By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
For dozens of Clovis property owners, April 1 didn’t feel like much of a joke.
That’s the day the city filed a foreclosure suit on their properties with the city poised to take over titles for liens ranging from $180 to nearly $50,000. There were 128 properties on the list as of March 2, but City Attorney David Richards said many property owners have since paid off their fees and removed from the lawsuit.
It’s the first step in a long process, city officials say, with plenty of latitude given to property owners.
But that didn’t make the process any easier, said Edith Knowles of Clovis. She and her husband recently received registered mail that said their home on Sandia Drive would become city property unless they could come up with $1,809.09 to cover garbage, sewage and administrative fees.
There’s never a good time to receive such notice, but Knowles said it was troubling because the mail came after she had been in and out of the hospital and her husband lost his job a few weeks ago.
“We have never missed a mortgage payment, we have always paid everything on time,” said Knowles, who said the couple has had the property for 10 years. “We’re in our late 60s. For $1,800, this is ridiculous.”
The registered mail notice, Richards said in a March city commission meeting, comes after six months of unsuccessful contact with property owners.
Once the lawsuit is filed, property owners have 60 days to pay off the liens and be dismissed from the lawsuit. Richards said in previous similar foreclosure suits in 1988, 1994, 1998 and 2004, there have been multiple rounds of dismissals.
The properties that make it through the 60 days go on the suit. If the suit is successful, the title of the property is transferred to the city, which tries to sell the property within 15 days.
Anybody who buys the property does so knowing the property is subject to right of redemption for one year — meaning the previous owner can gain the property back by paying liens and fees owed.
“All throughout the process, the city makes every effort to get people to pay them,” Richards said. “Some people don’t.”
Of the property owners listed in the lawsuit, only about a dozen had listed telephone numbers. A majority either declined comment or did not return phone calls.
However, it’s not private owners like the Knowles family that make up the list. Many are mortgage companies or landlords
Arno Massey said he has more than a dozen properties on the list, whether it’s Western or an associated broker named on the list. In all cases, Massey said he finds ways to work with his renters, some of which he says have medical problems or are looking for jobs.
“We’re not going to let any customer lose our property,” Massey said. “They could owe us $30,000 (on a mortgage). We’re not going to let them lose the house over (a lien of) $1,000.”
Wilbur Johnson of Clovis said he’s owned many of his properties on the foreclosure list for more than 30 years, and he’s planning on taking some of his empty lots and turning them into rental properties.
But total fees of $18,600 on his half-dozen properties are “pretty painful,” especially on vacant properties.
“I don’t see how they can do that,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how they can collect garbage on vacant lots.”
Richards said in instances like those described by Johnson, there are mechanisms for people to tell the city their property doesn’t require city services.