Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Real Estate Story

I learned about a notary and real estate scam, back a year or so ago, and I don't have first hand information so this entire story should be viewed as 'apocryphal'.

The owner of a house in DC died. His heirs who were out of state were a bit slow in probating the will, which had some flaw, I understand. None of this is huge, so far, but time and a half pressed on and the house was finally put on the market by DC for failure to pay taxes. It was bought through a tax sale and notarized by a fake or unregistered Notary. The person who bought at the tax sale sold to a second person who was also a fake and also using a fake notary. This latest "buyer" left a fake name and a fake address in Phoenix, AZ. Years passed. The house deteriorated so badly that the next neighbor painted the exterior and repaired a lot of it to keep it up and to avoid living next to a nightmare. You could hear the raccoons (or something) in the house and it was a haven for feral cats. In fact, DC has a provision (thanks to the cat lobby) that says homeowners who have been visited by feral cats can have established a "feral cat feeding station," and are enjoined from changing that situation to the disadvantage of the cats.  

What a mess! Coupled with the Vacant Home Act, which magnifies the taxes of houses that are deemed vacant for more than 30 days. These "Vacant" houses have their real estate taxes raised by a factor of 5...meaning if the taxes were $6000, the tax would then become $30,000. And to show you that the DC tax office is your friend, if the house is blighted, the taxes are raised by a factor of 10 taking it all the way to $60,000. Think of the ramifications for this for a town of transients...politicos who maintain their homes in other states or even countries and who come and go like seasonal workers... (like the Australian Sundowners who visit in the late winter early spring to shear the sheep for their annual haircuts). All it takes is a complaint from a neighbor and a visit from the Vacant Home office of the DCRA and you are [1. toast, 2. hosed, 3.  screwed, blued and tattooed. (Pick one or more)]

Scary enough? Well, there's a bright side to this story (but not for the neighbors, sorry to say). The fake owners proceeded to file suit against each other. Governmental agencies are remarkably reluctant to enter the legal arena in the midst of a fight so they stood back and let this battle rage. Since the main owner of record was fake and the notary was fake, the authorities had no alternative but to get a court's judgement, but wait, since there's a prior lawsuit raging, DC couldn't act.


Good news...the fake owners were unmasked and unhorsed finally, the house was taken off the Vacant home list and a developer stepped in to clean up (boy, did he clean up!). It sold almost as soon as it hit the market for way more than anyone expected. The fact that this happened in one of the plushest  of the expensive neighborhoods makes the story even more interesting but as it was of only tangential value to me, I was a mere observer.

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