participate in the program.

    The measure also will prohibit policies allowing landlords to reject applicants based solely on their use of housing vouchers or other rental subsidies.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Foreclosed Homeowner Shoots Three Cops Carrying Out Foreclosure Eviction, Leaving One Dead, Another In Critical Condition

In Bailey, Colorado, The Denver Post reports:
  • A political activist opened fire on Park County sheriff's deputies trying to evict him from his mountain home Wednesday, killing one deputy and wounding two others. The gunman also died.

    The shooting happened around 9:30 a.m. at the secluded Friendship Ranch subdivision, said Susan Medina, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman. "It is a dark day," Medina said.

    The deputy who died, Cpl. Nate Carrigan, was a 13-year veteran of the Park County Sheriff's Office and a beloved high school baseball and football coach. Carrigan became the first deputy killed in the line of duty at the sheriff's office, officials said.

    Master Patrol Deputy Kolby Martin, an 11-year veteran of the office, was shot multiple times in the lower extremities and was in critical condition at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood.

    Capt. Mark Hancock, a 21-year veteran of the office, was shot in the ear but was treated and released.

    Eight members of the sheriff's office — including Sheriff Fred Wegener — converged on the snow-covered, three-acre property on Iris Drive Wednesday morning for what they termed "a high-risk writ of restitution."

    They were seeking to evict Martin Wirth, a 58-year-old Occupy Denver activist and former Green Party candidate for state Senate who had complained previously about law enforcement harassment.

    Property records show Wirth defaulted on the property in 2013 and has been battling foreclosure and eviction.
For more, see Park County sheriff's deputy killed, two others wounded in shootout (Gunman Martin Wirth also died in the shootout with Park County sheriff's deputies at Bailey).

NYC Feds, HUD IG Bag Property Manager At 200-Unit Section 8 Housing Project For Allegedly Embezzling Hundred$ Of Thousand$ From Low-Income Complex

In Poughkeepsie, New York, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports:
  • From airfare to dinners out to phone and dental bills, Carl Immich allegedly used the federally-funded Harriet Tubman Terrace Apartments as his personal credit card and checking account for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    The 53-year-old Immich is accused of abusing his position of authority and charging on the Tubman credit card, writing checks on the Tubman bank account and padding the payroll to benefit himself and others. News [] that the Section 8 housing property manager allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the low-income apartment complex in the City of Poughkeepsie shocked long-time residents and raised questions about how the alleged schemes were allowed to happen over more than four years.

    Immich, a Rhinebeck resident, is charged with one count of embezzling government property and one count of theft of property from programs receiving government funds, according to Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office White Plains Division.
    ***
    Immich remains property manager for the federally subsidized, 200-unit public housing complex on Jefferson Street.
    ***
    The Office of Inspector General’s Department of Housing and Urban Development complaint describes how Immich allegedly pocketed thousands from the monthly payments given to Tubman Terrace. Between June 2010 and November 2014, HUD provided between $150,000 and $160,000 to the public housing complex each month.

Environment Feds Clip Home Renovation Contractor For $6K To Settle Allegations That Outfit Violated Record-Keeping Requirements Under Lead Paint Rules Governing Rehab Of Pre-1978-Built Structures

From the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Lenexa, Kansas):
  • EPA Region 7 conducted a record-keeping inspection in response to a tip and complaint regarding Home Pro in Joplin, Mo., that revealed violations of the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule. As part of a settlement with EPA filed in Lenexa, Kan., the company has agreed to pay a $5,978 penalty to the United States.

    The RRP Rule seeks to reduce lead exposure from toxic lead dust that can be disturbed during renovations and repairs. The rule regulates lead-based paint activities, including renovation of residences built prior to 1978, and the certification of individuals and firms who are involved in these activities.

    The recordkeeping inspection conducted in October 2014 at Home Pro, a home renovation company, revealed that the company failed to obtain written acknowledgement from homeowners that they received a Renovate Right pamphlet prior to renovations, and to retain records documenting lead safe work practices.

    Lead exposure can cause a range of adverse health effects, from behavioral disorders and learning disabilities to seizures and death, putting young children at the greatest risk because their nervous systems are still developing. A national survey of lead and allergens in housing conducted by HUD estimates that 38 million occupied housing units (about 40 percent of all housing units) in the United States contain some lead-based paint.

    There are approximately 500,000 U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which the Centers for Disease Control recommends public health actions be initiated.

    If you suspect the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule has been violated at a recently completed or ongoing renovation project, EPA encourages you to contact Region 7 at 1-800-223-0425 or by using the electronic form available online.

Lawsuit: Landlord's Failure To Warn Of Lead Paint Hazard & Failure To Remediate Known Dangers Led To Developmental Problems, Learning Disabilities For Tenant's Child

In Williamsport, Pennsylvania, The Daily Item reports:
  • A Sunbury mother has sued her former landlord claiming her young son suffered lead poisoning she attributes to conditions in her apartment.

    Chastity Maultrie [] filed suit in U.S. Middle District Court on behalf of her son Cassidy D. Bragg against John D. Jones and his business, J&M Property Management of Mifflinburg, seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

    Maultrie says she leased Apartment B at 358 Market St. from Jones in January 2014 unaware it was heavily contaminated with lead dust and lead-based chipped paint.

    Tests of Cassidy’s blood that July showed an elevated level of lead, the suit states. On the advice of a city codes officer she said she vacated the apartment.

    According to the court complaint, an Aug. 4, 2014, inspection of the apartment showed high amounts of chipped lead paint and lead dust that did not meet Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

    Her son has experienced developmental problems, speech impairment, learning disabilities and acting out behavior that could continue into the future and affect his earning abilities, the suit states.

    Maultrie claims Jones failed to provide her with a lead hazard information pamphlet as the law requires and was aware of the chipping lead-based paint but did nothing about it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Caregiver/Legal Guardian Cops Plea To Ripping Off Disabled Man Over Whom She Had Full Control; Pocketed $125K+ While Stiffing Bank Out Of Victim's House Payments, Driving Home Into Foreclosure

In Hudson, Wisconsin, the Leader-Telegram reports:
  • A Roberts woman pleaded guilty [] in St. Croix County Court to six felonies related to stealing money and obtaining prescription drugs for years from a man severely injured in a 2005 motorcycle crash.

    June M. Hicks, 54, was found guilty of five counts of theft in a business setting and one count of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Fifty-one other charges were dismissed. She faces a maximum penalty of 18 years in prison when sentenced in April.

    Court records indicate $129,619 in restitution is owed, with $50,000 needing to be paid before sentencing. Hicks also owes the sheriff’s office $10,833.

    Hicks’ husband, Sammy L. Hicks, 63, of Roberts, faces 17 counts of theft in a business setting and is scheduled for a June trial.

    Courtney M. McConnach, 25, of Prairie Farm, the couple’s daughter, was earlier sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to a felony count of forgery and had 30 other counts dismissed. She was ordered to serve 90 days in jail and pay $13,930 in restitution. [Editor's Note: Importantly, as part of the plea deal, she also agreed to testify against her parents.](1)(2)

    The charges stem from an investigation related to the care of Mark Weckwerth, who suffered a severe head injury in a motorcycle crash. June Hicks was hired in 2007 to help care for him. She took full control of Weckwerth’s care in 2009 and became sole guardian in 2012.

    An accountant’s report indicated Hicks issued $114,858 in checks out of Weckwerth’s account to herself or others for expenses unrelated to his care between October 2009 and December 2011, and deposited income from Weckwerth’s care into the joint account of her and Sammy Hicks during 2009 to 2013, with the couple making mortgage payments on their residence from that account, according to court records.

    June Hicks failed to make mortgage payments on Weckwerth’s residence despite depositing a $120,000 pension check into his checking account in 2013. The residence went into foreclosure.
For the story, see Roberts woman guilty of theft from disabled man (Roberts woman pleads guilty to theft of over $125,000, prescription narcotics).

See also, Disabled man’s caregiver and her family face 107 felony charges:
  • The charges are a result of an investigation by the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO). According to the criminal complaint, the SCSO received a complaint on Oct. 8, 2013, from the St. Croix County Aging and Disability Resource Center consisting of two anonymous letters detailing the possible exploitation of a vulnerable adult, identified as Mark E. Weckwerth of Hudson.
------------------------
(1) See Daughter would testify against parents under plea deal.

(2) See United States v. Moody, 206 F.3d 609, 617 (6th Cir. 2000) (Wiseman, J., concurring) (referring to the not-uncommon 'race to the prosecutor's office' that breaks out among participants in an 'about-to-fall-apart' criminal conspiracy):
  • "When a conspiracy is exposed by an arrest or execution of search warrants, soon-to-be defendants know that the first one to "belly up" and tell what he knows receives the best deal. The pressure is to bargain and bargain early, even if an indictment has not been filed."

Lowlife Crook Who Ran Upstate NY Ponzi Scheme Fleecing Victims Out Of Million$ Gets 5 To 16 Years; One Disabled Victim Who Invested $1.5 Million Was Convinced To Kick In Add'l $300K By Refinancing Free & Clear Home, Now Faces Foreclosure

In Albany, New York, the Albany Times-Union reports:
  • A financial crook who amassed more than $5 million in a 13-year Ponzi scheme that preyed on investors was sentenced [] to the maximum 5⅓ to 16 years in prison as his victims demanded justice for the theft of their life savings.

    Frederick E. Monroe, 59, of Queensbury fleeced victims who ranged from his family and close friends to a grieving widow to a disabled woman — all while he lived a lavish lifestyle with their money.

    Monroe could have faced as little as 3 to 9 years behind bars for his guilty plea in December to money-laundering, grand larceny, violating the state's general business law and scheming to defraud. Instead, County Judge Peter Lynch imposed the maximum prison time allowed, effective immediately.
    ***
    [One] victim, Katherine Shelley of Warren County, invested $1.5 million with Monroe that she had been awarded from a severe 1993 injury that rendered her disabled and unable to work. Monroe later told Shelley her funds were getting low, convinced her to take out a $300,000 mortgage on a house that was already paid for and to invest the mortgage money. Now, because of Monroe's theft, she faces foreclosure.

    "As I am without any other funds," Shelley told the judge, crying, "I have been required to borrow money to pay for utilities and have been notified that my electrical services at my home will be terminated if I am unable to make up the payments that I have missed. I don't know how I can do that. I am totally disabled and unable to work. The money I provided to Mr. Monroe was what I intended to rely on to support me for the rest of my life."

Homeowner In Foreclosure Who Vacated Residence, Then Returns Months Later To Retrieve Personal Item Finds Squatter Family Comfortably Making Themselves Feel At Home

In Delaware, Ohio, WCMH-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • The house was decorated for Christmas with a family snug inside. The problem, was the homeowner had no idea they were living there, until he checked on the home he recently vacated to pick up his Christmas tree.

    It is a bizarre case of a family moving into someone else’s home, then being evicted and possibly facing charges after the real homeowner kicks them out.

    The man said he, his girlfriend and four children moved into the east side home on a quiet Delaware city street last October after renting the place.

    “I ran into a guy who wasn’t who he said he was,” said the man. NBC4 is not naming the couple who moved into the home. “He told me he was the original owner of the house and it was in foreclosure and he wanted to make money by renting it to me.”

    The man told NBC4 he paid $550 per month for rent. “We met up with this guy in the parking lot of a tavern, he had me fill out the lease then he signed it.” He said he knew that was weird but needed a place for his family.

    Delaware police initially believed the couple, bringing theft by deception charges against the yet unnamed landlord, but investigators said that story soon fell apart.

    “Potentially if the situation turns out that the folks that were living in the home were in the home not legitimately, then criminal prosecution or charges could be pressed,” said Capt. Adam Moore, with the Delaware police.

    He said this is still an open investigation and little else can be revealed. Police documents show the couple moved into the home on October 1, 2015 and were evicted on December 20.

    The man and his girlfriend said since then they have been forced to move into a homeless shelter to put a roof over their heads.

    Now the home sits idle, sold in a sheriff’s sale with the evicted family’s furniture still locked inside.

    The couple’s case is in the hands of the Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien, who could present it to a grand jury. The two could face breaking and entering and burglary charges for entering the home and using the electricity.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Buying Into A 'Trump' Building? A Brand One Can Buy Into? Better Read The Fine Print First

CNN reports:
  • J. Michael Goodson is no slouch. Remember that when you hear his claim of being duped by a Donald Trump condo project in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

    It started back in 2005 when Goodson, who lives outside Princeton, New Jersey, was looking for a part-time home to live in while doing business near Miami. He admits he was enamored with the Trump Tower in Manhattan and with the developer who built it. Trump was a brand he could buy into, both for the prestige and his belief that a Trump property, no matter where it was, was bound to return a huge financial reward.

    So in 2005, when Trump announced he was building a new Trump Tower in Fort Lauderdale, Goodson put down $345,000 to secure a sixth-floor unit right near the pool.

    "We were given a brochure that said this was the best property he had ever developed," Goodson told CNN.

    The brochure for the Trump International Hotel and Tower was actually a glossy picture book depicting the artists' rendering of a seaside tower with astounding ocean views, magnificent amenities and the Trump name throughout.

    The book even includes a personally signed letter from Trump himself, which read, "It is with great pleasure that I present my latest development, Trump International Hotel and Tower, Fort Lauderdale."

    Goodson still has that glossy book, but nothing else. Trump International Hotel and Tower was a failure.

    The project fell victim to the property slump that hit South Florida in 2008. Two years later, the failed tower was in foreclosure and no longer bore the signature name. Donald J. Trump, it turns out, was not the developer. He had licensed his name and signed on to manage the hotel. When the project developer ran out of money, Trump took his name and walked away.

    Goodson walked away with nothing to show for his $345,000 deposit and a lesson in Trump properties: When purchasing a Trump development, you better read the fine print.

    It turns out all Donald J. Trump properties are not the same. Trump has become hugely successful building a worldwide brand synonymous with the very best in luxury living. Though Trump does in fact build many of his signature properties, he and his family have made a fortune simply licensing his name. [more]
For more, including the video of the CNN news report, and highlights of a Donald Trump deposition, see Buying a Trump? Better read the fine print.

Reports Of Craigslist Rental Housing Scams Becoming More Prominent On Law Enforcement Radar

In Vancouver, Washington, The Columbian reports:
  • With housing vacancy rates in the area at extremely low levels, the Vancouver Police Department is reminding rental home hunters to watch out for rental scams.

    A commonly used scam tactic involves criminals posting homes listed as for sale as available for rent on Craigslist, unknown to the actual property owner.

    A person responds to the ad, fills out paperwork and then is asked to pay first and last month’s rent and put down a deposit.

    But then, the grifters demand payment via cashier’s check, money order or credit card, often telling would-be renters they can’t even get a look at the house before paying.

    By the time a renter goes to get the keys and discovers what happened, the scammer has left with the money, the department said. Since the contact and account information for the con men is all fake, investigators often can’t find a suspect.

    The department reminded renters that no legitimate property manager would request money and not allow a look at the home prior to making a deal. Also, the police advised homes for sale are often listed on the Web along with contact information for real estate agents, with whom searchers can check out the property’s status.

Cops Say Squatter, Craigslist Housing Rental Scam Calls Continue On The Rise

In Charlotte, North Carolina, WJZY-TV Channel 46 reports:
  • CMPD tells FOX 46 they receive up to five calls a week about possible squatter cases.

    The department says they’re working to tackle this widespread issue all over Mecklenburg county. Our crews tagged along with police as they showed us one neighborhood that's dealing with the problem.

    Officer Bill Haynes says the small community on Murry Hill Place has had a squatter case recently. People moved into a foreclosed home without lawfully owning the property or legally renting it from the owner.

    What we're finding out is that people in these abandoned houses are locating them, drilling out the locks and then posting it on Craigslist for a really good deal,” he said.

    From bogus rental agreements to breaking into houses, Detective Andrew Phillips with the Financial Crimes Unit says in the last two years, they’ve seen a rise in the number of people moving in illegally to foreclosed homes.

    According to police, some people claim they're unaware that they squatted. They say they were scammed by fake rental agreements.

    "Provided all kinds of false documentation because of everything they're told about it is a complete lie. Then the owner can charge for breaking and entering and trespassing,” Phillips said.

    Detective Phillips says sometimes squatters are scammed by fake craigslist ads. But in most cases, people squatting are intentionally trespassing.

New Empirical Study By Academia On Craigslist Housing Rental Scams Says Online Service Fails To Delete Most Suspicious Listings

IT World, a provider of technology news, reports:
  • Craigslist, the popular online listings service, has waged a long fight against scammers, but a new academic study suggests it's been losing the battle.

    The study focused on listings for housing rentals, and found that Craigslist failed to remove a majority of those that were fraudulent.

    The researchers analyzed two million ads over a five-month period in 2014 and determined that Craigslist had flagged and removed fewer than half the listings that likely weren't genuine.

    Victims sometimes proceed even if a deal looks too good to be true, convinced by confident reassurances from the scammers, said Damon McCoy, an assistant professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at New York University and one of the study's authors.

    "By the tens of thousands of ads that we found, [the scammers] are clearly successful at making money," he said in an interview ... .
For more, see More than half of suspicious real estate ads are never flagged for removal by Craigslist.

For the study, see Understanding Craigslist Rental Scams:
  • From the abstract:

    Fraudulently posted online rental listings, rental scams, have been frequently reported by users. However, our understanding of the structure of rental scams is limited.

    In this paper, we conduct the first systematic empirical study of online rental scams on Craigslist. This study is enabled by a suite of techniques that allowed us to identify scam campaigns and our automated system that is able to collect additional information by conversing with scammers. Our measurement study sheds new light on the broad range of strategies different scam campaigns employ and the infrastructure they depend on to profit.

    We find that many of these strategies, such as credit report scams, are structurally different from the traditional advanced fee fraud found in previous studies. In addition, we find that Craigslist remove less than half of the suspicious listings we detected.

    Finally, we find that many of the larger-scale campaigns we detected depend on credit card payments, suggesting that a payment level intervention might effectively demonetize them.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Title Agency Owner Shows Off His 'Inner Sherlock Holmes' By Teaming Up w/ Cops To Bag Title Hijacker In Attempted Deed Snatching; Closing Table Proceedings Caught On Planted Surveillance Cameras; 6-Year Gap Between Mortgage Payoff & Lien Satisfaction Recording Date Raised Red Flags

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, WTVJ-TV Channel 6 reports:
  • Surveillance cameras were recording the action at Independence Title in Fort Lauderdale earlier this month. The cameras caught what on the surface looks like a typical closing on a Broward County property. But Fort Lauderdale Police believe the cameras caught a crime underway.

    It started as an average sale of a house. A prospective buyer found a property in Broward County he wanted to buy. The seller appeared on documents to be a trust run by Henry Ferguson, 43, of Fort Lauderdale.

    The closing got underway like most do with the necessary paperwork given to Independence Title and its owner, Kevin Tacher. One document showed the mortgage had been paid off and the other was the signed and notarized warranty deed. Tacher said he immediately saw red flags.

    Tacher said he first got suspicious when he saw a six-year gap between when the mortgage had been paid and when the document was recorded with the clerk's office.

    "The more research we did on this, the more we uncovered that just didn't make sense," Tacher said.

    He said he asked Ferguson to be able to speak to the original homeowner, Dwayne Fletcher, in order to sign the deed again, but was told he was hard to reach.

    Tacher said that's when he started to search for Fletcher himself. He said he found Fletcher where he currently lives in Port St. Lucie.

    "I was kind of really surprised. Yes, absolutely," Dwayne Fletcher said about his first phone call from Tacher.

    Tacher sent Fletcher one of the documents he had received from Ferguson. "His answer to us was, 'What are you talking about? I never signed that deed. So there's nothing for me to resign,'"

    Tacher said. Tacher then showed Fletcher the signature on the document. Fletcher told him the signature definitely wasn't his. "A million percent," Fletcher said.

    "The property was actually stolen from him without his knowledge," Tacher said about Fletcher's former home.

    Tacher contacted the FBI and Fort Lauderdale Police who filled in some of the gaps about Henry Ferguson. Ferguson had been released from prison in 2011 after serving ten years for armed robbery and other charges. He's on probation until 2031.

    Tacher then had a decision to make about how to move forward.

    "It took me a day or two to think about it and I finally decided I had to do what was right," Tacher said. "We're in business to prevent things like this from happening. We had to weigh the options about do we worry about this person coming in and the safety of our staff and our family? Or do we do the right thing? And the right thing was making sure they can get this person."

    While police detectives watched through surveillance cameras, Tacher invited Ferguson to the office to close on the deal.

    When Ferguson walked out of the title company, he may have expected a $75,000 profit on the sale of the home. Instead, police took him into custody.
For more, including the video of the local news report, see Title Company Owner Turns Detective to Uncover Fraud Case.

Search Ongoing For Mom/Son Duo For Allegedly Snatching Possession Of Vacant Foreclosed Homes Throughout South Jersey, Then Selling/Renting Them To 20+ Unwitting Buyers/Renters; Woman's History Includes Real Estate License Revocation For Misappropriating Clients' Funds

In Camden, New Jersey, the Courier-Post reports:
  • Authorities say a Philadelphia woman and her son may have duped more than 20 people into turning over cash for bogus real estate transactions across South Jersey.

    Lisa Smith, 51, entered foreclosed properties unlawfully, then posed as a real estate agent to purportedly sell or lease the properties to unwitting consumers, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office alleges.

    She allegedly took checks worth $27,500 and $18,000 from people seeking to buy homes for cash in Sicklerville and Camden, respectively, in April 2015.

    “Neither victim obtained the property they were attempting to purchase nor received their money back,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

    Another victim allegedly paid $3,000 in September 2015 to rent a foreclosed property in Sicklerville.

    Some victims realized their formerly vacant homes no longer had plumbing only when they attempted to move in, the prosecutor's office said.

    Smith is charged with three counts of theft by deception, but investigators are seeking additional victims. She and her son, Kristian "Frank" Edmonds, 28, also face burglary charges for allegedly entering foreclosed houses without authorization.

    An investigation has identified more than 20 potential victims in the tri-county area, the prosecutor’s office said. “Charges are pending further investigation in many of these cases," it said.

    Authorities said Smith, who also uses the name Lisa Edmonds, posed as a real estate agent and created a phony purchase agreement for two properties in foreclosure. According to state records, Smith’s real estate license and her eligibility for a broker’s license were revoked for life in March 2010.

    At that time, the state Real Estate Commission found Smith had misappropriated clients' funds, had made false statements to a client and had issued a bad check, among other offenses.

    According to the prosecutor's office, Smith and her son, whose last known address was in Sicklerville, entered foreclosed properties “by unlawfully using keys from real estate lockboxes or having the properties re-keyed.” Edmonds allegedly posed as a real estate agent while inside a foreclosed property in Winslow, it said.

    Warrants for each suspect were outstanding on Thursday.

    The transactions were conducted under the name of REQ (Real Estate Queens) Realtors in Turnersville and Sterling Realty Investments in Philadelphia. They also were affiliated with two Collingswood firms — Angel Home Savers and Breeze Capital Consulting Group.

    Sterling Realty had its business license revoked by the state for not filing reports in 2009. REQ Realtors has no business filings with the state.

    Anyone who believes they were a victim of these companies or suspects is asked to call Prosecutor’s Detective Grace Clodfelter at (856) 225-8479. Information may also be emailed to ccpotips@ccprosecutor.org.

County Recorder Offices Continue Efforts To Protect Property Owners Against Scammers Using Forged Land Documents To Snatch & Otherwise Cloud Real Estate Titles

In Madison County, Illinois, The Edwardsville Intelligencer reports:
  • It’s all too easy for someone to record a fraudulent deed that makes it appear that the person who filed the deed actually owns your home.

    It can have the effect of allowing the fraudster to use the actual homeowner’s name on a mortgage. Even worse, they could try to sell your home to an unwitting buyer.

    And according to FBI statistics, property record fraud is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the U.S.

    In an effort to reverse that trend, Madison County Recorder Amy Meyer has been encouraging homeowners to sign up for Property Fraud Alerts, which notifies them whenever any document is recorded against their property with their name on it.

    And the number of homeowners signing up for those alerts has been growing steadily in the recent months.

    Homeowners need only provide the Recorders office with their name, how they would like to be contacted, and a description of their property. Then when any paperwork is filed or recorded in the Recorder’s office pertaining to that property, the owner will be notified about it, Meyer said.

    Meyer has been working with Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons to let people know that property record fraud is a crime.
    ***
    In January, 142 signed up to receive “Property Fraud Alerts.” “That’s really an amazing number,” Meyer said. And so far in February, 51 people have signed up, she said.

    The recorder’s office first offered the program in 2008. Meyer was elected recorder four years later. The following year – 2013 - 75 people signed up for Property Fraud Alerts, followed by 80 in 2014. In the first eight months of 2015, 111 people signed up for the program. Then, in September, Meyer began mailing the fliers to new property owners and speaking about the issue to local groups. From Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2015, nearly 400 people subscribed to the program.

    In 2013, the State’s Attorney’s office filed charges against a St. Charles, Mo., man for filing a false lien on properties that US Bank had foreclosed on and sold to someone else. He was sentenced to a year’s probation for attempting to file unlawfully cloud a title, a misdemeanor. Two additional cases have been filed, both of which are pending.

    A mechanic’s lien serves to “cloud” a title to the property, which effectively prevents the homeowner from transferring it to someone else.

    Meyer says she’s hopeful that educating homeowners and cracking down on cheaters will help slow down property record fraud. “The idea is to not just prevent it or recognize it when it potentially does happen, but to prevent potential fraudsters from coming in here and looking at us as a target,” Meyer said.

    Interested residents can sign up for the alerts [here].
Source: Property record fraud a fast growing crime (Alert system available through Madison County Recorder's Office). hijack

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reminder To Florida Trial Judges On Reestablishment Of Lost Notes: No Entry Of Judgment Allowed Until Person Required To Pay On Instrument Is Adequately Protected Against Risk Of Loss Of Double Payment

A recent ruling by a Florida appeals court serves as a reminder to all trial judges in foreclosure cases that, when a bankster claims to have lost the promissory note it seeks to enforce, and is able to provide sufficient evidence to prove entitlement to reestablish a lost note, a trial judge still cannot enter a final judgment in the bankster's favor without first providing adequate protection to the property owner as mandated by Fla. Sta. § 673.3091.

The protection is against the possibility that the lost note turns up in another party's hands, and that party attempts to enforce the note (essentially, making the property owner pay twice).

From the ruling:
  • (2) A person seeking enforcement of an instrument under subsection (1) must prove the terms of the instrument and the person's right to enforce the instrument. If that proof is made, s. 673.3081 applies to the case as if the person seeking enforcement had produced the instrument. The court may not enter judgment in favor of the person seeking enforcement unless it finds that the person required to pay the instrument is adequately protected against loss that might occur by reason of a claim by another person to enforce the instrument. Adequate protection may be provided by any reasonable means. § 673.3091, Fla. Stat. (2014) (emphasis added).

    As this statutory language makes clear, and contrary to the Blitches' argument here, adequate protection is not an element of the Bank's prima facie case. Instead, it is a post-proof condition of the entry of the final judgment. See Fifth Third Bank v. Alaedin & Majdi Invs., Inc., No. 8:11-CV-2206-T-17TBM, 2012 WL 1137104, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 4, 2012) (noting that after the plaintiff showed that it was entitled to enforce the note at the time it lost the note, "the Court is required to address the issue of providing adequate protection to the defaulting party against loss that might occur if a claim were brought by another party to enforce the instrument"); see also Correa v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 118 So. 3d 952, 956 n.2 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) (stating that "[i]f the court is concerned that another person might attempt to enforce the original note, it may require security in favor of the payor to ensure adequate protection" (emphasis added)); Beaumont v. Bank of New York Mellon, 81 So. 3d 553, 555 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012) (after discussing the deficiencies in the bank's proof, stating "[t]he trial court was also required to address the issue of providing adequate protection to Beaumont" (emphasis added)).

    Because the court's consideration of the issue of adequate protection is a condition of entering a judgment that reestablishes a lost note, its failure to provide adequate protection, or to make a finding that none is needed under the circumstances, requires reversal and remand for the court to consider the issue. See Delia v. GMAC Mortg. Corp., 161 So. 3d 554, 556 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014).

    Generally this post-proof condition is satisfied through a written indemnification agreement in the final judgment, the posting of a surety bond, a letter of credit, a deposit of cash collateral with the court, or "[s]uch other security as the court may deem appropriate under the circumstances." § 702.11(1)(e), Fla. Stat. (2014).

    Here, the Bank proved at the bench trial that (1) it was entitled to enforce the note when the loss of possession occurred; (2) the loss of possession was not due to a valid transfer or lawful seizure; and (3) it could no longer reasonably obtain possession of the note because it was lost while in the possession of its first law firm, which is no longer in existence. The Bank also presented evidence to establish the terms of the note and that it had the right to enforce it when it was lost. This evidence was sufficient to show that the Bank was entitled to reestablishment of the lost note.

    However, the trial court made no provision for adequate protection of the Blitches in the final judgment, nor did it determine that adequate protection was unnecessary in this case. This omission requires us to reverse the final judgment and remand for further proceedings, at which the court must address the means by which the Bank must satisfy this post-proof condition.
For the ruling, see Blitch v. Freedom Mortgage Corporation, No. 2D14-4398 (Fla. App.2nd DCA, February 5, 2016).

Editor's Note:

Question for the Day:

For all those past foreclosure judgments that have been entered in "lost note" cases that ended up in a foreclosure sale, where no adequate protection against the risk of double payment was given to the homeowner, are those foreclosure sales VOID, or are they MERELY VOIDABLE???

Since there was no foreclosure sale in this case, the point was a non-issue here.

Florida Appeals Court: "Precise Identity Of Each Entity In The Chain Of Transfers Is Crucial" When Bankster Is A 'Nonholder In Possession' Attempting To Foreclose On Note Containing 'Special Indorsement'

From a recent client alert from the law firm Maurice Wutscher LLP:
  • The District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida, Fourth District, recently affirmed the dismissal of a mortgage foreclosure action because the mortgagee failed to present competent, substantial evidence that it had standing to foreclose, due to lack of conformity between the name of the plaintiff mortgagee and the names in the transactional documentation by which the plaintiff mortgagee claimed an interest in the note at issue. [...] The promissory note contained a special indorsement in favor of the mortgagee's predecessor in interest, as trustee.(1)

For the court ruling, see Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, NA v. Conley, No. 4D14-2430 (Fla. App. 4th DCA, January 6, 2016).
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(1) From the court ruling:
  • In this foreclosure case, the trial court granted the borrower's motion for involuntary dismissal because the bank did not present competent substantial evidence of its standing to foreclose. We affirm.

    The record in this case reveals that, at one time or another, at least six different banking entities claimed ownership of the borrower's note. The problem is not the number of entities claiming ownership, but the similarities of their names. Two of the entities are:

    • JP Morgan Chase Bank; and
    • JP Morgan Chase & Co.

     Two others are:

    • Bank of New York Company, Inc.; and
    • The Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, National Association

     We write to emphasize that when a nonholder in possession attempts to establish its right to enforce a note, and thus its standing to foreclose, the precise identity of each entity in the chain of transfers is crucial.

    At bar, the plaintiff is:

    The Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, National Association fka The Bank of New York Trust Company, N.A. as Successor to JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. as Trustee for RASC 2004KS4 [hereinafter "the Bank of New York Mellon"].

    In pursuit of this foreclosure, the Bank of New York Mellon presented an original note bearing a special indorsement in favor of "JP Morgan Chase Bank, as Trustee."

Central Florida Homeowner On Beating Standing-Lacking, Foreclosing Bankster: "I Haven’t Gotten A Phone Call Or Foreclosure Notice In Years!"

In Central Florida, WKMG-TV Channel 6 reports:
  • A handful of Central Florida homeowners have defied the odds doing what most people only dream of: they walked away from their mortgage.

    Audrey Sterling battled foreclosure for 8 years first filing bankruptcy then challenging the fifth lender to hold her mortgage, Nationstar Bank, to produce the “original promissory note.”

    I haven’t gotten a phone call or foreclosure notice in years," she said.

    Sterling says the bank couldn’t prove they had a right or “standing” to collect on the mortgage because they couldn’t produce the signed note. It was never assigned from the previous lender.

    Under Florida Statute 702.015 the lender must produce the “original note” or “promissory note” not a copy.

    While banks will fight and appeal that strategy for years those consumers willing to endure the emotional toll could end up like Sterling living in the place she’s called home for the last 10 years with no monthly mortgage and no debt collectors at her door.

    “Once you learn the system and what they’re doing it makes sense, and that’s how I learned how to get them.”
For more, see Homeowners become mortgage-free for life (Local homeowners beat the banks on technicality).

Sunday, February 21, 2016

'Who's Got My $100K+ Real Estate Deposit?" Disgraced Ex-Cop Suspects Feds Executed Drug Forfeiture Snatch Shortly Before Being Arrested; His Attorney Acknowledges That Real Estate Broker Currently Facing Charges Of Looting Escrow Account May Have Pocketed The Cash

On St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, The Virgin Islands Daily News reports:
  • Former V.I. Police Sgt. Jerome Blyden wants to know what happened to thousands of dollars he had paid towards the purchase of property before his 2009 arrest by federal agents.

    Blyden, who spent five years in prison after being convicted of trying to kill a man, says he believes federal authorities seized more than $100,000 he had paid into a real estate escrow account in the months leading up to his arrest in October 2009. “They claimed that I tried to use drug money to buy a house,” he said last week. “When they seized the money they also put a forfeiture clause in the charges.”

    He argues that authorities would not have included the forfeiture clause if they hadn’t put a hold on the funds.

    Blyden, who lives on St. Thomas, has repeatedly filed motions asking the court to help him recover the missing money.

    However, an October ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller says that “the court is not persuaded that the government is still in possession of any other property seized from Blyden and sought in Blyden’s various motions for the return of property.”

    The order noted that “the government represented that it did not have either the $93,000 or the $12,500 that Blyden contends was in an escrow account.”

    Blyden’s arrest and conviction made headlines, with allegations of illegal narcotics distribution, unlawful gambling related to dogfighting and acts of violence, including a May 24, 2004, shooting. Some charges were later dropped by the court, and he was acquitted of all other charges except assault with a dangerous weapon.

    The money Blyden paid for the real estate also links him with one of the top territory crime stories of 2010 — the indictment and flight of real estate agent Rosemary Sauter-Frett.

    Sauter-Frett is accused of fleeing the Virgin Islands to avoid prosecution for charges that she embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from customers of her Re/Max Dreams Properties real estate firm.

    Sauter-Frett controlled the escrow account into which Blyden’s money was deposited, Sauter-Frett controlled the escrow account into which Blyden’s money was deposited, and a post-conviction letter to him from his attorney, Treston Moore, mentions the possibility that Sauter-Frett absconded with the funds in a letter filed as an exhibit in one of Blyden’s motions.

    Referring to his conversations with federal authorities on Blyden’s behalf, Moore wrote: “I asked about everything else and they agreed to check for more materials on their end, but I am also working with Assistant U.S. Attorney (Nolan) Paige to see if they got your down payment before Ms. Sauter absconded with all of her real estate clients’ escrow funds. You better hope they did since she still hasn’t been found!

    Sauter-Frett was captured in 2014, living near San Diego, and she is now back in the territory, free on bail and awaiting trial. She could not be reached for comment about Blyden’s funds. Moore did not respond to questions about Blyden’s money.

    Blyden accepts that some might assume Sauter-Frett took his money instead of it being seized by the feds, but he said it doesn’t make sense to him because of the money laundering charge and the federal forfeiture allegation.

    “You can’t ignore the fact that when I was charged, a forfeiture stipulation was included,” he said.
For more, see Disgraced cop wants to know who has his money (Attorney raised possibility it disappeared with Sauter-Frett).

Hollywood Star Battles To Wrestle Away Aunt's $2.8 Million NYC Apartment In Effort To Collect On Uncle's $1 Million Debt

In New York City, TMZ reports:
  • Shia LaBeouf and his mom are so determined to get back the money he loaned his uncle, they're willing to kick him and his wife out of their home ... according to his aunt.

    Shia's aunt, Sharon Saide, just filed legal docs saying she's the sole owner of the Upper East Side apartment Shia's been trying to take to settle the debt her husband owes.

    According to docs, in 2013 the courts ordered Uncle Barry to pay back $840k. Shia had loaned him the money in 2009 to cover business expenses. The sum has ballooned with interest to nearly $1 million.

    Sharon says the deed to the apartment is in her name because it was purchased mostly with her inheritance money, and Barry's name isn't on the deed. Her point is Shia can't take it to cover Barry's debt.

    She also says the apartment's worth $2.8 million -- way more than what Barry owes -- and her nephew is just trying to "intimidate and pressure" them into giving up the property.

Some Residents Of Once-Grand, Now Rat-Infested Six-Story Art Deco South Bronx Building Declare Organized Rent Strike; Risking Eviction, Group Looks To Turn The Tables On Foreclosure-Facing Landlord By Financially Squeezing Him In Campaign To Give Him The Boot

In The Bronx, New York, DNAinfo New York reports:
  • Residents of a rodent-infested Grand Concourse building are refusing to pay their rent in protest of their living conditions and as a bid to prevent the current owner from keeping control of the property during foreclosure, they told DNAinfo New York.

    The tenants began their rent strike on Feb. 1, and tenant leader Carmen Vega-Rivera cited struggles they have had with rodents, elevators, and heat and hot water as justification for withholding money.

    The building is owned by Tiny Fiesta Realty, and tenants have been battling with them over making repairs to the building for years, according to the housing group CASA, which is helping tenants with the rent strike.

    "Their plan was never to maintain this building or preserve it," Vega-Rivera said of Tiny Fiesta. "Their goal was to fill their pockets with dollars at any cost, and the cost right now is that the tenants are suffering."

    Louis and Jonathan Bombart, partners at Tiny Fiesta Realty, did not respond to requests for comment.

    The building owners are currently going through a foreclosure case centered on $7 million they owe to Capital One, according to court documents.

    According to attorney Bob Hammond of Legal Services NYC,(1) who is helping the tenants with the strike, the rent protest is also intended to make it more difficult for the owner to hold onto 888 Grand Concourse.

    "It ties up his income and makes things fiscally more difficult for him," Hammond said, "and hopefully reduces his options when it comes to retaining the building."

    "We’re hoping that the rent strike will send a very forceful message," echoed Vega-Rivera. "We’re hoping that others will join to say we definitely want you out. We want another landlord and not a speculator, not a gentrifying landlord."

    About 16 tenants have signed up to take part in the strike so far, according to Vega-Rivera, who is hopeful that more will join.

    "We’re all tired," tenant Eloy Santana said in a statement. "Waking up in the morning and not being able to take a shower, that’s what did it for me."

    888 Grand Concourse has run afoul of oversight organizations before. It appears on Public Advocate Letitia James' Landlord Watchlist and is also part of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development's Alternative Enforcement Program, a designation reserved for particularly troubling buildings.(2)

    Hammond said the rent strike was due to go on "indefinitely" and that Legal Services NYC would stick by the tenants for as long as they needed them.

    "It remains to be seen whether or not tenants will actually be brought to court," he said. "We’ll be there to defend them, Legal Services, until either the judge says that we have to pay a certain amount of money or until the building is transferred. That’s how long this is going to last."
Source: Tenants of Rat-Infested Grand Concourse Building Hold Rent Strike.
-----------------------
(1) Legal Services NYC is a non-profit provider of free civil legal services for the poor with offices and outreach sites throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

(2) See generally, New York Daily News: Art Deco Bronx building falling apart and landlord not doing a thing to stop it: residents (More than a dozen tenants at 888 Grand Concourse, which has 341 open housing violations, plan to file a motion of contempt against landlord Louis Bombart).

Caller I.D. 'Spoofing' Scam Now Targeting Those Who've Recently Filed Bankruptcy

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • Amid nationwide reports of fraud, Attorney General Maura Healey is warning consumers of a scam targeting those in bankruptcy in an effort to steal their money.

    “This scam preys on well-meaning people who are going through a very difficult time and are often under significant stress,” AG Healey said. “While these scams may sound authentic, people should be wary of any unsolicited requests for an immediate transfer of money.”

    Consumers who have filed for bankruptcy or have begun the process of filing for bankruptcy are being targeted by a scam that requests the immediate wire transfer of money to satisfy their debts.

    The scheme is typically perpetrated by individuals posing as the consumer’s attorney. Using a technique called “spoofing,” which is increasingly being used in phone scams, the scammers are able to make their phone number appear to be that of the consumer’s actual attorney on caller ID. The scammers contact the consumer with instructions to immediately send a wire transfer that will satisfy their debts outside of the bankruptcy proceedings. During the call, the scammers may use personal information to make the scheme sound more authentic.

    The fraudulent phone calls are typically placed during nonbusiness hours, presumably to dissuade the consumer from contacting their attorney. This can make confirming the legitimacy of the caller more difficult.

    Consumers who receive these calls are advised to hang up and contact their bankruptcy attorney. If a wire transaction is made, consumers are advised to contact the wire transfer agency used. Unfortunately, there may be little recourse to get the money back.
Source: AG Healey Warns of Bankruptcy Transfer Scam (Bankruptcy Filers are Reportedly Being Targeted to Wire Money to Satisfy Debts).