September 22, 2013. For 25 years, this author has been jumping up and down warning Americans that when Property Tax laws were first enacted, the right to own property in America was revoked. Today, predatory banks, insurance companies and wealthy individuals are taking advantage of the one-sided laws and literally stealing $100,000-plus homes, fully owned by families for generations, for as little as $10 in back taxes.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that for thousands of years, millions of people have fought and died for the simple right to own their own property. And after possibly the hardest-fought battle in human history, twentieth century Americans willingly gave up that right. In doing so, hundreds of thousands of innocent, hard-working Americans – mostly senior citizens – have lost everything, including their homes, life savings, their health and in many cases, even their lives.
Banks and the foreclosure scam
When the housing bubble burst in 2008 and 2009, banks rushed to foreclose on millions of Americans so they could turn a quick profit and get the homes and properties back on the market and repeat the cycle all over again. But in their mad frenzy for ever more money, banking officials began foreclosing on millions of home and business owners that weren’t in default.
In many cases, homeowners had never fallen behind on their mortgage payments. In other cases, the borrowers had paid off the bank in full years ago and they owned their homes and storefronts completely. And in thousands of other instances, banks foreclosed on people that weren’t even their customers. None of those people should have lost their homes. But millions of them did anyway. And since nobody was ever arrested or prosecuted for wrongly throwing millions of innocent people on the streets and stealing everything they had, the practice continues to this day.
In a recent and insulting settlement with Wall Street banks, corporations like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup were allowed to pay just one penny on the dollar to the people whose homes were wrongly taken. The federal government allowed the banks to keep the stolen homes, the life savings of the homeowners and walk away without admitting wrongdoing.
As detailed in a Whiteout Press article last month, the banks’ foreclosure scam is so widespread, the US federal government was forced to step in and represent 4 million US homeowners who were wrongly foreclosed on. Showing just how close to Wall Street the Obama administration is, the Justice Dept was shut out of the lawsuit and prosecution was left to the Treasury Dept and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. That meant there was no chance of criminal charges being filed against anyone.
Instead, the banks were allowed to keep the proceeds from 4 million massive thefts with the only punishment being a small fine. When all was said and done, 80% of the home and business owners who lost everything due to a wrongful foreclosure would only receive between $300 and $800. Banking executives laughed as they left the courtroom knowing that they stole $200 billion worth of property, but only had to return $3.6 billion to the victims.
It’s also worth noting that government officials were so overrun with wrongful foreclosure victims that they decided to end their involvement in seeking justice for the American people and instead capped the class action suit at the 4 million victims they already had. The remaining victims, however many millions there are, are simply out of luck. Read the August Whiteout Press article, ‘Banks robbing wrong Houses, still above the Law’ for more information.
The new corporate foreclosure scam
With the federal government giving a green light to Wall Street corporations to continue their practice of predatory foreclosures on Americans, other industries quickly jumped at the chance to multiply their investments one-thousand fold, including giant insurance companies, hedge funds and even individual wealthy investors.
With Wall Street running out of homeowners and business owners to foreclose on, they simply paid hundreds of local elected officials throughout the country to change their tax laws. In the past, when a homeowner was late on his or her property tax bill, the government gave them ample time and opportunity to pay it. And in the rare instance that a home had to be foreclosed on for back taxes, officials sold the home, paid off the tax bill, and returned the additional proceeds from the sale to the homeowner.
That’s still how most Americans think the system works. But they’d be horrified to find out just how wrong they are. While the newest foreclosure scam is now an epidemic across the country, nowhere is it more illustrated than our nation’s capitol – Washington DC.
The news shouldn’t be left wing or right wing, conservative or liberal. It should be the news. It should be independent – Whiteout Press
License to steal homes and life savings
Banks, insurance companies and wealthy investors insist they’re not doing anything wrong or illegal. They’re simply taking advantage of the property tax laws that allow them to put up $1,000 and walk away a few months later with as much as $200,000. In some tragic cases, the amount put up is as little as $25. And in many instances, the victims are nothing more than elderly or sick senior citizens that have unknowingly fallen behind on their mail and bills.
In the past, counties and cities would work with the property owners to get the back taxes paid someday. But now, local governments are immediately selling the back tax bill to Wall Street corporations for the amount of the taxes owed. From there, the homeowners have a limited and set amount of time to pay the corporation the back taxes plus interest, or lose everything.
Unlike the past where only the amount necessary to pay the tax bill was withheld and the remainder of the sale proceeds went back to the homeowner, new laws allow the corporations to keep 100% of the sale price, leaving the poor property owner with nothing but thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs.
A scathing report by the Washington Post earlier this month reported in painful detail just how horrifying the heartless practice has become. The outlet investigates a number of victims in the Washington DC area to illustrate what’s happening on a nationwide scale.
Taking everything, and then some
76 year-old Marine veteran Bennie Coleman owed $134 dollars in property taxes on the home he purchased outright decades ago. But that didn’t stop US Marshalls from dedicating an armed task force to board up his house and sit the senior citizen on a pile of his belongings across the street. Bennie Coleman had nowhere else to go, so he just sat there.
‘Coleman, struggling with dementia, was among those who lost a home,’ the Post reported, ‘His debt had snowballed to $4,999 — 37 times the original tax bill. Not only did he lose his $197,000 house, but he also was stripped of the equity because tax lien purchasers are entitled to everything.’
How did a $134 property tax bill snowball into a $4,999 debt and a $197,000 forfeiture? The new tax laws also allow the private and corporate investors to charge the victims unlimited legal fees and court costs. Law firms have taken full advantage of that and stuck homeowners already struggling with a back tax bill with additional fees. And as the report details, the charges are rarely listed, backed-up or explained. Law firms are sending fraudulent legal bills to displaced former-homeowners for whatever they feel like charging.
“I just don’t know what he’s trying to charge me for,” 80 year-old Barbara Morgan told reporters while standing outside the courtroom earlier this year with a $2,700 legal bill that doubled the tax debt on her home of 50 years, “It’s ridiculous.” The Post confirms that current laws do not include any caps on legal fees and law firms are charging victims as much as $450 per hour, times multiple attorneys and other legal aides, just to foreclose on them.
The report from the Washington Post goes on to give additional examples of unknowing senior citizens losing their homes over a few hundred dollars in back taxes, as well as the tried and true practice of foreclosing on the wrong families for no legitimate reason at all.
Some of the actual people the Post found include (from the Washington Post):
- A 65 year-old flower shop owner lost his Northwest Washington home of 40 years after a company from Florida paid his back taxes – $1,025 – and then took the house through foreclosure while he was in hospice, dying of cancer.
- One foreclosed-on house near the Maryland border had only a $287 lien and was sold less than eight weeks later for $129,000 by the wealthy investor who kept the entire amount.
- A 95 year-old church choir leader lost her family home to a Maryland investor over a tax debt of $44.79 while she was struggling with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.
- A 64 year-old woman spent two years fighting to save her home after the tax office erroneously charged her $8.61 in interest.
- One homeowner who lives in the house his father bought after World War II was charged $5,500 in corporate fees, nearly double his $2,900 tax bill.
Looking past the heart-wrenching individual stories, the report’s authors also looked at the overall numbers to see just how large the problem has become. Some of the facts discovered by the publication include:
- Of the homeowners who lost their properties, one in three had liens of less than $1,000.
- More than 40 houses were taken by companies whose representatives were caught breaking laws in other states to win liens.
- Instead of stepping in, the D.C. tax office created more problems by selling nearly 1,900 liens by mistake in the past six years — even after owners paid their taxes — forcing unsuspecting families into legal battles that have lasted for years.
- The city sold 2,000 tax liens to six corporate investors who paid the $5 million in back taxes. The homes have a combined value of $666 million.
One of the worst offenders, according to the Washington Post report, is Chicago’s Aeon Financial. In 2009, D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles stepped in, seeking an injunction against Aeon over fees that he called “unlawful” and “predatory.” “Aeon’s excessive attorney’s fee demands are likely to result in at least some homeowners not being able to redeem homes,” the suit said.
Showing that this phenomenon isn’t isolated to cities like Washington DC, a local news report from Cuyahogo County Ohio confirms the widespread abuse. The account also proves just how corrupt and one-sided the entire system is.
The report reads, ‘According to county records, Aeon owns 243 properties in Cuyahoga County obtained via delinquent property tax lien foreclosures.’ That’s the number of properties remaining after the corporation purchased and flipped thousands of tax-delinquent properties for pennies on the dollar in the Ohio county.
In the most shocking revelation, the local report exposes Aeon’s own delinquent property taxes. ‘Aeon is delinquent with paying their own property taxes – for years – and now owes Cuyahoga County more money than the actual homeowners that lost their property in the first place. Aeon owes Cuyahoga County $635,818.88.’ The report continues, ‘Meanwhile, Cuyahoga County officials look the other way and continue to allow Aeon to foreclose on property owners in Cuyahoga County while Aeon refuses to pay their own property taxes.’
Some cities and counties have slowly made attempts to stop the predatory and devastating practice. New York City won’t allow it to be done to low income senior citizens or the disabled. Maryland limited legal fees to $1,500. And a few counties in Michigan have stopped the practice all together and have gone back to collecting back property taxes themselves. But while protecting the disabled and limiting a $1,500 fee is great, these remedies don’t do anything to stop regular homeowners from losing everything while they’re in the hospital over tax bills that are only a few hundred dollars. For now, the ugly but legal practice continues to spread across America like wildfire – coming to a town like yours.