Saturday, March 30, 2013

Head Cook County Cop Hits Chi-Town Property Management Firm With Demand Over Its Alleged Improper Booting Of Unwitting Renters In Foreclosed Homes By Using Written Notices That Misrepresent Law

In Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago Sun Times reports:

  • Luis Islas was at home with his wife earlier this month, when a crew began boarding up the basement windows and the first floor units of the building where he lives in West Rogers Park.

    Islas, a father of two, suspects the boards would have darkened his own windows on the second floor, had he not confronted the workers and explained he was still living there. “I was really scared for my entire family,” Islas, 41, explained Wednesday.

    Islas is now a little less panicked after reaching out to the city and learning he’s legally entitled to 90 days notice before being evicted from his apartment, which is in foreclosure proceedings, he says.

    On Wednesday, Islas was out with about two dozen community activists — and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart — in front of ChiProperties, the Near North property management company they say illegally tried to force the Islas family from their home.

    “This is outrageous conduct,” said Dart, who has made national headlines in recent years, crusading against unjust foreclosure evictions. “What you have here is a situation where people are living here, paying their rent. They’d done nothing wrong at all. The bank wants them out. They hire a company that comes in there and completely misrepresents the law.”

    Dart said his office is demanding CHIProperties provide his office with every property in Cook County in which these “illegal notices” have been distributed.

    Islas said his sister-in-law originally owned the building where he lives, but she had financial problems and then the bank foreclosed on the property.

    In early February, Islas came home to find a note on the front door that, he says, instructed him and his family to immediately leave the unit they’d called home for three years. If Islas didn’t leave — and take all of his stuff with him — the locks would be changed on the foreclosed property and a Cook County Sheriff’s deputy would escort him out the front door.

    Islas reached out to the city for help, and soon Dart got wind of the situation. On Wednesday, Dart urged any other renters who’ve received similar vacate notices to call his office at 773-674-7710.

    If you’re getting these notices, they’re not legal, they’re not from our offices, and please call us,” Dart said. “We’d love to find out who is doing it.” [...] Dart said he’s doing research now to figure out what if any laws might have been broken in trying to evict the Islas family.

    Meanwhile, Islas said he understands that under the law he has until mid-May to move out.

Son Uses Surrogate's Court Proceeding In Effort To Wrestle Control Of Dementia-Stricken Mom's $4M Home Of 45 Years, Then Give Her, Live-In Caretaker (His Brother) The Boot

In New York City, the New York Post reports:

  • “Have you ever seen so many gorgeous blouses?” retired fashion designer Frances Rappaport exclaimed as she sat in her 25th-floor, Central Park South apartment this week, admiring a rack of her colorful silk creations.

    The 95-year-old may soon be stripped of that simple pleasure while in her spectacular home.

    Rappaport’s three sons are battling in court over their dementia-stricken mom’s $4 million co-op off Seventh Avenue, her home for 45 years.

    Michael, 71, the eldest son of late fashion designer David Rappaport and David’s partner-wife, Frances, wants to eject his mom from her three-bedroom spread, according to papers filed in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court.

    But middle son Errol, 68, an unemployed, self-described black sheep, wants to keep Mom in her Central Park digs. “I don’t want to bad-mouth my brother,” Errol said. “I just want justice for my mother.”

    David, who died in 2010, named his sons co-executors of his will. Born in Harlem to Russian Jewish immigrants, David climbed the fashion ladder, taking his multimillion-dollar Italian knitwear enterprise, Damon Creations, public in 1967.

    Frances had her own women’s-wear line, Francesca di Damon. Stars like Lucille Ball coveted her intricate blouses and canary-yellow suits.

    Michael, a real-estate investor, told a judge last week that he’ll put his mother up in his own Upper East Side penthouse until he finds her a rental.

    Errol lives with his mom rent-free and gets a $2,500 monthly stipend while caring for Frances.

    Michael, who declined to comment, is also hitting up his late father’s dwindling estate for $133,000 he claims his parents owe him.

    “The administration of [David’s] estate brings to mind Marcellus in Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet,’ ” court-appointed evaluator Demarest Duckworth wrote in a February 2012 report. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Financially-Savvy Hubby & Wife Go Down After Jury Conviction For Duping Dementia-Stricken 94-Year Old Woman Into Signing Over Her $10M Estate

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

  • A former Hollywood stockbroker and her financial-planner husband were convicted [...] of tricking a 94-year-old woman with dementia into signing over her $10 million estate, according to the Broward State Attorney's Office.

    Cynthia Franke, 51, and Tyrone Javellana, 47, were found guilty of financial exploitation of an elderly person after two hours of jury deliberation, prosecutors said. They were accused of befriending Josephine Troisi and her since-deceased sister Mary Teris and then becoming their financial advisors.

    Experts testified Troisi lacked the capacity to make sound decisions when Franke took her to an attorney to change her will and her trust in 2009.

    Troisi's son uncovered the exploitation and investigators found several transfers of between $400 and $32,000 from the sisters to Franke and Javellana, police said.

    Franke and Javellana face up to 30 years in prison for the first-degree felony conviction. Their sentencing is scheduled for April 19. Javellana also faces another charge of exploiting Teris, prosecutors said.
Source: Hollywood couple convicted of elderly exploitation (They took $10 million estate from woman, 94, prosecutors said).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Developer/Landlord Of Multi-Unit Residential Buildings Settles Fair Housing Suit Tagging It For Allegedly Failing To Provide Accessibility Features For Persons With Disabilities

The National Fair Housing Alliance reports:

  • The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and West Palm Beach Coalition for Independent Living Options (CILO) have settled a federal housing discrimination lawsuit against Cornerstone Group Development Corporation, one of the largest multifamily housing developers in Florida and the United States. Cornerstone has agreed to make modifications at more than fifty residential developments in Florida, which include over 5,000 apartments covered under the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The modifications will make apartments and common areas accessible for people with disabilities.

    The agreement settles claims by NFHA and West Palm Beach CILO that Cornerstone Group and
    several of its affiliates discriminated against people with disabilities by designing and/or constructing multifamily dwellings, and common- and public-use areas, without the required accessibility features. Cornerstone Group develops, constructs and operates affordable housing properties throughout Florida.

    As part of this resolution, Cornerstone has agreed to create and subsidize a Housing Accessibility Fund supervised by NFHA. This fund will help Floridians with disabilities make their homes more accessible. In addition, Cornerstone will pay $1.35 million in damages, expenses, attorney fees and other costs to NFHA and West Palm Beach CILO. Cornerstone will also provide training on the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements for its executives and on-site construction managers.
  • The lawsuit and settlement underscore the importance and need for affordable accessible housing for persons with disabilities. In order for persons with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their homes, they need to have paths free of steps; kitchens and bathrooms with sufficient maneuvering space for wheelchair users at sinks and toilets; wide doorways; lowered thermostats; and accessible parking with access aisles.

Trio Working As BofA Trash-Out Subcontractors Get Away With Hand Slap For Swiping Muscle Car Out Of Unoccupied Home Facing Foreclosure

In Worcester, Massachusetts, the Worcester Telegram reports:

  • The saga of the purloined purple hot rod, which pitted a lone muscle car enthusiast against a mega-bank with more than $2 trillion in assets, ended this afternoon in a Main Street courtroom, where three New Hampshire men pleaded guilty to reduced charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

    The car in question, a classic 1973 Dodge Challenger that had been restored into a “plum crazy” purple hot rod by a Worcester man and his son, was taken last March from a Burncoat home the day after a Bank of America subcontractor had been there to winterize and secure the house.

    The owner of the car, Aaron Dahrooge of Worcester, had stored the Challenger for the winter in his deceased mother's garage. Bank of America was in the process of foreclosing on the property, but Mr. Dahrooge had legal control of the house in the meantime as the executor of his mother's estate.

    Neighbors told Mr. Dahrooge that workers who had been at the vacant house to secure and winterize it on behalf of Bank of America returned the next day with a trailer and hauled away his prized Challenger.

    Mr. Dahrooge reported the car stolen to police and then contacted the North Carolina-based bank to find out the name of the company that had been hired to secure the house. When bank officials refused to disclose the name of the contractor, Mr. Dahrooge went to the news media to tell his story.

    Five months later, in August, police in Manchester, N.H., found the car stashed in a detached garage. It was a bit battered, with a blown transmission and rear tires scorched bald by untold burnouts, but the classic American muscle car had not been stripped to the frame as Mr. Dahrooge feared.

    New Hampshire police arrested the Manchester men, Patrick Peryer, 23, and Kurtis Lavigne, 28, on Massachusetts warrants for receiving a stolen motor vehicle. A third Manchester man, Steven Montanez, 36, owner of the property company hired to secure the house, was later charged with motor vehicle larceny.

    The accounts the three men gave to Worcester police were complicated and contradictory in parts, as evidenced by the fact that it took Assistant District Attorney John A. O'Leary more than 10 minutes to lay out the basic facts of the case in court today. But all three defendants were in agreement that they wished to plead guilty to the lesser charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

    Each was sentenced to a year in jail, but the sentences were suspended to a year of probation. Mr. Peryer and Mr. Lavigne initially spent several weeks in jail after their arrests last summer.

    The information that Mr. Dahrooge had fought so hard to pry out of Bank of America is now a matter of public record.

    The foreclosure subcontractor that went to his late mother's home a year ago was JRM Properties, owned by Mr. Montanez. JRM Properties, which has since gone out of business, in turn worked for Bank of America's foreclosure winterization vendor Homestead Field Services LLC of Cicero, N.Y.

    In August, Mr. Dahrooge's David vs. Goliath tussle with Bank of America prompted the company to temporarily stop doing business with Homestead until the vendor could verify that all of its employees and subcontractors have up-to-date background checks.

Published Faulty Information By Online Real Estate Websites Causes Headaches For Some Homeowners

In Chicago, Illinois, WMAQ-TV Channel 5 reports:

  • For a homeowner who says she has never missed a mortgage payment, the word "foreclosure” listed next to her Sycamore home shocked Kristin Miller.

    Miller said she recently found the false foreclosure listing on Zillow, the wildly popular website where consumers turn for information on home values, price histories and foreclosures. "We were very worried when we saw it," she said. "The first thing my husband said is we better run our credit to make sure it has not been affected."

    Her concern isn't unique. Online forums offer dozens of angry homeowners complaining about false foreclosure listings on the site.

    "My jaw totally dropped," said Cassandra Jo Terry.

    The North Carolina woman said she has lived trouble-free in her house for decades and was stunned to see the "F" word next to her listing. "It is not in foreclosure at this time nor has it ever been at the point of foreclosure," she said.

    How does it happen? Zillow gets its information from public records, and public records are notoriously inaccurate. That much explains why the company's home value estimates are sometimes way off. But how does something as specific -- and potentially damaging -- as a foreclosure get into the system?

    Zillow refused to name its sources, the companies it hires to aggregate data. That makes a frustrating mistake even harder for homeowners to disprove.

    "That's when you start running into problems because you don't know where the data is actually coming from because it's an aggregation of different sources," explained Matt Farrell, the President-elect of the Chicago Association of Realtors.

    And agents, often at odds with online services, say bad data is becoming an everyday headache.
For more, see Homeowners: Real Estate Site Lists False Foreclosures (Experts say it's unlikely homeowners who find a "false foreclosure" on any online website will see negative ramifications to their credit record).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Homeowner's Foreclosure Defense: Developer Hijacked Title To My Home While I Was Out Of The Country, Borrowed $1.77M Against It, Now Bank Is Trying To Take It From Me! Developer's Head Allegedly Invoked 5th Amendment

In Miami, Florida, the South Florida Business Journal reports:

  • A Miami-based bank is trying to seize Jorge Jaen’s home in the Florida Keys over a mortgage that he never signed.

    Jaen alleges that both he and Great Eastern Bank of Florida were victims of mortgage fraud, but he’s the one who could pay the price by losing his home in Plantation Key. The foreclosure lawsuit is set for trial April 1 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

    It all started in 2006 when the three-bedroom home, at 145 Venetian Way, was transferred for minimal monetary compensation by a quit-claim deed from Jaen to Remy Development of Florida. Jaen claimed in his motion to dismiss the complaint that he had no knowledge of the deed and it was a bogus.

    Jaen says it is not his real signature on the deed and he was out of the country at the time it was signed in Miami-Dade.

    Jaen’s motion cites testimony from attorney Raven Liberty and Leighton Brown, the two people who allegedly signed the deed as witnesses, saying they did see the first version of that deed, which was destroyed, but never saw the second version that was filed wit the court.

    Although Monroe County valued the home at $483,500 at the time the deed was filed, Great Eastern Bank gave Remy Development a $1.77 million mortgage, which was signed by Ramier Rodriguez on behalf of the developer.

    According to records uncovered in the lawsuit, the loan was for the construction of a low-income housing complex. The home was in the middle of a neighborhood of single-family homes with a tight lot line.

    “Due to the ‘development,’ Remy convinced [the] bank to tender millions of dollars in construction draws for work that Remy represented had been completed by Remy when, in fact, no such development had occurred,” stated the motion by Jaen, which was filed by his attorney, Geoffrey Ittleman in Fort Lauderdale.

    The head of Remy Development invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination at his deposition, Jaen’s complaint stated. The bank did not name Rodriguez in the lawsuit.

    The foreclosure lawsuit, filed in 2007, names Remy Development and Jaen. Monroe County property records still list Jaen as the homeowner, as he has been since 1992.

    Great Eastern Bank’s lawsuit also names title law firm Catlin, Saxon, Fink & Kolski LLP, which allegedly oversaw the transaction with Remy Development.

    Jaen wants the court to invalidate the deed to Remy Development and dismiss the bank’s attempt to foreclosure on the property. If he succeeds, it could be a big problem for Great Eastern Bank, the smallest bank in Miami-Dade, with $45.8 million in assets.

    Great Eastern Bank had $293,000 in noncurrent loans on Dec. 31, and that valuation is probably based on assuming that it can seize Jaen’s house and get some value from it. If it gets nothing from the lawsuit, the resulting write off in value could eat into its $5 million in Tier 1 capital.

    Great Eastern Bank was hit with a regulatory enforcement action in 2012, telling it to maintain higher capital ratios than normal and citing it for Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering violations.

    Hollywood attorney Carlos Lerman, who represents Great Eastern Bank in the lawsuit, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jury Puts Jolt Into Power Company With $4M Award To Now-Foreclosed Homeowner Over Stray Electricity In Home That Utility Once Owned, Then Unloaded; Shocks Believed To Have Caused Nerve Damage In Victim's Hands, Feet

In Los Angeles, California, The Beach Reporter reports:

  • A Redondo Beach woman repeatedly shocked in her home by stray electricity from nearby Southern California Edison power lines has been awarded $4 million by a Superior Court jury.(1)

    The verdict, reached Monday after a civil trial in downtown Los Angeles, included $3 million in punitive damages against the utility giant.

    Simona Wilson [the mother of three young children] filed a lawsuit against Edison in 2011 after she was shocked by stray electricity pulsing through her bathroom shower head. The repeated electrical shocks is believed to have caused nerve damage in Wilson's hands and feet. The jury found that Edison's conduct was "outrageous," that the company acted with "reckless disregard" and that the utility was "negligent," according to court documents.

    "We are thrilled," Wilson's attorney, Lars Johnson, said Tuesday. "Simona has been in a long fight, and Edison put her through a lot. "

    In a statement released by Edison on Tuesday, the company said it "is disappointed in the conclusions reached by the jury and believes that the outcome is inconsistent with the totality of the evidence presented at trial."

    "(Southern California Edison) is reviewing the verdict and will determine its options, including whether to file an appeal," the company added in its statement.
  • Residents in the area have long complained about electricity emitting from overhead power lines and from the nearby Topaz Substation. Reports of crackling sounds coming from overhead wires and snaps of electricity when residents touched their mailboxes were common. Many believed the electrical current emitted from the substation traveled through subterranean gas pipes.
  • "(Edison) believes its response to the concerns raised by Wilson regarding her home located near SCE's Topaz Substation and its efforts to address those concerns were appropriate," the company said in a statement Tuesday. "The company also has cooperated fully with the investigation conducted by the Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission."

    Edison officials declined to offer further comment on the fixes it made to address Wilson's complaints.

    However, The Gas Co. began to make upgrades to its underground network of pipes around the Topaz Substation.

    "An official from The Gas Co. testified that they have been trying for years to get Edison to do something," Johnson said. "There is electricity jumping off the lines and into the ground," Johnson said. "The Gas Co. is worried about an explosion and they are also worried about their employees being shocked."
For the story, see Redondo Beach woman awarded $4 million in Edison lawsuit over stray electricity.

See also, the Mercury NewsStray electricity from shower head: Shocked California woman awarded $4 million:
  • Wilson, who could not be reached for comment, moved out of her house in September 2011, after an inspector told her to "get out" immediately, Johnson said. She filed the lawsuit about the same time. She lost the home in a foreclosure in February, according to her attorney.

    Edison built the house in 1960, Johnson said. It was located next door to an Edison facility known as the Topaz Substation, and the utility rented the home to employees before selling it.

    A former Edison employee sent a letter to Johnson prior to the trial detailing complaints similar to Wilson's made by prior occupants of the house.
  • During the civil trial, one of Edison's expert witnesses testified that the electrical current residents felt was within "acceptable" levels.

    "Edison still denies that there is anything dangerous in the area and denies that they did anything wrong," Johnson said. Edison officials insist the company worked with Wilson to resolve any issues with stray electricity.
(1) For stories on the deadliness of stray electricity/voltage, see:

CBS Evening News: Shocking investigation on stray electricity:

  • [L]uckily, most people who touch the metal don't make good enough contact to get seriously hurt. But if you're barefoot -- or wet -- the hazard can be deadly.

    It happened to 14-year-old Deanna Green in Baltimore in 2006. Her father Anthony says the ground was wet -- when Deanna touched a park fence at softball practice. Nobody knew it - but the fence was charged by frayed lighting wires buried underneath. 227 volts killed her instantly.

    "Never in a thousand years would you think that while you were there, and while your child was standing in front of you - you would lose her in such a manner," says Deanna's mother Nancy. "It's devastating."
  • A settlement was finally reached between the city of Baltimore and a former Millville High School football star turned Baltimore Colt defensive tackle whose daughter was killed by a stray electric current running through a fence in a city-owned park.

'Zapped' Couple's $2.3M Lawsuit: Stray Electricity From Local Power Station Gives Their Home Unwanted Sizzle

ABC News recently reported on "the story of Dr. Harold and Millie Mendelsohn, whose sprawling, six-acre estate in tony Pound Ridge, N.Y., carries an invisible sizzle":

  • Their neighbors include actor Richard Gere -- and one humungous power station. Recently, they felt vibrations on their property and Millie Mendelsohn was zapped. "The animals started going crazy on the property," Harold Mendelsohn said, "the horses and the dogs and the cats."

    They've long abandoned the pond at their home after the fish died, they avoid the guest house and had the pool emptied. Now, they say, the sizzles spread to their home. Among their reported maladies are intense headaches and a fear so strong, they've turned to using rubber. Harold Mendelsohn has to use rubber sheets to sleep while Millie uses rubber shoes in the shower.

    But it is the kitchen she fears most. She won't even touch the faucet for fear of shock.

    The Mendelsohns believe the stray power is coming from the power station just beyond the tree line in their backyard. They are suing their local power provider for $2.3 million. The utility said the couple is not entitled to any damages.(1)

    When they first moved in more than 20 years ago, the Mendelsohns didn't think the transformer would be a problem. But they estimate it has grown three times the size since.

    "It's infuriating," Harold Mendelsohn said. "This was our dream situation, and I wish they could just fix it." "It's just a nightmare," Millie Mendelsohn said. "We just have to leave it empty. Say goodbye to it."(2)
For this and two other home horror stories, see House From Hell: Buyers' Nightmare Homes.

(1) See also the New York Post: Stray-volt ordeal turns Westchester couple’s home into house of horror:
  • NYSEG [the local power company] says the couple’s claims “are false” and insists there’s no stray voltage at all. But records show NYSEG has known of the problem for two decades and has tried to fix it by installing voltage blockers near the Mendelsons’ home.

    Hal Mendelson, a 76-year-old doctor, forbids visits by anyone with a pacemaker. “The lights go on and off in the house all the time. Appliances burn out. My wife and I both have neurological issues,” he said.
  • The couple say they euthanized a favorite dog, an English setter named Glory Be, because the voltage made her chew the skin off her legs. “She was the most wonderful dog, and you would cry when you saw her legs,” Millie said. “She was chewing them until they bled. . . . They were like raw meat. They were horrible.”

    Hal says the power substation, which was there when they moved into the house in 1987, wasn’t a problem at first — but by 1991 enough voltage was leaking to prod the couple to file their first suit against the company.
(2) For stories on the deadliness of stray electricity/voltage, see:

CBS Evening News: Shocking investigation on stray electricity:

  • [L]uckily, most people who touch the metal don't make good enough contact to get seriously hurt. But if you're barefoot -- or wet -- the hazard can be deadly.

    It happened to 14-year-old Deanna Green in Baltimore in 2006. Her father Anthony says the ground was wet -- when Deanna touched a park fence at softball practice. Nobody knew it - but the fence was charged by frayed lighting wires buried underneath. 227 volts killed her instantly.

    "Never in a thousand years would you think that while you were there, and while your child was standing in front of you - you would lose her in such a manner," says Deanna's mother Nancy. "It's devastating."
  • A settlement was finally reached between the city of Baltimore and a former Millville High School football star turned Baltimore Colt defensive tackle whose daughter was killed by a stray electric current running through a fence in a city-owned park.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Suspended Lawyer Suspected Of Running Phony Upfront Fee Loan Mod Ripoffs Now Found Missing Along w/ $700K Allegedly Pocketed Peddling Bogus Business Deals

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Sun News reports:

  • Mark Brunty, a Myrtle Beach lawyer who has been suspended from his law practice by the state Supreme Court, is accused in court documents of forging the signatures of prominent business leaders in a scheme to steal $700,000 from a pair of out-of-state investors.

    Brunty allegedly forged the names of Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. President Jim Apple and Alec Elmore, the vice president of First Federal Savings & Loan in Charleston, on documents used to persuade brothers Morris and Saul Kravecas to invest in phony business deals along the Grand Strand, according to a lawsuit filed in Horry County’s circuit court. The brothers’ investment, which was supposed to be kept in Brunty’s trust account, now is missing.

    “It’s flat gone as far as we can tell,” said Amanda Bailey, a lawyer representing the Kravecas brothers.

    Brunty also is missing. Bailey said she has not been able to locate him in order to serve him with a copy of the lawsuit.

    Meanwhile, reports with Better Business Bureau offices here and in other states show consumers have filed numerous complaints about a mortgage loan modification program Brunty promoted through email and telephone solicitations he made to people facing foreclosures. According to the complaints, people who responded to the emails received generic loan modification information from Brunty’s law firm and a request for an advance payment of $3,000. The complaints state that Brunty cashed clients’ checks but did little work to help them save their homes.

    Brunty could not be reached for comment Monday. A recording states that his telephone number is out of service and an answering machine at his law offices states the business is temporarily closed.

Baltimore Feds: Lawyer Pocketed $747K From Peddling Bogus Real Estate Investment 'Opportunities'

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Baltimore, Maryland):

  • A federal grand jury has indicted Aaron G. Seltzer, age 36, of Trappe, Maryland, on nine counts of wire fraud in connection with a scheme in which he converted funds intended for real estate investments to his personal use.
  • According to the nine count indictment, Seltzer was a licensed Maryland attorney who handled real estate transactions and maintained an office in Crofton, Maryland. The indictment charges that from January 2008, through 2010, Seltzer offered victims fraudulent investment opportunities then diverted the money intended for the investments for his own benefit. The indictment alleges that Seltzer obtained a total of $747,860 through eight fraudulent transactions and seeks forfeiture of that amount as the proceeds of the scheme.

Loose Oversight - More Law Firm Mischief: Legal Secretary Pinched For Allegedly Ripping Off $57K From Attorney/Employer; Gets 'No-Bond' Hold Due To Open Obligation From Previous Grand Theft Charge

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

  • A former secretary at a Lauderhill law firm is accused of fraudulently writing 88 checks totaling nearly $57,000 from the company account to her self, authorities say.

    Cathy Cecilia Perez, 36, of Sunrise, has been charged with one count of grand theft and 88 counts of fraud for uttering a false instrument, according to a police report. She is being held in a Pompano Beach jail.

    At a Tuesday court hearing, Perez was given a no-bond hold for allegedly violating probation on a 2005 grand theft charge out of Tampa. Bond for the current charges was set at $93,000.

    Perez worked as a secretary for Charles Simon, P.A., a landlord/tenant attorney at 4987 N. University Drive. She is accused of cashing the checks between Aug. 3, 2012 and March 18, 2013.

    "It's a mess, I should have caught it sooner," Simon said. "She took my pleading stamp with my name on it and just decided to use it whenever she wanted, to write checks to herself — checks for rent, checks for bars, checks for all kinds of things, to the tune of nearly $57,000."

    Simon said he hasn't seen Perez since March 12 when she said she had to step out to pick up her kids at school. "She just ran off the job," Simon said. "She never came back, never returned calls, never returned texts."

    Two days later when Simon went to his local Bank of America branch he learned of the fraudulent activity on his account, he said.

    Perez appeared at the bank [] and attempted to cash a $906 check, but knowing that the account had been flagged, the bank manager contacted the Sunrise Police Department, the police report said.

    When questioned by detectives, Perez admitted to "signing and cashing" the checks, the report said: "The defendant admitted to using the money to pay her bills and other every day living expenses."

Alexandria Feds: Pair Impersonated Lawyers To Loot Escrow Cash Raised From Investors For Bogus Real Estate Deal

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Alexandria, Virginia):

  • Brett A. Amendola, 38, of Ashburn, Va., was sentenced to 84 months in prison [] for carrying out a $5 million Ponzi scheme involving his purported purchase of a golf course in Loudoun County, Va. The scheme resulted in losses of at least $2.8 million to more than a dozen victims who had invested with Amendola.
  • According to court records, during 2010 and 2011, Amendola persuaded various investors to provide him with short-term funding that would be held in escrow to fulfill a requirement by his lender to purchase the Beacon Hill Golf Course in Loudoun County.

    He promised that the money would be returned to the investors – with interest – in a matter of days. In reality, Amendola diverted the investors’ money to his own use, including funding his and family members’ trading accounts, making payments to investors in this and other schemes, and paying for personal expenses, including gambling.

    To carry out his fraud, Amendola posed as the attorney representing the escrow account both over the phone and through various email messages, leading investors to believe that they were wiring funds to financial accounts controlled by the escrow attorney, when in reality the financial accounts were controlled by Amendola and quickly looted for his personal use. In sentencing Amendola, the Court found that the fraud was sophisticated and that Amendola abused a position of trust when he impersonated the lawyer.

    In a related case, Jerry J. Mckerac, 61, of Las Vegas, Nev., and Fond du Lac, Wis., was charged [] in an indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identify theft for his involvement in the scheme, which the indictment alleges included similarly impersonating the escrow attorney as well as Amendola’s father while dealing with the victims.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Foreclosure Reversals In Northern Ohio Appeals Court Gain Steam After Recent State Supreme Court Ruling

In Akron, Ohio, The Akron Legal News reports:

  • An Ashtabula County court erred by granting summary judgment in a foreclosure case to a financial institution that had no ownership interest in the mortgage at the time, the 11th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

    Self Help Ventures Fund sued Lois J. Jones of Conneaut in May 2010 after she defaulted on a $61,100 residential home loan from Sky Bank.

    According to case summary, Jones bought the home in 2007 before Sky Bank merged into Huntington National Bank. Self Help claimed it was the holder of the promissory note Jones defaulted on.

    But although Self Help attached copies of the note and mortgage to the complaint, both showed Sky Bank — not Self Help — was the creditor.

    About two months later, Huntington assigned the note and mortgage to Self Help. Self Help then filed a motion for summary judgment against Jones with the new documentation.

    The appellant argued Self Help lacked standing but did not dispute defaulting on the note.

    In March 2012, the trial court entered summary judgment and a decree in foreclosure against Jones. However, the trial court granted Jones’ stay of the sheriff’s sale pending appeal.

    In her appeal, Jones alleged Self Help did not hold the note when it filed the complaint, and therefore lacked standing.

    Self Help argued although it did not hold the mortgage when it filed the complaint, it acquired standing when it became the holder after the complaint was filed.

    In a 2-1 decision, the 11th District panel reversed the court’s summary judgment and ordered the trial court to dismiss the complaint without prejudice.

    The appellate court cited an identical issue before the Ohio Supreme Court in Schwartzwald, supra, in Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. v. Rufo. In that case, the [Ohio] Supreme Court held that standing is determined at the time of the complaint.

    “Further, the Court held that a mortgage holder cannot rely on events occurring after the complaint is filed to establish standing,” 11th District Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice stated. “Thus, the plaintiff cannot rely on Civ.R. 17(A) to cure its lack of standing by obtaining an interest in the subject of the litigation after the action is filed and substituting itself as the real party of interest.

    “Finally, the Court held that when the evidence demonstrates the mortgage lender lacked standing when the foreclosure action was filed, the action must be dismissed without prejudice.”

    11th District Judge Timothy P. Cannon concurred. Fellow appellate Judge Diane V. Grendell dissented, calling the dismissal of Self Help’s complaint unwarranted.

    “The better course for dealing with scenarios in which the plaintiff becomes a holder of the note and mortgage after the filing of the complaint was that followed by the Ohio Supreme Court in State ex rel. Jones v. Suster,” Grendell stated.

    “In that case, the court stated the following: `Although a court may have subject matter jurisdiction over an action, if a claim is asserted by one who is not the real party in interest then the party lacks standing to prosecute the action. The lack of standing may be cured by substituting the proper party so that a court otherwise having subject matter jurisdiction may proceed to adjudicate the matter.’ ”
For the story, see Court must dismiss foreclosure complaint due to lack of ownership.

For the ruling of the Ohio appeals court, see Self Help Ventures Fund v. Lois J. Jones, No. 2012-A-0014 (March 11, 2013).(1)

(1) Representing the homeowner in this case (as well as the successful homeowner in Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. v. Rufo) were Anne M. Reese and Philip D. Althouse of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, a non-profit public interest law firm that serves low income Ohioans in Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties.

NYS Scores $14M Settlement From Underwriter Associated With Force Placed Insurance Racket; Regulator: "Reverse Competition" Drove Homeowners' Premiums "Sky High"

In Albany, New York, Newsday reports:

  • An insurance company settled New York State allegations that it charged homeowners "unfair and unnecessary costs" and agreed to pay a $14-million civil penalty.

    In the settlement announced Thursday, the company, Manhattan-based Assurant Inc., also agreed to change its rate structure for so-called force-placed insurance policies and to refund some homeowners.

    "The force-placed insurance industry has for too long been plagued by an intricate web of relationships between insurers and banks that pushed distressed families over the foreclosure cliff," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

    Force-placed insurance is a product that many homeowners will never encounter. Home borrowers take out insurance to protect their property, but the lender has an interest in making sure the house is protected as well. If a homeowner stops paying for insurance -- often due to financial difficulties including foreclosure -- the lender will take out a policy and charge the borrower.

    The state Department of Financial Services said that these forced policies can be two to 10 times more expensive than ordinary, voluntary homeowner's insurance, even though they offer less coverage. Voluntary homeowner's insurance pays out an average 63 cents in claims for every dollar collected in premiums. According to the department, one of Assurant's subsidiaries paid out as little as 17.3 cents on the dollar in 2008. The settlement requires the company to charge rates that more closely resemble voluntary homeowner's insurance.

    The state said that Assurant engaged in practices that the department called "reverse competition" in which it effectively shared profits with banks and mortgage servicers rather than offering its product at the lowest price.

    Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of Financial Services, said those practices drove premiums "sky high."

    In settling, the company neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. Assurant spokeswoman Shawn Kahle disagreed with the state's characterization that there was a conflict of interest in its activities.

    "We do not believe that the relationships that we have historically had with our clients, mortgage servicers, have created anything that would be perceived to be inappropriate," Kahle said. "We recognize that in the state of New York they would like the procedures to be different, and we have agreed that we will follow those procedures and those regulations when they're put in place."

    Assurant agreed to change those practices when the state institutes new regulations that apply to all insurers.

Jury Convicts Daughter Of Receiving Dad's 50% Interest In Home After Latter Had Filed Bankruptcy, Then Refinanced Premises To Drain Equity Out From Under Ch. 7 Trustee

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (San Francisco, California):

  • A federal jury convicted Vallejo resident Myra Holmes [] of one count of bankruptcy fraud, one count of bank fraud, and three counts of making a false statement to a bank, United States Attorney Melinda Haag announced.
  •  Evidence at trial showed that Holmes, 55, enriched herself by knowingly receiving from her father his half-interest in a Vallejo residence in which she lived. Holmes knew at the time she received this property that her father had previously declared bankruptcy and that, as a result, his half-interest in the Vallejo property now belonged to his Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate.

    Holmes took this half-interest in the Vallejo property without paying anything to the bankruptcy estate and also without notifying or obtaining the permission of the United States Bankruptcy Court or the bankruptcy trustee.

    After Holmes received her father’s half-interest in the Vallejo property, she drained the equity from the property through a fraudulent refinancing mortgage loan application. [...] Evidence at trial showed that Holmes knew at the time she filed her refinancing mortgage applications that she was overstating her monthly income and account balance and also knew that the bankruptcy trustee had recently filed a lawsuit against her seeking to recover the bankruptcy estate’s half-interest in the Vallejo property.

    As a result of her bankruptcy fraud and mortgage fraud, Holmes received approximately $147,000 directly and arranged for personal debts to be paid (including her debts to Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, and Spiegel).

    By the end of April 2006, Holmes had spent on personal expenses (including gambling and shopping) all the approximately $147,000 that she had fraudulently received as a result of the November 2005 refinancing of the Vallejo property. To date, Holmes has not repaid the bankruptcy estate for the funds she took out of the Vallejo property in the November 2005 refinancing.
For the U.S. Attorney press release, see Federal Jury Convicts Vallejo Woman of Bankruptcy and Mortgage Fraud Scheme (Defendant Used Illegal Property Transfer and Fraudulent Mortgage Application to Drain More Than $147,000 in Equity from Residence in Bankruptcy Proceeding).

Insurance Agent Hit w/ $500K Bail After Pinch For Allegedly Duping Two Seniors Into Refinancing Homes, Applying Proceeds To Pay For Annuity Contracts; Suspect Then Allegedly Pocketed Premiums; Elderly Victims Left w/o Expected Periodic Payments, Lose Homes To Foreclosure

In Los Angeles, California, the California Department of Insurance recently announced:

  • The California Department of Insurance (CDI) announced [] that Harold John Shields of Hawthorne, CA, 57, was extradited from Houston, Texas on March 7, 2013 and booked in the Century Sheriff Station in Lynwood, CA. The suspect has been arraigned and charged with two felony counts of grand theft and two felony counts of theft from elder. Shields is being held on $500,000 bail.

    "I will not tolerate insurance brokers or agents who scam innocent policyholders, especially the elderly," said Commissioner Jones. "The alleged illegal actions of Shields resulted in the loss of two homes. My department will make sure he is brought to justice and no longer allowed to prey upon seniors."

    According to CDI Investigators, from October 2006 through April 2007, Shields doing business as Wolfe Capitol Group, accepted $30,000 in premium each from two elderly victims for annuity contracts but did not remit the premium to an insurer, and failed to refund the premium to the victims.

    In addition, Shields assisted the victims in refinancing their mortgages and persuaded them to use the funds toward the payment of the annuity policy and a real estate investment. This resulted in each victim giving Shields an additional $50,000, bringing the total loss for both victims to $160,000. As a result of Shields' alleged scheme, both victims lost their residences to foreclosure.

    Shields faces a maximum of six years in prison if convicted on all charges. The case was investigated by CDI's Investigation Division, Los Angeles Regional office and is being prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's, Elder Abuse Unit.
For the California Department of Insurance press release, see Annuity and home refinance scam cause homeowners' foreclosure (As home values rebound the potential for scams may also increase).

Four Cop Pleas To D.C. Title-Hijacking Conspiracy Targeting Property That Was Vacant Or Owned By Dead/Incapacitated Owners By Identifying Real Estate With Overdue Tax Bills

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Alexandria, Virginia):

  • Four individuals – including two settlement agents in Annandale, Va. – have pleaded guilty to conspiring to fraudulently taking over the titles of homes in Washington, D.C., without the real property owners’ knowledge, selling those homes, and keeping the profit.
  • According to court records, Jamaul Roberts, 25, College Park, Md., conspired with others to visit the D.C. tax courts to identify properties with overdue property tax bills. They would use sources such as and the D.C. property tax database to locate vulnerable properties where they could take over the home’s title without the real owners’ knowledge. These homes included those left vacant, passed on to heirs after the owner’s death, or owned by the elderly in nursing homes who did not understand the transactions taking place.

    The fraudulent sales were facilitated by two settlement agents, Patricia Mantilla, 35, of Lorton, Va., and Melissa McWilliams, 35, Chantilly, Va., who worked at Ace Title & Escrow in Annandale. The agents knew the home sales were fraudulent and that the owners appearing at settlement were not the rightful owners. They also assisted the conspirators in hiding profits on the property sales from other parties involved in the sale through fictitious invoices to be paid at closing.

    The conspirators, including Michael Brown, 41, Hyattsville, Md., recruited straw sellers to sign documents and falsely represent themselves as the owners of the properties. Brown, for example, appointed himself the personal representative of the rightful owner of a property and prepared a fake death certificate for the owner, although the owner was still living. He attempted to sell the property to another member of the conspiracy for $350,000.

    During the course of the scheme, numerous properties were fraudulently sold, resulting in more than $1 million in actual and intended losses.

Monday, March 25, 2013

NH Supremes: Common Law 'Self-Help' Remedy To Boot Residential Holdover Renter By Purchaser At Foreclosure Sale No Longer Available In Granite State

From an Opinion Summary from US Law:

  • Respondent J Four Realty, LLC appealed a circuit court order that found it violated RSA 540-A:2 and :3, II (2007) by using self-help to evict petitioner Mary Evans, and awarding her actual damages of $3,000 and attorney’s fees and costs.

    Petitioner did not have a written lease; she resided in the apartment as a tenant at will pursuant to an informal agreement with the prior owner.

    Respondent purchased the property from a foreclosure sale. Petitioner continued to pay rent to the prior owner. Respondent dispatched an agent to evict petitioner. She then brought suit and won at trial.

    Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that petitioner was a tenant at sufferance, and that respondent was not her landlord under New Hampshire law. However, pursuant to case law and statutory authority, even though respondent was not petitioner's landlord, respondent was not entitled to use self help to evict petitioner.(1)

    The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.
Source: Opinion Summary - Evans v. J Four Realty, LLC.

For the ruling, see Evans v. J Four Realty, LLC., No. 2012-198 (N.H. February 13, 2013).

(1) On this point, the New Hampshire Supreme Court gave the following explanation on the availability of the self-help remedy to recover possession of real estate by a foreclosure purchaser from a residential renter:
  • The respondent argues that because it was not the petitioner's "landlord" within the meaning of RSA chapter 540-A, it was entitled to use self-help to evict her.

    To the contrary, a purchaser at a foreclosure sale may not use self-help to evict a tenant at sufferance. See Greelish v. Wood, 154 N.H. 521, 527 (2006); RSA 540:12 (2007) ("The owner, lessor, or purchaser at a mortgage foreclosure sale of any tenement or real estate may recover possession thereof from a lessee, occupant, mortgagor, or other person in possession, holding it without right, after notice in writing to quit the same as herein prescribed.").

    Our decision in Greelish is dispositive. The defendant in Greelish had a life estate in certain residential property. Greelish, 154 N.H. at 521. When the property was sold to the plaintiff at a foreclosure sale, the life estate was terminated. Id. Thereafter, although the plaintiff filed a landlord-tenant writ to establish his right to possession, he also engaged in conduct intended to force the defendant to leave. Id. at 521-22. Each party sued for damages. Id. at 522.

    The trial court found that the plaintiff's harassment of the defendant, whom the court found to be a tenant at sufferance, constituted "an attempted self-help constructive eviction." Id. (quotation omitted).

    On appeal, the plaintiff argued that he was entitled to use self-help to evict the defendant because her tenancy at sufferance, unlike the tenancy at sufferance in Hill, arose outside of the rental or leasehold context. See id. at 524.

    After reviewing development of the common law and the statutory process for eviction, we disagreed. Id. at 524-27. We concluded both that "the statutory summary process in RSA chapter 540 was available to the plaintiff," id. at 527; see RSA 540:12, and that "the time when the public interest required the existence of self-help for a purchaser at a foreclosure sale to recover possession from a tenant at sufferance has passed." Greelish, 154 N.H. at 527.
While the use by real property owners of the common law remedy of self-help to boot their unwanted tenants or other occupants has generally been abolished throughout the United States, it apparently hasn't been abolished everywhere. See, for example, Maryland High Court: Centuries-Old 'Self-Help' Remedy OK When Booting Holdover Homeowners Post-Foreclosure Sale, But Handle Occupants' Personal Property With Care.

BofA Banged With $220K Sanction For Ignoring Court Orders, Stiffing Homeowner-Couple On Court-Approved Loan Modification; Judge To Bankster: Pay Up In 30 Days Or Loan Will Be Deemed Fully Satisfied!

In Orlando, Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports:

  • A federal bankruptcy judge in Orlando has slapped Bank of America Corp. with a $220,000 sanction — one of the largest fines on record in the local court — for ignoring the judge's orders and refusing an Orange County couple's court-approved mortgage-loan modification.

    U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Karen Jennemann sanctioned the giant bank earlier this month after it failed to appear at a series of hearings but continued trying to collect unauthorized mortgage payments from the homeowners, according to a court filing.

    The judge ruled March 5 that Bank of America had 30 days in which to pay the fine — or the couple's mortgage debt, which totals about $223,000, will be "deemed fully satisfied."

    Jennemann acted in the case of Warren and Mary Grant-Hougland, who live in the southwest Orange County community of Gotha. They filed personal bankruptcy in 2010 under Chapter 13 of the federal code to restructure their debts and to fend off the foreclosure of their 1,900-square-foot home.

    Clermont lawyer Jimmy Crawford, who represents the couple, would not comment on the case or the sanction, which is still subject to appeal by the bank.
  • The Houglands' is just the latest in a series of local bankruptcy cases in which Bank of America has missed court hearings, failed to file motions or otherwise been labeled missing in action when it comes to foreclosure-related and loan-modification issues, according to some local lawyers. But though it may be a big offender, Bank of America is not alone, they said.

    "When you see a sanction this large, there is clearly a sense of frustration on the part of the judge with this kind of behavior by the banks," said Amy Goodblatt, a veteran bankruptcy lawyer in Orlando and a board member of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. "When you can't even get the banks to respond in court, well, judges take a dim view of that. In a sanction like this, a judge is saying enough is enough."
  • Consumer advocates say mortgage miscues, foul-ups and outright abuse by banks have continued across the country in recent years, despite those multibillion-dollar settlements.

    In June, a Texas judge hit Bank of America with a $300,000 sanction after it was accused of breaking two loan-modification agreements with a homeowner and continuing to harass her for higher mortgage payments. In November, a Virginia judge fined the bank, one of the nation's largest, $7,500 for failing to comply with terms of a $70,000 settlement in the case of a homeowner who had accused the bank of wrongful foreclosure, fraud and defamation.

    A year ago, Orlando bankruptcy Judge Arthur Briskman fined Bank of America $11,500 in the case of Anita Smith, now 80, who was hounded by the bank's bill collectors for years even though she had surrendered her home as part of a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy, according to court records. Despite the federal judge's 2008 order discharging Smith's debt, the bank called her nearly 100 times seeking additional mortgage payments.

Budget Cuts To Force Closure Of Most L.A. County Courts Hearing Evictions; Legal Aid Groups Respond w/ Federal Suit Alleging Shutdown Screws Over Poor & Disabled, Violating Fair Housing, ADA, Due Process Rights

In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Daily News reports:

  • Several legal services organizations said they plan to sue the Los Angeles Superior Court today to force it to drop plans to stop hearing eviction cases in dozens of courtrooms, arguing that cost-cutting move would be devastating to poor and disabled tenants trying to save their homes.

    Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and the Disability Rights Legal Center said the Superior Court's plans to slash the number of courtrooms hearing eviction cases from 26 to five would force tenants to travel for several hours to fight for their rights, and many of them cannot make that journey.

    "These changes will leave countless individuals and families without access to justice in cases where basic human needs are at stake," said Neal Dudovitz, executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services.

    "For these families - many of whom depend on public transport - the prospect of traveling so far outside their own community to have their day in court is tantamount to having the door to justice slammed in their face," he added.

    Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Coalition for Economic Survival, People Organized for Westside Renewal, Union de Vecinos and the Independent Living Center of Southern California.

    The Superior Court's "consolidation plan," slated for implementation March 18, is intended to close a projected $56 million to $85 million budget deficit in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

    Aside from closing or "repurposing" 10 courthouses - including Malibu, West Los Angeles, Whittier and Pomona North - the Superior Court also plans to have the remaining courthouses handle only certain cases.

    Currently, there are 26 courthouses handling the 70,000 unlawful detainers - eviction cases - and 60,000 small claims that go through the Superior Court each year.

    If the consolidation plan goes through, unlawful detainers would be heard in only five courthouses, and small claims in six courthouses.

    Maria Palomares, a lawyer with Neighborhood Legal Services, said tenants at risk of being kicked out their homes in the San Fernando Valley currently go to courtrooms in Van Nuys and Chatsworth. The consolidation plan would mean new cases would instead have to be heard in Santa Monica and Pasadena - 30 miles away.

    Palomares said that for many of her clients having to make that trip is not just inconvenient but impossible. She noted many of them are poor, disabled, or homeless, and those with jobs cannot afford to skip work to spend hours commuting to the courthouse, and do not have child care options.

    "The reality is that people are not going to be able to get there, given the other considerations of mental health, language access, transportation, etc.," Palomares said. "What this will do is effectively shut the court doors for the most vulnerable people."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bully Bankster Dodges Bullet When Foreclosing Loan Backed By Dubious Evidence; Gets 11th Hour Cold Feet On Eve Of Trial, Dismisses Case

In Sandusky, Ohio, the Sandusky Register published a recent account [by local attorney Dan McGookey] involving an area-homeowner who had reportedly been screwed over by the financial institution holding her home loan after successfully emerging from a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The loan ultimately went into foreclosure, she responded with a fight, and the following excerpt describes what happened when the parties were about to go to trial:

  • Then on the eve of trial, without explanation her bank suddenly dismissed the case, abandoning its 9-year-long effort. Why, after all that time and expense, would the bank get cold feet and reverse course?

    We will never know for sure, but a good guess is that it didn’t want its evidence exposed to the scrutiny a trial would bring.

    Keep in mind, that chances are that like Stephanie’s, your mortgage is in a trust bundled with thousands of other loans, and the bank may not want to risk putting all its loans into play should it lose one case.

Feds Slam Landlord For Stiffing Rent-Paying Servicemember Out Of Security Deposit, Extra Fees On Broken Lease Properly Terminated Pursuant To SCRA

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Alexandria, Virginia):

  • A federal judge has ordered the landlord of a rental property in Manassas, Va., to return money owed a servicemember after he was penalized for breaking the rental lease because the military ordered him to move.(1)
  • According to court records, Occoquan Forest Drive LLC and its registered agent, John Williams, of Alexandria, Va., leased a residential property in Manassas, Va., to a servicemember tenant and his wife. After receiving permanent change of station orders to move to Nevada, the tenants properly terminated the lease pursuant to the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which protects the rights of servicemembers while on active duty in the military by suspending or modifying certain civil obligations.

    The United States brought suit against Occoquan and Williams under the SCRA for refusing to return the tenants’ security deposit and charging early termination fees. In a memorandum opinion issued on Feb. 15, 2013, Judge Hilton found both Occoquan and Williams liable under the statute, ordered them to return the tenants’ security deposit, and enjoined them from imposing early termination charges.
For the U.S. Attorney press release, see Landlord Ordered To Pay Back Servicemember For Illegally Penalizing Him For Moving To New Post.

For the ruling, see U.S. v. Williams, No. 1:12-cv-551 (D.Va. February 14, 2013).

(1) In addition, the court ruling provides that the Plaintiff is entitled to the injunctive and monetary relief requested in the Complaint. For the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Government on behalf of the servicemember, see Complaint - U.S. v. Williams, et ano.

HOA's Use Of Gate Access Restrictions As Debt Collection Tool To Squeeze Unpaid Maintenance Fees From Non-Paying Homeowners

In Lake Mary, Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports:

  • A standoff of sorts has occurred at the gates of one of the region's most prestigious country clubs.

    Alaqua resident David Acosta owes as much as $100,000, possibly a record for the Orlando area, in homeowner-association fees. The exclusive Seminole County community has responded by trying to limit others' access to his home and by forcing Acosta to stop and get permission each time before passing through the subdivision's entrance gate.

    The fight over those pending restrictions has gone to court, where Acosta has been representing himself against lawyers for the association.
  • Gate restrictions are a debt-collection tool advocated by Winter Garden lawyer James Gustino, who represents not only Alaqua's homeowner association but also those for Stoneybrook East, Stoneybrook West and Lake Butler Sound. The gate-access question pending before Circuit Judge Marlene Alva in Acosta's case could determine whether such communities can restrict homeowners' use of common areas.

    "Anyone who is a full-time member of the family can get access, but not guests," Gustino said recently. "It's not that draconian in that sense. When you enter into a purchase contract, subject to covenants, conditions and deed restrictions, you enter into a contract with everyone else in the community, and their fortunes are impacted based on whether you comply."

Kentucky Housing Advocates: Inflated Fee Rackets Associated With Tax Lien Investing That Put Financial Squeeze On Homeowners May Now Be Easier To Pull Off

In Louisville, Kentucky, the Courier-Journal reports:

  • A low-profile bill that sailed through the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly would make it easier for investors who buy property tax liens to charge homeowners up to $2,000 in legal fees, some Louisville advocates say.

    Under state law, tax lien investors are entitled to recoup interest from homeowners when they settle delinquent property taxes on the homeowner’s behalf. (American Tax Funding, Tax Ease and Nebraska Alliance Realty are examples lien buyers who have operated in Louisville).

    Lien buyers can also bill the homeowner for “reasonable” attorney’s fees incurred while preparing a foreclosure or protecting their interest in the property.

    Between the interest, late fees and the attorney’s fees, an unpaid property tax bill can double or triple in a year or two, making it very expensive for homeowners to remove a tax lien from their property.

    SB 27 appears to set “reasonable” attorney fees at $2,000. If tax lienholders want to charge more, they’d have to get approval from a court.

    Anne Marie Regan, an attorney with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, said the bill encourages lienholders to charge $2,000 in legal fees as a matter of course.

    Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said $2,000 is too high “without support for the actual work done.”

    The bill does say fees should be ”based upon documented work performed at a rate commensurate with hourly rates customarily charged by private attorneys in that jurisdiction for similar services.”

    Sen. Tom Buford, the Nicholasville Republican who sponsored the bill, was not in his Frankfort office Thursday, and the line at his home was busy.

    Gov. Steve Beshear is “reviewing” whether to sign the bill, spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said.