Saturday, May 07, 2016

Creepy Assistant Property Manager To Cost Landlord $125K To Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Brought By Two Female Tenants, Non-Profit Fair Housing Agency

In Novato, California, Bay City News Service reports:
  • Two Novato women and a nonprofit group that took up their cause have won a $125,000 settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the former assistant manager and landlord of their apartment building.

    Apartment residents Elizabel Hernandez and Elida Calderon and Fair Housing of Marin(1) filed the lawsuit against Victor Juan Untiveros and the owner of the Elm Drive Apartments in federal court in San Francisco in October. A notice of the settlement was filed in court [last month].

    Both women alleged that Untiveros made unwanted sexual advances toward them at various times in 2014. Hernandez also alleged that he made lewd sexual remarks and derogatory comments, and Calderon alleged he used his master key to enter her apartment without notice several times, when she was either alone or not at home.

    The former owner, 4th and Elm LLC, sold the complex in November and Untiveros no longer works or lives there, according to court documents. The former owner's lawyer was not available for comment on the settlement.

    The company did not admit to any liability in the agreement, according to Fair Housing of Marin Executive Director Caroline Peattie.

    Peattie said [] the two women and Fair Housing of Marin will each receive $24,000 in the settlement. The remaining $53,000 will pay the organization's attorney's fees and costs.

    Peattie praised the two women's courage in coming forward with complaints about the harassment. "Sexual harassment can be a terrifying experience. This case shows you can do something about it," she said.

    The lawsuit alleged violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and related state laws.

    Untiveros was previously the subject of another sexual harassment complaint filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in 2013 by another female tenant of the apartment building. That complaint was settled in a confidential agreement, Peattie said.
Source: Novato Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Settles for $125,000 (Two Novato women and a nonprofit group have won a settlement in the case that stems back to 2014, according to court documents).

See also, Fair Housing of Marin and Two Plaintiffs Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuit.
(1) Fair Housing of Marin is a non-profit organization serving several California Bay Area counties that provides free counseling, enforcement, mediation, and legal or administrative referrals to persons experiencing housing discrimination. Fair Housing of Marin also offers foreclosure prevention counseling.

Female Tenant, Family To Pocket $24,600 Fair Housing Settlement To Resolve Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Property Manager

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development recently announced:
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] that it has settled a Fair Housing Act suit against a South Dakota property manager. The Consent Order resolves a claim that the property manager sexually harassed a female tenant. Read the Consent Order here.

    The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. Sexual harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination.
    The Consent Order was entered by a HUD administrative law judge on April 8, 2016. Respondents Carrol Goodsell, a South Dakota property manager, and his company, Goodsell General Contracting, LLC, admitted no liability in agreeing to the settlement. Under the terms of the agreement, respondents will pay $24,600 to the female complainant and her family, including her two children and her boyfriend. Respondents also agreed to utilize a third-party to interact with tenants, attend fair housing training, and adopt and distribute a written policy against sexual harassment to current and future tenants.

Tenant w/ Mobility Disability To Pocket $10K To Settle Fair Housing Allegations That Landlord Retaliated Against Her By Refusing Lease Renewal After Repeated Requests For Ramp Installation

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development recently announced:
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] an agreement with a group of Las Vegas landlords settling allegations they retaliated against a tenant with disabilities because she requested permission to install a ramp that would allow her to enter and exit her apartment. Read the agreement.

    The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from retaliating against residents with disabilities who request reasonable accommodations in policies or practices. Additionally, the law makes it illegal to make housing unavailable to any person because of a disability.

    “Reasonable modifications don’t constitute special treatment and are essential to enabling persons with disabilities to fully enjoy their homes,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Today’s settlement represents HUD’s ongoing commitment to taking action when landlords treat persons with disabilities unfairly just because they asked for a modification or accommodation they were entitled to.”

    The case came to HUD’s attention after the tenant, who has a mobility disability, filed a complaint alleging that the owners and managers of Las Vegas Manor Apartments and their on-site agents refused to renew her lease in retaliation for making a request for the installation of a ramp.

    The tenant alleged that she made repeated requests to the owners for a ramp, which they generally provided to tenants free of charge. The owners eventually agreed to install the ramp, but soon after installing it, they refused to renew the tenant’s lease. During HUD’s investigation, one of the owners’ agents indicated that he objected to the tenant’s manner of requesting the ramp and, because of that, opted not to renew her lease.

    Under the terms of the Conciliation Agreement, the owners and operators of Las Vegas Manor Apartments will pay the woman $10,000, obtain fair housing training, adopt a HUD-approved reasonable accommodation policy, and post a fair housing poster in the public area of the subject property.

    Last year, disability was the most common basis of fair housing complaints filed with HUD and Fair Housing Assistance Program agencies (HUD partners,) cited as a basis for more than half, or nearly 55 percent, of all complaints.

    People who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple and Android devices.

Another Landlord Finds Himself In HUD Hot Water; Allegedly Refused To Rent Apartment To Massachusetts Man, Pregnant Wife & 2-Year Old Child Over Presence Of Lead Paint In Pre-1978-Built 4-Unit Home

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development ("HUD") recently announced:
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] that it is charging the owner of a Springfield, Massachusetts rental property with violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent an apartment to a husband and wife with children. The landlord was also charged with printing discriminatory statements in his lease and retaliating against the family after they complained. Read HUD’s charge.

    The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to deny or limit housing because a family has children under the age of 18, to make statements that discriminate against families with children, and to retaliate against any person for exercising rights under the Fair Housing Act.
    HUD’s discrimination charge comes after the parents of a two-year-old child filed a complaint with HUD claiming that the landlord denied them the opportunity to rent an apartment in the four-unit property because, according to the landlord, the property contained lead hazards and was therefore unsuitable for children under the age of six. The complainants were already residing in an apartment in the building with the wife’s mother at the time they attempted to rent their own apartment.

    The charge alleges that the landlord told the family that he would not rent an apartment to them because they had a child under the age of six and were also expecting another baby. The charge further alleges that the landlord had a policy prohibiting children younger than six from residing on the premises and requiring pregnant women to notify the landlord and vacate their apartment.

    The charge alleges that almost immediately after the complainants filed their complaint with HUD, the landlord began eviction proceedings against them and the wife’s mother.

    HUD guidance on lead paint and Fair Housing Act requirements makes it clear that while property owners may tell families about housing units that have not been remediated for lead paint, the presence of lead-based paint cannot be used as a reason to refuse to rent. In addition, Massachusetts state law requires owners to remediate lead when a child occupies a unit built before 1978. The Lead Law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 where any children under six live.
Source: HUD Charges Massachusetts Landlord With Discrimination Against Families With Children (Families with children refused housing; women who became pregnant evicted).

NC Bank Agrees To Invest $1 Million In Predominantly Minority Neighborhoods To Resolve Allegations It Engaged In Discriminatory Lending Practices Against Minority Applicants

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development recently announced:
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] a $1 million agreement between the Fair Housing Project of North Carolina Legal Aid and North Carolina-based Fidelity Bank to resolve allegations the mortgage lender engaged in unfair lending practices against minority applicants. Read the agreement.

    The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to make housing unavailable or to discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale of a dwelling because of race. The Fair Housing Act also makes it unlawful for any person or entity whose business includes residential real estate-related transactions to discriminate in these transactions, or terms or conditions, because of race. Banks and other lenders are prohibited from discriminating with respect to home mortgage loans.

    Whether intentional or not, stark disparities exist in lending patterns and access to credit along racial and ethnic lines,” said HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Gustavo Velasquez. “HUD remains committed to not only enforcing the law, but also facilitating productive relationships between lenders and advocacy groups that help make lenders more aware of their obligations under the Fair Housing Act.”

    The Conciliation Agreement stems from a complaint that was filed by the Fair Housing Project, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc., a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program agency based in Raleigh, alleging that the bank denied or made housing and home mortgage loans unavailable because of race.(1)

    Under the agreement, Fidelity will make investments and community development loans in predominantly minority census tracts where at least 40 percent of these loans will specifically promote affordable housing. For this purpose, the Bank has committed to earmarking at least $500,000 each year for two years, for a total of $1 million.
Source: HUD Announces Agreement With Fidelity Bank To Resolve Allegations Of Unfair Lending Practices (Lender will invest $1 million in predominately minority neighborhoods).
(1) As a part of the non-profit law firm Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), the Fair Housing Project provides legal representation, advice, referrals, and information to individuals statewide who have experienced housing discrimination. Legal services are provided both through local LANC offices as well as through the Project’s full-time staff.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Montana Supremes Affirm $426K In Damages, Attorney Fee Award Against Sleazy Loan Servicer For Jerking Around Homeowner-Couple Regarding Their Loan Modification Request

In Helena, Montana, The Associated Press reports:
  • The Montana Supreme Court has upheld $426,000 in damages and attorney's fees awarded to a couple who sued a loan servicing company alleging it violated federal and state laws in repeatedly trying to foreclose on their house.

    The total award includes damages and attorney's fees awarded because Bayview Loan Servicing LLC of Coral Gables, Florida — despite losing their case — notified Robin and Kathleen Jacobson that it was adding over $50,000 of its attorney's fees to their mortgage.

    "We do not find error with the District Court's damage award because it is reasonable compensation for the substantial injury and financial detriment suffered by the Jacobsons," state Supreme Court Justice Michael Wheat wrote in the 5-0 ruling Wednesday.

    The decision sends the case back to District Court for determination of attorney's fees incurred by the Jacobsons in defending the judgment before the state Supreme Court.

    The justices suggested the District Court "take the opportunity" to assess any additional late charges or interest that accumulated on the debt from the November 2013 trial until the lower court issues its final order.

    The Jacobsons' problems with Bayview haven't ended, the couple's attorney, Ray Kuntz, said Thursday. They can't determine from county records to whom they should be making their mortgage payments and on Tuesday, Bayview sent them another default notice, Kuntz said.

    A spokesman for Bayview Asset Management did not immediately return a phone call or email from The Associated Press Thursday seeking comment.

    The Jacobsons borrowed just over $390,000 from CitiMortgage to buy land and a house in Carbon County in 2007, court records said.

    The 2008 financial crisis hurt Robin Jacobson's business as a home builder and the couple missed a mortgage payment in December 2008. CitiMortgage agreed to defer the missed payment and interest to the end of the loan.

    In March 2009, CitiMortgage transferred loan servicing to Bayview, which soon sent a default notice.

    Over the next several years Bayview encouraged the Jacobsons not to make mortgage payments so they could qualify for a loan modification, made false promises to them about modifying their loan and then misinformed them about their rights, court documents said.

    Bayview again moved to foreclose in 2010 and the couple sought a court order to cancel the sale. The Jacobsons sued, claiming Bayview's actions violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Montana Consumer Protection Act.

    Bayview argued it didn't violate any laws because no foreclosure sale took place.

    Jones ruled in favor of the Jacobsons in 2014 and ordered Bayview pay $172,600 in damages for the interest and late fees Bayview purported to add to the couple's mortgage, along with $109,000 in attorney's fees.

    Jones awarded an additional $60,000 in damages and $31,000 in attorney's fees for Bayview's two post-trial attempts to collect their attorney's fees.

    After the first post-trial violation, Jones said he warned the company that any further violations will lead to additional sanctions, including the possible cancellation of the loan.

Two Wrongful Foreclosure Cases: Missouri Appeals Court Affirms $3+ Million Damages Award, But Reverses Judgment Quieting Title In Favor of Homeowner; KC Trial Court Slams Bankster For $850K In Damages reports:
  • In Holm v. Wells Fargo and Freddie Mac, Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District No. 78666, the Missouri Court of Appeals addressed a wrongful residential foreclosure lawsuit. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment against Wells Fargo (servicer) which included $2,959,123 in punitive damages and $200,000 in emotional stress damages.

    The appellate court reversed the judgment regarding $89,762.30 awarded to the borrower concerning a claim for a post-foreclosure loss in value to the residence; $6,150 awarded to borrower for post-foreclosure repairs made by the borrower; and the award which had quieted title to the residence to the borrower (this aspect of the Court of Appeals’ decision revived Freddie Mac’s deed of trust).

    The Holm decision is 53 pages long and complex. In short, by 2008 the borrower had fallen behind on making mortgage payments and had entered into a payment plan with the servicer. Soon after that, confusion arose over existence of the payment plan; if the borrower had abandoned the residence; and how proceeds from an insurance claim were to be applied by the servicer. The servicer asserted that borrower was in default under the Note and the borrower disputed this. In August 2008 the servicer moved to foreclose.

    On the eve of the foreclosure the borrower obtained a $10,306.94 reinstatement figure from the servicer and the borrower was notified by the borrower’s law firm that the foreclosure sale would be postponed to enable that payment to be made. However, the foreclosure sale proceeded and Freddie Mac purchased the residence at the sale. The servicer subsequently returned the $10,306.94 that the borrower had sent to postpone the sale. This litigation followed. (The borrower was never required to surrender possession of the residence throughout the lengthy litigation.)

    During pre-trial proceedings, the trial court expressed concern over the manner in which the servicer and lender were responding to the borrower’s discovery requests. To assist, the trial court appointed a retired Missouri trial judge to serve as a special discovery master. The discovery issues continued. Ultimately the trial court sanctioned the servicer and lender by striking their defenses which prevented them from cross-examining witnesses, objecting to the admission of evidence, and from offering their own witnesses and evidence at trial.

    It was against this backdrop that the borrower was able to obtain a judgment for punitive damages of nearly $3 million which was just under 15 times the amount of the borrower’s emotional distress damages of $200,000. The Court of Appeals’ affirmation of the entire punitive damages award is surprising because the borrower suffered no economic damages, the evidence supporting the emotional distress damages claim was slim, and a punitive damages claim is normally limited to a single digit multiple of the actual damages suffered.


    Another wrongful foreclosure case was recently tried in the Kansas City area and styled as Grisham v. Mission Bank, Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri, Case No. 13AE-CV02207.

    In that wrongful commercial foreclosure case, the trial court awarded the borrower $725,000.00 in economic damages; $25,000 in emotional distress damages; and $100,000 in punitive damages against the lender.

    The borrower in Grisham defaulted on a $3.0 commercial debt. The loan was secured by, among other things, a deed of trust on real property valued between $1.35 - $2.4 million. However, the deed of trust contained language limiting the amount secured to just $500,000, plus interest. Borrower marketed the property for sale but was unable to complete a sale asserting that lender’s failure to provide an updated pay-off letter prevented that. Lender’s relationship with the borrower was strained because it had spent time attempting to work out the default with the borrower, the borrower was alleged to have been hiding earth moving equipment and vehicles which were collateral for the debt, and the borrower would not identify the prospective property buyer to the lender. Lender subsequently foreclosed on the property, making a credit bid of $673.155.28, and took possession of the property.

    The trial court concluded that lender had a duty to provide borrower with a pay-off figure; the failure to do that constituted a breach of the lender’s duty; and that borrower would have been able to sell the property for $1.7 million. Accordingly, the trial court calculated economic damages of $750,000 (i.e. $1.7 million (market value of property) less $975,000 (the $500,000 and interest secured by the deed of trust)).

    The trial court concluded that lender had knowledge that its deed of trust was limited to securing only $500,000 plus interest and it was wrongful for the lender not to provide pay-off information which would have allowed borrower to sell the property. Accordingly, the trial court awarded borrower $100,000 in punitive damages and an additional $25,000 in emotional damages.

    The trial court’s judgment is subject to appeal. A question not answered by the judgment is did the lender make a counterclaim (or claim a right to set-off) regarding the unsecured debt owed by the borrower to the lender.

Inclusion Of Estimated Attorney's Fees In Amount Required To Reinstate Mortgage In Foreclosure A 'Fair Debt' Violation? Yes, Says One Federal Appeals Court reports:
  • [I]n Prescott [v. Seterus, Inc.], the Plaintiff, Kevin Prescott, appealed the summary judgment ruling granted in favor of Defendant, Seterus, by the district court. He alleged that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was violated by Seterus’ inclusion of estimated attorney’s fees in his reinstatement quote. Prescott, No.15-10038, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20934, at *7 n.6 (11th Cir. Dec. 3, 2015).

    The FDCPA, states that “[a] debt collector may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt” 15 U.S.C. § 1692f (1996). It further specifies that a violation is considered to be, “[t]he collection of any amount (including any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation) unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.” Id. § 1692f(1).

    The Court of Appeals evaluated the question from the perspective of the least sophisticated consumer, and ultimately reversed the grant of summary judgment using the rationale that “the least sophisticated consumer would not have understood that the security agreement ‘expressly authorized’ Seterus to charge estimated fees for legal services not yet rendered.” Prescott, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20934, at *8.

    The Court further ruled that by requiring payment of the estimated attorney’s fees in order to reinstate the loan, Seterus violated section 1692e(2) of the FDCPA. Section 1692e(2) specifies that it is a violation of the FDCPA when there is “[a] false representation of- any services rendered or compensation which may be lawfully received by any debt collector for the collection of a debt” 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(2)(B). The court found that because Seterus charged estimated attorney’s fees that were not provided for as part of the security agreement, this was done in violation of the FDCPA.

    Although the Eleventh Circuit Court has made it quite clear that it views the inclusion of estimated fees and costs in a reinstatement quote as a violation of the FDCPA, in other jurisdictions it is still common practice to include estimated or projected fees and costs. In particular, this is the practice when a quote has a future good-through date.

    When a reinstatement or payoff quote with a future good-through date is provided to a mortgagor, there is always the potential for additional fees and costs to accrue on the mortgagor’s account from the time the quote is issued to the time the quote expires or payment is tendered. In order to account for this, many servicers and attorney firms have made it their practice to include estimated fees and costs in the quotes, and to clearly mark them as estimates. The estimates are used when charges are expected to accrue prior to the good-through date, but the work has not yet been performed.

    In light of the decision in Prescott, it is a good idea for servicers to consider taking an alternative approach regarding the inclusion of estimated fees and costs in reinstatement and payoff quotes.

    Although the decision is currently only binding on the Eleventh Circuit,(1) it has the potential to have a much farther reach. The only way for servicers and attorneys to ensure that they do not find themselves facing a future FDCPA violation, is to take a proactive approach and remove all estimated and projected fees and costs from reinstatement and payoff quotes.
Source: FDCPA Violations for Estimated Fees and Costs in Reinstatement and Payoff Quotes: Coming to a Court Near You?
(1) The jurisdiction of the Eleventh Circuit  Court of Appeals includes the states of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. For the geographic boundary map of all the federal courts, see Geographical Boundaries of U.S. Courts of Appeals and U.S. District Courts.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Elderly Abuse Task Force Of Public, Private Groups Takes Up Fight To Undo/Void Allegedly Predatory Deal Made By Local Real Estate Operator & Frail 85+ Year Old California Widow Under Duress Of Foreclosure Of $1+ Million Home

In San Mateo County, California, The San Mateo Daily Journal reports:
  • Attorneys representing an elderly Menlo Park woman have filed a lawsuit against a [local real estate agent] they say now has an interest in her home after he took advantage of the widow who was facing foreclosure last year.

    But while the civil case is just getting started after being submitted in San Mateo County Superior Court [...], it represents the ongoing work of a county task force comprised of public and private groups seeking to deter elder abuse.

    Gunhild B. Bogue, an 89-year-old whose estate is now under the conservatorship of the San Mateo County Public Guardian, is believed to be a victim of foreclosure fraud during which she agreed to sign a will promising to leave her Menlo Park property to a practical stranger, said Alexandra Banis, an attorney with Barulich Dugoni Law Group. The suit alleges [the real estate agent] contacted Bogue after the property was listed as in foreclosure. He offered to pay her mortgage while allowing her to remain in the home until she died in exchange for her to deed him the property worth an estimated $1.4 million, Banis said.

    As an elderly woman with health problems who was in a desperate situation with little understanding of what was happening when she met [him] in February, 2015, Banis said it’s an unfortunate case of what surmounts to elder abuse, fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

    [He] disagrees, noting the county and attorneys have yet to hear his side of the story. He claims to have helped Bogue as she was just days away from losing the property that had nearly $800,000 worth of debt and a mortgage that hadn’t been paid for years. He also contends Bogue was a hoarder who, despite their agreement, didn’t allow him to fix up the property that’s in shambles.

    Now, the county’s Elder and Dependent Adult Protection Team is seeking to support Bogue and deter abuse against this vulnerable population, said Banis and Deputy County Counsel Aimee Armsby.

    The group made up of representatives from the county’s Health System, District Attorney’s Office, County Counsel and private law firms was solidified by the Board of Supervisors in November.

    “It’s about providing protection and education for the seniors who reside in our county and we know that there are folks out there who are at risk of being taken advantage of,” said Armsby, who expressed concern about the increase of financial-fraud related cases. “I think that’s always going to be a worry in particular in San Mateo County because of the value of real property. Real estate is often the most substantial asset that a lot of older folks have.”

    Banis said the firm she works for has been involved with the county team’s work and women over the age of 85, such as Bogue, are one of the most susceptible demographics in the United States.

    “We interact a lot with the aging population here in San Mateo County and we saw the need to protect against elder abuse, which is running rampant and growing here,” Banis said. “Our client, in this case a widow in her late 80s, is a perfect example of someone that this task force in San Mateo seeks to protect.”

    Bogue and her husband took out a $500,000 mortgage. Shortly after he died in 2013, her mortgage debt was $800,000. When her home went into foreclosure, [the real estate agent] sent an “inviting” letter offering a solution to what seemed to Bogue like an insurmountable problem. Thinking she’d found her savior, she contacted the man who rushed to the Menlo Park property within a few hours after she called, Banis said.

    [He] allegedly drafted several documents for Bogue to sign such as a will, deed of trust and loan agreement. Under the duress of facing foreclosure, she signed unaware of the predatory nature of the terms, Banis said. In exchange, Bogue was assured she would be able to continue to live in her home rent free for the rest of her life, according to the suit.
    Moving forward, Banis said they’re seeking a judge to void the contracts Bogue signed with [him]. With the county’s housing market growing increasingly lucrative, Banis and Bogue said it’s important for family members or anyone who comes in to contact with an at-risk elderly person to notify appropriate agencies like the county’s adult protection team.

    “Isolation is another factor that can contribute to elder abuse, when people don’t have family members around to look out for them,” Banis said. “I have heard of these types of cases (mortgage fraud) before and it may have to do with the increase in the property values in the county.”

    Anyone who suspects elder abuse in San Mateo County is encouraged to call (800) 675-8437.

Arizona Couple Faces Criminal Charges For Allegedly Using Forged Deed To Hijack Title & Move Into Vacant $900K Foreclosed Home; Pair May Be Part Of Sovereign Citizen Movement, Say Cops

In Prescott, Arizona, The Daily Courier reports:
  • A man and woman who were living in a $900,000 home that had been foreclosed by the bank claimed they had a legal right to occupy it, but were arrested [], for burglary, theft and criminal theft, a Prescott Police spokeswoman said.

    Randall Skates, 37, and Jennifer Skates, 45, were found squatting in the house in the 2100 block of Chickadee Lane, Lt. Amy Bonney said.

    “The investigation revealed that the Skates’ ascribe to a set of beliefs often described as the ‘Sovereign Citizen Movement.’ In this case, the Skates’ learned that the home was bank owned and unoccupied. They entered the home, claiming it as their own under their beliefs that banks are not people and therefore have no actual right to real property,” Bonney said.

    The couple filed a deed for the property, which, Bonney said, gave them no actual legal claim to the house, and put up signs in the windows “indicating their right to be at the home and their willingness to defend the property.”

    Witnesses told police they had seen men they thought were armed, patrolling the property.

    Bonney said the couple advertised rooms for rent, and at least one person, an 18-year-old woman with a four-month old child, was found there. Police believe she didn’t know the Skates’ had occupied the home illegally, Bonney said.

    Randall and Jennifer Skates were booked into the Camp Verde jail.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Brooklyn Jurist, Never Hesitant To Boot Banks’ Baseless Foreclosure Attempts On Homeowners During 2008 Housing Crisis, Passes At 71

In New York City, Brooklyn Paper reports:
  • He rests his case.

    Unpretentious Bay Ridge New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur M. Schack — a national champion of the little guy in foreclosure cases and a grassroots hero of kids who knew him as Artie the local scout leader — died on May 2 of a blood disorder in a Manhattan hospital, surrounded by his family. He was 71 years old.

    The former Bay Ridge High School teacher and Troop 20 leader was born in Bensonhurst and enjoyed an illustrious career on the bench, beginning with his 1999 election to the Kings County Criminal Court. Schack, a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and legal counsel to the Major League Baseball Players Association, was fond of quoting Shakespeare and quickly distinguished himself in judicial circles with his deep knowledge of the law, which he shared liberally with new attorneys as president of the Kings County American Inn of Court.

    His quirky side, including once targeting a lawyer with a bullseye poster during trial, was refreshing in the staid world of legal eagles, a friend said.

    “Artie was a dynamic presence, and the most honest person who simply thought the courts were for the people,” said Chuck Otey, a lawyer and Ridge activist.

    Schack was married to local district leader Dilia Schack, and routinely performed induction ceremonies for the Dyker Heights Civic Association, the Bay Ridge Community Council, and other local groups, earning a reputation as an affable, go-to judge. But in the courtroom, he was a tenacious pit bull looking into the lawfulness of the massive amounts of foreclosures the housing crisis of the late 2000s generated.

    The industrious watchdog, whose notable career and rulings were often discussed in the media, didn’t always wait for opposing lawyers to argue about mortgage ownerships, instead investigating the problems himself and dismissing most cases on their own motions.

    If you are going to take away somebody’s house, you have to do it the right way,” Schack told the New York Times in 2008. “You have to have due process, and the law has to be followed.”

    That year, he refused to allow foreclosure in 13 out of 14 published decisions in the first seven months, dismissing 12 cases without prejudice because of unproven ownership, according to the Times.

    Schack’s legal eagle buddies knew him as a happy-go-lucky pal, but they minded their Ps and Qs in his courtroom.

    “Being friends with Artie didn’t count when you were arguing your case,” said Merchants of Third Avenue president Robert Howe, a real estate lawyer who appeared before him multiple times. “He made attorneys prove their cases.”

    The magistrate was as magisterial about his community work, said fellow grassroots gladiators.

    Schack was a familiar face at local civic meetings and events, and among the first to volunteer aid, said Community Board 10’s district manager.

    “Artie always took the time to help out,” said Josephine Beckmann, who remembers him delivering blankets, clothing, and food to churches in Coney Island after Hurricane Sandy. “He was a very smart and compassionate man whose life’s mission was community service.”

    Judge Arthur M. Schack is survived by his wife, Dilia; their children, Elaine and Doug; and two grandchildren.

Disbarred Attorney Gets 57 Months For Role In Sale Leaseback Equity Stripping Racket That Targeted Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Chicago, Illinois):
  • A disbarred Illinois lawyer has been sentenced to more than four years in federal prison for her role in a mortgage fraud scheme that bilked lenders and vulnerable homeowners out of more than $725,000.

    AVALON BETTS-GASTON contrived fraudulent real estate transactions to defraud homeowners and financial institutions. She and a co-defendant, Dimona Ross, arranged for the submission of materially false information on mortgage loan documents in four Cook County real estate transactions worth more than $725,000.

    A federal jury last year convicted Betts-Gaston, 47, of Naperville, on two counts of wire fraud. In addition to the 57-month prison term, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle yesterday ordered Betts-Gaston to pay restitution in the amount of $239,550.48.

    “This case demonstrates a sophisticated scheme to take advantage of the trust that mortgage lenders placed in the loan applications they received, and the trust that the homeowners placed in her,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Chahn Lee argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum. “The homeowners believed that she was there to help them, and instead she put their homes and equity at risk.”

    Betts-Gaston graduated from law school and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 2000. Ross was a licensed real estate loan officer. Together they founded IJCN Investments, which was based in Chicago Ridge and purportedly helped distressed homeowners refinance their homes to avoid foreclosure.

    IJCN was involved in various Cook County real estate transactions, with Betts-Gaston handling the legal aspects and Ross obtaining the mortgages. Evidence at trial revealed that instead of refinancing the homes, the defendants arranged for the properties to be sold to a straw buyer. In doing so, the pair submitted false applications for mortgage loans, eradicated the homeowners’ legal rights in their properties, and obtained all of the homeowners’ equity.(1)  Betts-Gaston and Ross received fees for the deals, and the straw buyers were paid thousands of dollars.

    IJCN was dissolved in 2008, and Betts-Gaston was disbarred in 2012.

    Ross pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. She is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Norgle on May 11, 2016, at 10:00 a.m.
Source: Disbarred Illinois Attorney Sentenced to More Than Four Years in Prison for Deceiving Homeowners in Mortgage Fraud Scheme.

(1) For more on this type of foreclosure rescue ripoff, see:

Sacramento Feds Bag Foreclosure Rescue Operator For Alleged Role In Peddling Sale Leaseback, Equity Stripping Scam That Targeted Financially Strapped Homeowners

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Sacramento, California):
  • Sergio Roman Barrientos, 62, of Poway, was arrested [] in San Diego. On Thursday, April 14, a federal grand jury returned a six-count superseding indictment against Barrientos that added co-defendant Zalathiel Aguila, 42, of Fairfield, to the indictment originally brought on March 3, 2016, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

    According to the indictment, Barrientos, Aguila, and Omar Anabo, 53, of Vallejo, engaged in a foreclosure rescue fraud scheme that began in September 2004 and continued to February 2008. Barrientos and Aguila are charged with conspiracy to commit and the commission of wire fraud affecting a financial institution, bank fraud, and conspiracy to make and making false statements on loan applications. On January 15, 2016, Anobo pleaded guilty to conspiring to make false statements on loan applications (case number 2:16-cr-001 GEB). He is scheduled for sentencing on November 4, 2016.

    According to court documents, Barrientos owned Capital Access LLC, in Vallejo, and along with Aguila and Anabo, preyed on homeowners nearing foreclosure. The defendants’ “Keep Your Home” program purported to be a temporary rescue plan whereby “qualified investors” took over the mortgages while the homeowners paid rent and worked on rebuilding their credit. It is alleged that the defendants convinced homeowners to sign over title to their homes, which were then sold to straw buyers.

    The straw buyers obtained loans under fraudulent pretenses by claiming on loan applications that, for example, they intended to occupy the homes as primary residences and that no part of the down payment for the purchase was borrowed. In fact, it is alleged that Capital Access provided the down payment amounts, and the straw buyers never intended to live in the properties.

    The defendants stripped the equity from the homes and used it to pay the operational expenses of the scheme and personal expenses. Vulnerable homeowners across California lost their homes as a result of the alleged scheme, and lenders lost an estimated $10.47 million from the fraud.
Source: Vallejo Business Owner Arrested for Alleged Foreclosure-Rescue Fraud Scheme.

(1) For more on this type of foreclosure rescue ripoff, see:

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Three Homeowners Who Successfully Warded Off Foreclosure In Court Get Kiboshed In Requests To Recover Their Attorney Fees When Their Law Firm Allowed Fee Motions To Get Stale Languishing On Court Dockets For 14 Months Or More

From a recent blog post from the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP:
  • HSBC Bank avoided a potential attorney’s fee judgment when the trial judge deemed abandoned a borrower’s post-dismissal motion for costs and attorneys’ fees.

    In an opinion released [last week], Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed that ruling in the case of Domenic Grosso a/k/a Domenic L. Grosso v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., 4th DCA Case 4D14-3971 (Apr. 27, 2016).

    Deutsche Bank received the same treatment in Felice Berenson v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, 4th DCA Case No. 4D14-3985 (Apr. 27, 2016) (borrower’s motion “languished” for 14 months), and Ramon Ramos and Miriam Ramos v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, 4th DCA Case No. 4D14-3981 (Apr. 27, 2016) (borrowers’ motion “languished” for 22 months).(1)

    HSBC sued its borrower for foreclosure, but filed a voluntarily dismissal and the case was closed. The borrower filed a motion for costs and attorneys’ fees, but did not file supporting affidavits, set the motion for hearing, or take any other record activity for 18 months.

    After reviewing the docket, the trial judge, Judge Richard Oftedal, ordered that the case be administratively closed and that any post-trial motions that had not been set for hearing be deemed abandoned.

    The borrower argued on appeal that Judge Oftedal’s ruling constituted a dismissal for lack of prosecution, but without compliance with Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.420. The Fourth DCA disagreed, finding that Rule 1.420 applies only to “actions” and that the borrower’s motion was “simply a motion.”

    The appellate court went on to confirm that the trial court did, in fact, have the inherent authority to deem the borrower’s motion abandoned under the circumstances. The Fourth DCA concluded that Judge Oftedal’s presumption was “not erroneous” and that it is not an abuse of discretion to deem abandoned a motion that “was left to languish on the docket for eighteen months.”

    Having taken a voluntary dismissal, HSBC was not the prevailing party and very well may have been liable for costs and attorneys’ fees. However, the borrower’s inaction prevented him from having any chance of making HSBC reimburse him for the costs and attorneys’ fees he incurred in defending the case. So, time does mean something and it shouldn’t be that easy to forget about the fees. But, “even the losers get lucky sometimes.”
Source: Court’s Inherent Authority to Deem Motions Abandoned: Even the Non-Prevailing Party Gets Lucky Sometimes.
(1) In each ruling, all issued on the same day, it was the same foreclosure defense law firm which got caught snoozing with its pants down.

Federal Appeals Court OKs $500K In Emotional Distress Damages Against Loan Servicer For “Extreme & Outrageous Conduct” For Harassing, Foreclosing On Borrower Over Late Charges & Associated Fees Based On Incorrectly-Calculated Mortgage Payment; Trial Court To Reconsider $3 Million In Punitive Damages

From a recent blog post from the law firm Balch & Bingham LLP:
  • Following the Eleventh Circuit’s decision last month in McGinnis v. American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc., No. 14-13404, mortgage servicers should be aware that failing to recognize and correct miscalculations of a borrower’s payment may subject them to liability for extreme and outrageous conduct in certain circumstances.

    American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc. took over the servicing of mortgages on several rental properties in Georgia owned by Jane McGinnis. American’s welcome letter to McGinnis stated that her monthly payment had risen over $200 from the amount she had been paying the previous servicer. Believing she did not owe this additional amount, McGinnis continued paying the original amount, and American charged her additional fees for the apparent deficiency. Eventually, American conceded that it had miscalculated the payment amount, but insisted that McGinnis pay the previously incurred late fees. American eventually foreclosed on one of McGinnis’s properties due to nonpayment of these late fees and related charges. McGinnis sued America for wrongful foreclosure, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conversion, among others.

    The jury awarded McGinnis $6,000 in compensatory damages, $500,000 in emotional distress damages, and $3,000,000 in punitive damages. The trial court then granted American’s motion to reduce the punitive damages award to $250,000, holding that there was insufficient evidence that American acted with specific intent to cause harm as required to overcome Georgia’s $250,000 statutory cap on punitive damages. Both parties appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

    The Court held that American’s acts could constitute “extreme and outrageous conduct” sufficient to support the jury’s award of emotional distress damages, because American agents frequently harassed McGinnis by phone and mail, American foreclosed in a fairly short amount of time for a relatively small amount of money, and American failed to correct McGinnis’s account despite McGinnis’s several attempts to seek relief from American’s miscalculated payment amount.

    The Court also reversed the trial court’s reduction of the punitive damages award. The Court held that American had failed to preserve a Rule 50(b) motion on the issue of American’s specific intent to harm because it had not specifically raised that issue in the trial court. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.(1)
Source: Eleventh Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict Against Mortgage Servicer for Extreme and Outrageous Conduct.

For the court ruling, see McGinnis v. American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc., No. 14-13404 (11th Cir. March 22, 2016).
(1) The appeals court remanded the case to the district court for consideration of the loan servicer's motion for a new trial on the issue of punitive damages.

Title Agent w/ Dubious Past Accepts Incarceration 'Buy-Down' Deal After Pleading Guilty To Forging Closing, Recording Documents In Real Estate Transactions, Failing To Record Mortgages; Judge Scraps Six-Month Jail Sentence, Gives Her 4-Month 'Weekend Warrior' Duty Instead After Fully Paying Off Restitution

In Ontario County, New York, WHEC-TV Channel 10 reports:
  • A Webster woman will spend each weekend over the next four months in the Ontario County Jail after being sentenced for her involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme that took place more than six years ago.

    As part of the sentence agreement, Ontario County Court Judge William Kocher mandated that defendant Janet Leigh Faticone, 51, of 705 Mackenzie Court, pay back the money she illegally obtained or receive a six-month jail sentence.

    Faticone paid the restitution in full, a total of $3,736.50, which resulted in the judge opting for the lesser penalty of four months in jail that will be served on weekends. The Webster woman was additionally given five years of probation.

    Faticone faced a slew of charges, including residential mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and grand larceny, after an investigation that included the work of the FBI, the New York State Department of Financial Services' Criminal Investigation Unit and Ontario County sheriff’s deputies.

    During the course of the year-long investigation, it was discovered that in November and December 2009, doing business as Liberty Title Agency New York, Faticone forged several documents using the alias Janet Bixby during the closing process of three mortgages on properties in the town of Phelps, Canandaigua and Canadice.

    Faticone failed to record two of the three mortgages with the Ontario County Clerk’s Office, deputies said.

    It was further discovered that Faticone, under Liberty Title Agency, forged the Ontario County clerk’s recording page and title insurance documents to produce to the banks funding the mortgages, according to deputies.

    It isn’t the first time Faticone has faced charges of fraud.

    In 2005, Faticone pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison by United State District Court Judge David G. Larimer, according to court records.

    A criminal complaint filed on Jan. 31, 2005, by Michelle Mann, in the Western District New York Court, states that Faticone, the owner of Pogal Title Agency Inc. located in Rochester, was arrested along with Denise A. Strollo, a mortgage broker, and Ronald DiPonzio, an employee at Pogal Title.

    In the complaint, Mann, a U.S. postal inspector, states the trio had executed a scheme to defraud approximately 100 customers of Strollo who were attempting to obtain mortgage loans as well as the various lenders who provided the loans.

    The scheme in 2004 involved charging Strollo’s customers with false and inflated expenses, which they did by falsifying settlement statements, Mann stated.

    Those statements are required to identify the actual costs and expenses associated with a mortgage loan. The trio would split fraudulently received proceeds after closing.
Source: Webster woman receives jail sentence for mortgage fraud scheme.

Thanks to Bill Collins at Frontier Abstract & Research Services in Rochester, NY for the heads-up on the story.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Pair Dodge Lengthy Prison Time, Get Less Than Two Years Each In Separate Flipping Scams Targeting Underwater Homes; Rackets Involved Fraudulent Lien Satisfactions, Bogus Short Sales Using Simultaneous 'Double Escrows' To Dupe Lenders Into Taking 'Haircuts' On Outstanding Loan Balances

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (San Diego, California):
  • Brothers and former San Diego real estate brokers Adel Afkarian and Atef Afkarian were sentenced [] to prison for their role in a fraudulent “debt elimination” scheme that purported to eliminate the mortgages on several million-dollar homes in San Diego.

    U.S. District Judge John A. Houston sentenced Adel Afkarian to serve 18 months in custody and Atef Afkarian to serve 13 months. In addition to the time in custody, the brothers were both ordered to pay more than $5.5 million in restitution to the victims of the scheme.

    To implement the scheme, the Afkarians identified underwater homeowners—including themselves—and began a process to make it appear as though the homeowners’ debts had been satisfied. To do so, they recorded fraudulent deeds that purported to extinguish the large mortgage loans encumbering each property.

    They then sold the properties to innocent purchasers, deceiving the buyers into paying the full purchase price to the Afkarians or their co-conspirators. The mortgage lenders, unaware of the fraudulent documents recorded on title or unable to prevent the sale in time, were left unpaid.

    With regard to their own underwater home, the Afkarians pretended that $1.4 million in mortgage debt had vanished. They used the “debt elimination” method to successfully arrange the fraudulent sale of a total of four properties in and around San Diego, generating more than $4.3 million in proceeds which went directly into bank accounts owned by the brothers and their co-conspirators. In some cases, they sold this fraudulent “debt elimination” program to existing clients of their mortgage business.

    In addition to the “debt elimination” scheme, Adel and Atef Afkarian also conspired to arrange fraudulent short sales for underwater clients through a simultaneous “double escrow” scheme. Rather than selling an underwater home at a pre-approved short sale price, the defendants arranged two simultaneous sales of the same property at two different sale prices, using a straw buyer as the intermediary and purported seller in the second transaction. This way, the short sale lender would believe that the property was being sold for initial first-escrow price, rather than the higher second-escrow price (which was in fact the arms-length market sales prices). The defendants and their co-conspirators would then pocket the difference, diverting money from the lenders.
    The Afkarians each pleaded guilty in September 2013, admitting their participation in these schemes. As part of their guilty pleas, they also agreed to forfeit a home on Santa Fe Canyon Place, which they had purchased using approximately $715,000 in proceeds of the fraud, and an additional $388,000 recovered from bank accounts where they had transferred proceeds.

    One of the Afkarians’ clients, Mehran Abazary, was also charged in connection with this case, and pleaded guilty on December 15, 2015. Abazary admitted that he owed more than $2 million in mortgage debt when he hired the Afkarians and their co-conspirators to help him “eliminate” this debt and sell the property. When the sale closed, Abazary received $250,000 in proceeds of the sale. Abazary pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return omitting to disclose this income to the Internal Revenue Service. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Houston on September 6, 2016, at 8:30 am.

Real Estate Developer Gets 12 Months Prison Time, 12 Months House Arrest For Filing Forged Lien Satisfaction On Existing Mortgage, Followed By $8.9 Million Refinancing Deal

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Fresno, California):
  • United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii sentenced Aruna Kumari Chopra, 66, of Modesto, [] to one year and one day in prison, to be followed by a year of home confinement, for her mail fraud conviction in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

    According to court documents, in 2008, Chopra purchased property on Dale Road in Modesto that she intended to develop into a shopping center to be called “The Plaza at Dale.” She defrauded lenders by filing documents with the Stanislaus County Recorder's Office that contained forged signatures in an attempt to conceal liens on the property from her lenders. The loans made by the defrauded lenders on the property totaled approximately $8.9 million. Chopra pleaded guilty on November 30, 2015.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

NYC Non-Profit Law Firm Helps Illegally Booted Tenant Recover Possession Of Rented Apartment Due To New Landlord's Failure To Give Proper Notice After Purchasing Foreclosed Property

In Flushing, Queens, the New York Law Journal reports:
  • A Queens judge said a tenant who was evicted without proper notice can return to her apartment.

    Housing Court Judge Jose Rodriguez said in his April 15 decision, Sun v. Capies, 73891/15, that Brittany Capies could be restored to possession forthwith.

    Yun Zhong Sun became the owner of the Flushing building in July 2015, after the previous owner had been foreclosed upon.

    In August, Sun served Capies with a 10-day notice to terminate the lease and then served her with a holdover petition the following month. According to the petition, Capies was a tenant subject to an oral agreement.

    Capies failed to appear and Sun was awarded a judgment of possession. The eviction warrant was stayed twice before she was evicted.

    Capies then found representation through Queens Legal Services.(1)

    Moving to vacate or modify the decisions, Capies, through counsel, said Sun did not serve a 90-day notice after the foreclosure, as required by Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (RPAPL) §1305.

    Sun did not dispute failing to provide the written 90-day notice but argued that Capies' failure to appear and submit an answer made it too late for her to assert a notice defense.

    Rodriguez was not swayed. "In the instant proceeding respondents meet the definition of tenants as defined by RPAPL §1305," he said. "It is clear and undisputed that petitioner failed to comply with the notice requirements contained in RPAPL §1305."

    Leah Pappas of Pappas & Pappas in Queens represented Sun.

    Robert Sanderman, a staff attorney in the housing rights unit at Queens Legal Services, represented Capies.
Source: Absence of Notice Cited in Eviction Reversal Ruling (may require paid subscription; if no subscription, TRY HERE, then click the appropriate link).

For the ruling, see  Sun v. Capies, Index No. 73891/15 (NYC Civ. Ct. Queens County, April 15, 2016).
(1) Queens Legal Services is a non-profit law firm in Jamaica, New York providing civil legal services, social work support and advocacy to low-income communities throughout Queens County, NY.

Harassment Of Nearly-Impossible-To-Evict, Rent-Stabilized Tenants Remains Unabated In One NYC Landlord's Properties; Careless Renovations In Aging Buildings Create Blizzard Of Highly Toxic Lead Dust

In the East Village section of New York City, The Villager reports:
  • When renovation work started on an empty apartment in her building last month, Holly Slayton was annoyed that she would likely have to deal with nonstop construction noise for a few weeks.

    But as the work at 514 E. 12th St., a five-story walk-up near Tompkins Square Park, progressed, a more serious problem soon surfaced — lead dust, the highly toxic and potentially fatal substance that is often found in the paint inside old buildings, began to seep through every crevice.

    The dust is coming underneath my floorboards, in my walls. The hallway is coated in it,” said Slayton, who has lived in the building for 11 years and said that she, along with her seven-year-old daughter, began to experience the physical effects of the fine powder around the same time the renovation started.

    I have a sore throat and I’ve had migraines for two months,” she said. “My daughter just had an upper-respiratory infection. I can’t even be in my apartment half the time.”(1)

    After suffering for more than a month, she made a trip to the doctor last week, who prescribed she wear a facemask.

    But by that time, she already knew of the potential dangers: In mid-March, after multiple complaints to the city, a team from the Department of Health stopped by the building, as well as two others on E. Fifth St. that are owned by the same landlord.

    The results of the inspectors’ probes: Up to 16 times the safe amount of lead was found in some common areas, according to federal standards.

    “And that was a week later, after the renovation was done,” said Sandra Mayer, who lives with her husband at 233 E. Fifth St., the worst offender in the group. “It’s not a healthy environment to be living in.”

    Last week, tenants from the three buildings — which also include 235 E. Fifth — rallied outside the offices of their landlord, Raphael “Raffi” Toledano, whose property fund Brookhill Properties manages the buildings.

    It’s not the first time that Toledano — a 25-year-old real estate mogul, who added more than a dozen East Village buildings to his real estate portfolio last year — has been accused of wrongdoing.

    He is currently the subject of a state investigation into tenant harassment, and residents at 444 E. 13th St. have taken him to court over alleged attempts to drive them out of their rent-stabilized homes through illegal construction and persistent threats and buyout offers.

    In January, The Villager revealed that the young landlord also has a past assault conviction for beating up a group of teenagers in New Jersey four years ago — news that only ratcheted up the worries of many of his already concerned tenants.

    Some of them have organized under the banner of the Toledano Tenants Coalition to fight against eviction efforts and other problems at their buildings. They gathered in front of the Brookhill offices at 298 Fifth Ave. on Tues., April 12.

    “Basically, we’re holding him hostage,” said SaMi Chester, an organizer with the Cooper Square Committee, a housing preservation group that is supporting the tenants.

    Dressed in hazmat suits and wearing dust masks to illustrate their plight, the group was trying to deliver a letter to Toledano personally. The message asked him to implement a proper lead-mitigation plan, using an E.P.A.-certified abatement contractor, and urged him to follow the guidelines from the city’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act of 2003. That law mandates that contractors use safe work practices and trained workers, and perform tests to ensure proper cleanup.

    “We’re trying to deliver our demands, but he won’t even accept it,” said Chester, as he returned from a futile trip to the landlord’s offices upstairs.

    According to the city, dust from lead paint — which was banned here in 1960, but is still found in older buildings — is the most common cause of childhood lead poisoning, which can adversely affect a child’s health, learning and behavior.

    Lead exposure occurs when lead dust or fumes are inhaled, or when lead is ingested via contaminated hands, food, water, cigarettes or clothing.

    Lead entering the respiratory and digestive systems is released into the blood and distributed throughout the body. According to the New York State Department of Health, more than 90 percent of the total body burden of lead is accumulated in the bones, where it is stored. The lead may then be released from the bones into the blood later, re-exposing organ systems long after the original exposure.

    Toledano was not available for a comment last week. But a Brookhill spokesperson told The Villager that, after the company was notified of an issue by the Department of Health, it dispatched “a professional remediation crew [that] quickly rectified the situation and brought the property into full compliance.”

    “We continue with constant monitoring of the property to ensure the health and safety of all of our tenants, which is our primary concern,” the spokesperson said in an e-mail.

    But Slayton reports that the work is continuing unabated, and without the proper equipment to contain the dust that is spreading throughout the building.

    “Yesterday, everything was coated in dust,” she said, speaking on April 12. “Even the sitter is sneezing and coughing when she comes over.”

    Slayton said the landlord should supply the tenants with air purifiers. She said that Brookhill representatives have been cordial when contacted. But rather than actually doing something to solve the situation, they usually offer to move her to a different apartment instead, she said.

    The catch, however, is that she would lose her rent-stabilized rights. Most of the units in her building, like in other Toledano-owned properties, are not market rate.

    “Plus, I don’t want to move to Murray Hill,” Slayton said. “I’m part of the neighborhood.”
For the story, see Heavy metal Toledano; Tenements’ lead levels are through the roof.
(1) Go here for links to examples of landlords getting hammered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") for violating the federal Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, and here to file a complaint reporting violations with EPA.

Brooklyn Landlord Who Operated Flophouses For Recovering Addicts Gets Bagged For Allegedly Bilking Medicaid By Pocketing Over $2 Million In Kickbacks From Providers Of Support Groups That He Forced His Tenants To Attend

In Brooklyn, New York, The New York Times reports:
  • An operator of flophouses catering to addicts, who was the subject of an investigation last year by The New York Times, was arrested [...] on money laundering and Medicaid fraud charges.

    Investigators from the New York State attorney general’s office took the landlord, Yury Baumblit, and his wife, Rimma, who helped him run his business, into custody [...] at their Brooklyn home, a block from Brighton Beach. The couple were arraigned [...] in Kings County Criminal Court on felony charges of second-degree grand larceny, second-degree money laundering and violations of a law prohibiting Medicaid kickbacks.

    The charges center on allegations that Mr. Baumblit forced tenants of his flophouses to attend support groups at multiple substance-abuse treatment providers. In return for getting those tenants as clients, the providers paid companies run by the Baumblits more than $2 million in Medicaid kickbacks, Megan Friedland, an assistant attorney general, told the courtroom. If convicted, the Baumblits face up to 15 years in prison. The providers were not named at the hearing.
    Officials have long known about Mr. Baumblit’s homes. In December 2010, MFY Legal Services, a nonprofit that has represented three-quarter-house tenants, filed a class-action lawsuit against the Baumblits and their companies over an alleged kickback scheme. The public radio station WNYC wrote about the lawsuit and the Baumblits’ network of homes about the same time. ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, also wrote about the Baumblits several years later, looking into their connection to the New York Service Network.

    Canarsie Aware, NRI and the New York Service Network, all regulated by the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, remain open. Narco Freedom, which was accused last year by federal and state prosecutors of bilking Medicaid, has since been shut down.

    It’s been so long that tenants have been complaining,” said Matthew Main, a lawyer with MFY. “Everyone knew this was happening. But Yury just kept opening new houses and opening new houses. The big thing that comes to mind is the tenants saw this as Mr. Baumblit being able to operate with impunity. This action by the attorney general’s office sends the message that their lives matter. The lives of poor people matter.”

Ex-Housing Authority Employee Cops Guilty Plea To Pocketing Bribes While Peddling Eligibility For Section 8 Rent Subsidy Vouchers; Will Dodge Jail Time In Exchange For Agreement To Squeal On Co-Defendants

In Hagåtña, Guam, the Pacific Daily News reports:
  • A woman accused of accepting bribes from Section 8 applicants in exchange for certifying or promising to certify those applicants for Section 8 eligibility pleaded guilty [] after taking a plea agreement.

    Antonia Mayo-San Nicolas initially faced a maximum three-year sentence and up to $55,000 in fines if her case went to trial. As part of the agreement, she will not face any prison time.(1)

    Mayo-San Nicolas is a former Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority employee.

    She pleaded guilty to three counts of accepting bribes as a third-degree felony with a special allegation of crimes against the community.

    Under the plea agreement Mayo-San Nicolas reached with the government, she agreed to cooperate with the Office of the Attorney General, including meeting with the office, talking with them about the case and possibly testifying at a trial against codefendants, Section 8 tenant Mattos Johnson and a landlord, Albert Buendicho.(2)
For more, see Former GHURA employee pleads guilty to accepting bribes.
(1) As has been observed by at least one learned federal judge, referring to the 'race to the prosecutor's office' that frequently breaks out among co-defendants in an uncovered 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." United States v. Moody, 206 F.3d 609, 617 (6th Cir. 2000) (Wiseman, J., concurring).
(2) Ibid.

Rent Payment-Delinquent Section 8 Tenant Temporarily Dodges Boot As Landlord Fails To Comply w/ HUD Rules Governing Evictions Of Those Receiving Housing Subsidies

In Nassau County, Long Island, the New York Law Journal reports:
  • A Nassau County judge dismissed a holdover proceeding filed against a Section 8 tenant because the landlord did not advise her that she could fight the action in court.

    According to court papers, landlord Valley Dream Housing alleges that Mary Albano owes $5,778 in rent arrears for her residence in Valley Stream and is attempting to remove her for nonpayment.

    The landlord gave Albano a notice of termination but in a motion to dismiss, she argues that the notice was defective because it did not advise her she has the right to fight the termination in court.

    In a ruling Wednesday, Nassau County District Judge Scott Fairgrieve found for Albano, writing in Valley Dream Housing v. Albano, LT-000441-16, that all notices to terminate must comply with both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Model Lease for Subsidized Programs and with federal regulations regarding the eviction of subsidized tenants.

    Both the model lease and 24 C.F.R. §247.4(a) require that landlords inform subsidized tenants that they may present a defense if they are targeted for eviction, and that Valley Dream Housing's failure to do so warrants dismissal of the holdover proceeding.

    Jane Reinhardt, a senior staff attorney with Nassau/Suffolk Law Services represented Albano.(1)
Source: Tenant Proves Faulty Notice in Holdover Proceeding (may require paid subscription; if no subscription, GO HERE, then click appropriate link for the story).

For the court ruling, see  Valley Dream Housing v. Albano, 2016 NY Slip Op 26116 (Dist. Ct. Nassau County, April 13, 2016).
(1) Nassau/Suffolk Law Services is a non-profit public interest law firm providing free civil legal assistance to low income, disabled and disadvantaged individuals throughout Nassau & Suffolk Counties in New York, as well as providing legal support to church, agency and grass roots organizations that work with the poor. The staff is comprised of attorneys, paralegals, social workers and support staff.