Council discusses communication with residents of foreclosed properties

According to Controller Matt Agresta, he has been given the green light from Montgomery County court to begin transferring deeds of nearly 400 foreclosed properties to the city. At Tuesday’s committee meeting, council members continued their discussion on what terms, if any, should be communicated to people residing in homes that will be owned by the city.

At a previous meeting, Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said she wants to make sure tenants know that they are no longer required to pay rent to their former landlords once the city assumes ownership. At Tuesday’s meeting, she suggested that a letter be delivered to tenants notifying them of the change in ownership. She also suggested that tenants be allowed to stay at their properties rent free for two months, but then be required to move out.

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said he didn’t see any benefit to requiring residents to move out by a certain date. When Hatzenbuhler asked him his opinion on her suggested terms, he replied, “Why do anything? Ignore them.” Later in the meeting, he agreed that notifying tenants that they did not have to pay their landlords after the deed transfer would help “keep resources in the city.”

Hatzenbuhler said she wants to get letters out to tenants before the end of the month, specifying the date of property transfer as December 31. However Agresta said the process of transferring all deeds may not be complete by then. In working through the deed transfers,. Agresta said he could not prioritize properties with tenants, because he did not have information as to which properties were occupied or not.

Alderman Ron Barone said he wants to make sure that property owners who have been foreclosed on know there is the possibility that the council can decide to re-convey a property back to them, if they are able to re-pay all their back taxes before the property is sold at auction.

However, DeCusatis said, “In order for this body to consider the transfer of property, it has to be shown that it’s in the city’s best interest to affect that transfer, which I would imagine would be on a case by case inquiry. Because you have to determine what the value of the property might be, the market value versus what’s owed on it…if the property’s worth more that what’s owed, then how would you justify a sale at less than market value?”

Agresta asked, “If someone owes $20,000 in back taxes [for example], but their property can be sold for $100,000, why would you attempt to sell that as opposed to giving the property back?”

However, Agresta added, “In a majority of cases, that’s not going to happen.”

“Why would we give it back to someone who doesn’t pay their taxes to the point where they’re foreclosed?” asked Mayor Ann Thane

“I would think if they are paying it up front, why would we want to take their house away from them? Are we in the business of taking people’s houses, is this what this city is about?” asked Barone.

“We’re in the business of protecting the tax payers,” said Thane.

“If they come in to make it right, I think we should let them have it back,” said Alderwoman Valerie Beekman.

“They have that opportunity now to come to talk to [Controller Agresta] and then he can suggest to the council that perhaps this is a situation that the council should consider because this particular individual and situation is egregious and we should work with them,” said Thane.

There was no consensus on a course of action at the end of the committee meeting. However Barone reminded the council that although Tuesday was the last scheduled regular meeting of the year, they could still call a special meeting anytime before the end of the year.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Beekman wished her successor as second ward alderman, Paul Ochal, who was at the meeting, well. At the end of the meeting, Alderman Ed Russo wished the four council members (Leggiero, Beekman, Hatzenbuhler, and Barone) who were voted out of office good luck. “I think they should have a key to the city too, for the amount of years that they put in,” he added.

“I’m sure the next mayor can consider that,” said Thane just before hitting the gavel to close the meeting.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.