A Westland couple likely will keep their home, after arguing in court they weren’t aware they were facing foreclosure over an unpaid $3,000 tax bill.
Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree said his staff and an attorney for Ron and Bernice King are working on a deal that would allow the Kings to keep the home after the delinquent 2012 taxes are paid.
The Detroit News last month profiled the couple in an article about allegations that foreclosure notices don’t always arrive by mail or get posted on doors. They said they sent payments to the county and believed they were on a plan to avoid foreclosure.
“It is a world of relief,” Ron King, 57, said Friday. “I was scared to death about having to start over. And my health is not good.”
“I am glad the Wayne County Treasurer was able to work with us.”
Sabree said the buyer who bid $40,000 on the King’s home at last fall’s auction backed out recently because of the delay caused by the Kings’ lawsuits.
“The buyer got tired of waiting, so that enabled us to sit down at the table and work something out,” Sabree said.
County officials hadn’t commented directly on the Kings’ or other similar lawsuits because they are pending, but have said in court filings they followed the law.
Along with the Kings, 18 families have sued Wayne County and several suburbs in federal court, alleging their foreclosures were illegal because the owners didn’t receive notices and believed they had more time to pay taxes and save their properties. All face possible eviction. A hearing in federal court is scheduled for June.
Among the allegations: certified letters are listed “in transit” more than two years after being mailed. And owners say they never received a foreclosure notice from the company tasked with personally visiting properties.
The Detroit News obtained records of certified mailings through the Freedom of Information Act and sampled 1,000 of the 333,000 sent by Wolverine Solutions in late 2014. The News found more than half are still listed in the U.S. post office’s tracking system as “in transit.”
Sabree said his office hasn’t always received proof from the U.S. Postal Service that a person signed for the letter or that delivery was attempted. But he said he has no evidence to believe the post office didn’t try to deliver the certified letters.
The postal service has agreed to refund the county $75,000 over the problems, Sabree said on Friday. The county spends about $1 million a year on postage for mailings.
The Kings said they knew they owed $3,000 in back taxes from 2012. They fell behind while getting out of a sub-prime mortgage that more than doubled their monthly payments.
They paid their delinquent 2010 and 2011 taxes through a payment plan and called and left a message on a county hotline in March 2015 to start a new one for 2012’s debt. When no one called back, the Kings sent three monthly payments to the treasurer. The couple said they thought they were OK because their money orders weren’t returned and they didn’t get any foreclosure notices.
They also made regular payments for 2013, 2014 and 2015 taxes, because they said a county staffer had told them to do so or they would face foreclosure.
That wasn’t true, their lawyer Andrew Strahan said. The couple could have used those funds to pay the 2012 taxes and avoid foreclosure.
“I am thrilled the treasurer has done the right thing under these unique circumstance,” Strahan said.