Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Georgia Supremes Unanimously Slam Shut 'Super Lien' Racket That Allowed Sneaky Real Estate Operators To Swiftly Snatch Away Homes From Homeowners Falling Behind On Their Property Taxes

In Atlanta, Georgia, the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
  • Georgia homeowners who fall behind on their property taxes now have a new protection. No longer can cunning investors quickly snatch away their homes and everything the owners had paid on it.

    For years, such investors and their attorneys, armed with only a piddling second unpaid bill, used a loophole in Georgia law to override safeguards designed to help struggling taxpayers. The maneuver was so powerful it was dubbed a “super lien.”

    But this month, a Georgia Supreme Court decision stripped the super lien of its super powers. Homeowners still gripped in the process may get immediate relief.

    “I think this party’s over,” said Hugh Wood, a real estate attorney who has defended clients against super liens. “I don’t think they’re going to game the system anymore, because they can’t guarantee that they will get the land and the excess proceeds. It’s too dangerous.”

    A 2013 investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposed how several Atlanta law firms, working on behalf of investors, had put such claims against hundreds of properties. The practice was based on a series of court decisions between 2003 and 2010.

    It would happen so fast, homeowners often didn’t know what hit them.

    Jessica Sims and her brother, James Davis, lost their late father’s Cherokee County home three years ago after $14,000 in taxes went unpaid and a Florida company called Trintec imposed a super lien. They said the company used an outside debt to do it — their uncle’s unpaid medical bill, since he was a part-owner in the property.

    Sims and Davis hired an attorney to challege the action but ended up settling for a fraction of the home’s value. After paying their attorney’s fee, they said, they wound up with $5,000 each for a house valued at more than $200,000.

    “It feels like losing hope,” Sims said. “I’m a single mom with a special needs child, and I do it by myself. So that was my little bit of hope, that I would be able to provide something for her for the future.”

    Critics accused such investors of exploiting homeowners in dire straits — particularly the sick and the elderly — who may not understand Georgia’s convoluted foreclosure laws.

    I call them pirates,” said attorney Mark Thompson, who waged a successful argument against the process before the state Supreme Court. “The result that they’re trying to achieve is extremely inequitable, and it provides a financial bonanza for the pirates.”

    [...]

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