This story has been updated with the correct number of mailings following new information OAG’s office shared with The Washington Informer.
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Denise Rolark Barnes,
Publisher – The Washington Informer
D.C. Attorney General filed a complaint against Express Homebuyers, a real estate investment company, for allegedly mass-mailing over 10,000 District homeowners notices about overdue property taxes and risks of foreclosure and “grossly misrepresenting the D.C. tax lien sale process to create a false sense of urgency for its services,” per the complaint.
“Express Homebuyers sent letters to hundreds of thousands of District residents about delinquent taxes, but a vast majority, over 99 percent, did not owe any delinquent taxes, despite these letters falsely claiming that they did,” says Benjamin Wiseman, director of the office of consumer protection public advocacy division.
The letter header reads: “County records indicate you owe past-due property taxes. Let us help. If you do nothing, the county can take your property and auction it for a tiny fraction of its value.”
Wiseman says homeowners may have a “false sense of urgency” and sell homes at below market value due to a “mistaken belief that the property could be subject to foreclosure or taken from them.”
The letters were distributed widely throughout all areas in the District, says Wiseman.
Express Homebuyers, based in Springfield, Virginia, and operating in 27 states, renovates, purchases and resells homes.
The real estate company markets itself as “different” from other real estate groups because of its express buying process that allows property owners to “close in as little as 7 days and get paid cash.”
Express Homebuyers did not immediately return Washington Informer’s request for comment on the complaint and claims. Racine’s complaint names Brad Chandler and Judson Allen as the defendants.
Attorney General Karl Racine tweeted asking District homeowners to ignore the notices. Racine encourages homeowners to check the status of property taxes for free on the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue website or call 202-727-4829 for assistance.
In 2015, similarly the Arlington County treasurer’s office notified residents about the “false claims” of overdue tax debt.
Carla De La Pava, Arlington County Treasurer since 2014, told The Washington Informer, “When 5 to 10 homeowners reached out to my office, we called the police.”
One letter, dated November 3, 2015, claimed that a homeowner owed $2,336.23 in real estate taxes.
Pava says those homeowners didn’t owe anything.
In 2015, Judson Allen, under Brad Chandler’s profile, commented under the treasurer’s office’s notification.
“If the information is incorrect, it is the fault of the [Arlington’s tax database] website and not Express Homebuyers,” says Allen. “We are a reputable business that has been operating since 2003 and have bought nearly 2,000 homes. We are not trying to scare or scam anyone.”
Pava says that the “Arlington County police did an investigation … but the matter wasn’t pursued further because no one had actually sold their house or had financial loss because of the letter.”
Now the D.C. Attorney General’s Office has filed a complaint seeking a “penalty for sending the false and deceptive letters,” says Wiseman. “We want to make sure that these practices stop and that consumers don’t take any action in response to the letters. We will seek restitution for [homeowners] for any amount or damages suffered.”
The complaint “demands” a jury trial and the initial hearing is scheduled for March 25.