The other day one of the inspector’s I work with received a letter from a lender dismissively informing her that unless she provided proof via a recorded document that the bank had a connection with the property in question, it would basically ignore her notice of violation regarding code violations on the property. (She had actually gotten the name of the lender from the law firm representing the bank!) I quickly researched the property on the county’s Recorder of Deeds website and discovered a document known as a lis pendens. A lis pendens is a document filed by the bank with the local recorder’s office when it files a foreclosure lawsuit against the owner of the property who has a mortgage with the lender. “Lis pendens” means simply that a lien is pending. It notifies any potential buyers about the lawsuit. As I expected, the name of the plaintiff in the lawsuit was the bank denying knowledge of a relationship between it and the property. I sent the document on to the inspector who planned to compose a pointed letter to the lender. It reminded me of how important this document can be. It contains the full name of the lender (plaintiff) and all of the names of the owners and anyone having an interest in the property (defendants). It contains the case number of the foreclosure suit so anyone can go to the local circuit court clerk and ask to see the file. It also contains the name of the lawyers representing the lender which means that an inspector has the name, address and telephone number of a live human being he or she can call to get more information about a problem property. Whenever you see a lis pendens in the chain a title, you know the property is in or has been in foreclosure so use that information to obtain as much information as you need to identify the responsible parties for the property.
In Victorville, CA a lender decided to tear down new homes and other structures that hadn’t been completed to avoid future fines from the local government for code violations.
Officials of Guaranty Bank of Austin, Texas, which took over the development last year, were unavailable for comment. But Victorville city spokeswoman Yvonne Hester said the bank decided not to throw good money after bad.
“It just didn’t pencil out for them,” she said. “They’d have to spend a lot of money to turn around and sell the houses. They just made a financial decision to just demolish them.”
You can read the entire story in the L.A. Times at this address
Local governments frequently use fines as a way to motivate defendants to come into compliance with the code. Sometimes buildings have to be torn down if they’ve suffered too much damage from being open structures. But, this is the first time I’ve heard of tearing down brand new buildings as a way of coming into compliance with the local codes.
The Center for Public Integrity has released a report showing who the top 25 sub-prime lenders were and how they were financed by the very banks receiving bailout money. If you’re wondering if the lender you’re dealing with is on the list, check out this article:
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story on “underwater” houses, those where the amount of the mortgage exceeds the value of the residence. It estimates that 1 out of 3 homes now fit this category. The article goes on to say that:
…borrowers who owe 30% more than their homes are worth are far more likely to walk away from their property than those who owe just 5% or 10% more and expect prices to rebound.
It’s important for local governments to consider the implications on the housing stock in their communities in light of this trend. The article can be found at:
One of the most powerful tools that can be used to force compliance with the law is contempt of court. When someone wilfully disobeys a court order, that person can be held on contempt of court. The judge then has the option of imposing a fine on the defendant or sending him or her to jail until there is compliance with the court order. The person is entitled to a hearing before being sentenced to show why he or she should not be held in contempt of court. I have found that just the possibility of being found in contempt is enough to encourage a recalcitrant defendant to do what he or she was previously ordered to do. Only one of the defendants I have prosecuted ever served jail time for contempt. The rest complied by the date they had been ordered to surrender in court to begin their jail stay, thereby purging themselves of contempt. While fines usually get most people to comply with the code, there are always a few defendants who are defiant. In those rare cases, a petition for rule to show cause is the document that ought to be filed by the prosecutor to seek compliance.
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