Land Theft, an American Plague: Widow Loses Home for Unpaid Interest of $6.30



Eileen battisti

Eileen Battisti, 53

The AP reported that a judge found a Pennsylvania widow was given ample notice before her $280,000 house was sold at a tax auction three years ago over $6.30 in unpaid interest. The disparity between the value of the home and the size of the debt was not addressed by the judge. The judgement has since been vacated over the disparity and the case is being appealed.

Eileen Battisti has had a hard time dealing with her husband’s death in 2004 and it was he who handled the bills. Her home was taken and sold at auction for $116,000 in 2011 over $6.30 in unpaid interest. Allegedly, tax sale law and tax real estate law do not allow flexibility. The litigants claimed they gave ample notice to Mrs. Battisti.

“I paid everything, and didn’t know about the $6.30,” Battisti said. “For the house to be sold just because of $6.30 is crazy.”

She is still living in the home and the appeal has been sent to the Commonwealth Court.

Battisti had owed other monies but at the time of the sale, she only owed $235 in tax and interest.

While Battisti will get most of the $116,000, it was sold for less than half of market value.

State and municipal tax offices are scrambling to fill budget holes in the shadow of epic foreclosures by aggressively pursuing unpaid property taxes — even if it means auctioning off homes over a few bucks. As a result, annual tax lien sales have topped $15 billion per year, according to a report released by the National Consumer Law Center last year.

Someone needs to explain to me how the buyer can in good conscience buy a house like this under these circumstances. In the case of Mrs. Battisti and so many others, investors are capitalizing on the misery of others. According to Business Insider, S.P. Lewis of Imperial bought Mrs. Battisti’s home.

These horror stories are becoming more common thanks to an epochal housing bust and a field of home buyers and sellers that is replete with corrupt swindlers. Sometimes judges work hand-in-hand with real estate outfits to buy up foreclosed homes at a fraction of their value. Our government sometimes plays the role of enabler.

Bennie Coleman

Bennie Coleman

Consider the case of DC homeowner Bennie Coleman, a widower and retired Marine Sergeant, who bought his home for cash decades ago but lost it over a $134 property tax bill. The Washington Post ran the story.

Bennie was 76 years old at the time and he was taken out of his home by armed US marshalls. He sat outside in a lawn chair in DC and watched everything he owned, including his service medals and the photos of his late wife being hauled to the curb.

His house had been sold at auction by predators who have more power than mortgage brokers.

DC has a corrupt program which allows private investors to recover unpaid taxes. DC once placed liens on properties with unpaid taxes and then sold them at auction to investors who made money on other peoples’ misfortune. It didn’t matter that these homes were paid for, free-and-clear. That was bad enough. It’s so much worse now. They don’t even act as middle men any longer.

The program has now become a predatory scheme in which investors grab liens throughout the district, charge thousands in legal fees – $450 an hour – and other costs that far exceeds the original tax bills.

Many are forced into paying these loan shark-style costs if they hope to save their homes. Others like Bennie, who has dementia, have no options.

The district no longer allows liens under $1,000 (as if that is a high enough threshold) but Bennie still doesn’t have his home.

They have stolen 200 homes and plan to steal another 1200. They steal stores, parking lots, vacant land but it’s legalized theft.

Bennie lost his home because the predators ran up his costs to 37 times the cost of the debt and he was not even allowed the equity on his $197,000 home, because, unlike mortgage companies, they stripped him of his equity. They take everything.

When the government complains about predatory mortgage companies, they aren’t telling you about predators who are far worse that they have enabled.

In irony of ironies, the nation’s capitol has one of the most corrupt tax lien systems in the nation.

The tax lien industry mercilessly takes homes from the handicapped, elderly, sick and dying. One man had his home taken over $1025 while he was dying in hospice. Another lost her home over $44.79 while she was in a nursing home.

Then there are the field service industry thieves.

Earlier this month, the Huffington Post reported the story of recently widowed Marie Osborne who came home one day to find the doors of her home padlocked, her things ransacked and valuable objects including a grandfather clock were stolen. She was being foreclosed on but was living in the home. A “field services” company had come in while she was out and treated the home as if it were abandoned.

This particular company has dozens of lawsuits pending because of similar treatment of homes. Companies like theirs are propping up everywhere. They are supposed to be securing abandoned homes from weather and theft but go quite a bit further as they did in Mrs. Osborne’s case.

The industry ,which experts estimate booked more than $2 billion in revenue last year, is plagued by allegations of misconduct and abuse but they are thriving thanks to an over-burdened foreclosure system and a government greedy for tax revenue.

There are also the bank mistakes that destroy lives. If a bank gives you a directive as you struggle to make payments or wait for a readjustment in the mortgage, you could lose your home as one disabled veteran discovered.

A disabled Marine Corp veteran with an autistic child, Jerry Hillard, had only 6 years left on his mortgage. He wanted to modify his mortgage to make it more affordable. The bank – Chase – told him to skip payments so he could qualify, according to Mr. Hillard. He did, the bank sold his mortgage, and the bank foreclosed on him.

The lender has now come back and offered to rent him his own home for $5500 a month.

Mr. Hillard has little recourse and won’t get his house back.

In the early part of the last century, my great great grandparents were growing elderly. They came from Ireland during the potato famine and nothing was as important to them as owning land.

My great great grandmother Anna Kelly became a citizen seven years after her arrival on our shores so she could own land. Her husband was a successful builder in Manhattan. Together, they bought up land by Central Park, Gracie Mansion, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. By the early 1900’s, they were becoming senile. A land swindler, of which there were many at the time, tricked them into turning over their properties to him.

In those days, it was a very uncomplicated process to take someone’s property.

Today we have a much more complicated process but we still have land swindlers. They just have to work a little harder for it, but the government is there to help.