Tax delinquent for 2 decades and getting away with it

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The City of Richmond is owed more than $20 million dollars from people who haven’t paid their property taxes.

8News has uncovered the fact that some of those tax delinquents have been getting away without paying taxes for decades.

286 properties in Richmond have been tax delinquent for 20 years or more.

You can view the list of tax delinquents and what they owed, dating back to 1997 right here.

The loss in tax revenue just from these 286 properties is $4.5 million dollars, with the top offender owing more than $360,000 dollars.

The top offender is Freedlander Incorporated with it’s Warwick Road and Hull Street Road properties. The business crumbled in the early 90’s after a fraud conviction.

8News found one woman living in her home on Newbourne Street who owes the City more than $15,000. When 8News confronted Catherine Meredith she told us, “That’s right, now everybody will know. Now everybody who is listening can help me pay my taxes.”She says she’s fallen on hard times. Her son had a stroke and is now living with her.

She says she’s fallen on hard times. Her son had a stroke and is now living with her. 8News has discovered she owns and co-owns at least three properties in the City. She’s delinquent on all of them.

She tells us she’s working on it. “I have a lawyer and set it up.”

“I have a lawyer and set it up,” she said.

Most of the 20 year or plus delinquent properties are blighted and an eyesore for neighbors. 8News found an abandoned business on Belt Boulevard where phone books are rotting away on a porch. On Ford Avenue, 8News found several lots in a row where the property owners have been delinquent for two decades. The brush from lots is so overgrown, it’s taken over the sidewalks.

“You know it’s dangerous,” says homeowner Leonard Jones.

Across the street from Jones’ neat yard on Decatur Street is one of the 20-year tax delinquent lots.

Jones says the high grass and weeds are unsafe, and the abandoned building hurts his property value and every summer he and his wife have to hound the city to mow the lawn.

“My wife has called them about this property I think about three or four times,” Jones said. “They saying they are going to get to it. That’s always what they’re saying.”

The majority of 20-year tax delinquent properties are located here in the City’s East End. Some streets have been hit harder than others. Just on North 32nd Street, 8News found eight properties where the property owners haven’t paid the taxes in at least 20 years.

Danielle Watts lives next to one of several of the delinquent properties. She gets frustrated with the overgrown grass.  “Last week they just came and mowed this section but the rest of it has been like that over the years,” says Watts.

“Last week they just came and mowed this section but the rest of it has been like that over the years,” Watts said.

She tells 8News she wishes the City would take notice. She believes her street is prime for revitalization. She’s even inquired about buying the land next to her to expand her home.

“We can’t get any information to see who owns it so that we can at least try to do something,” says Watts.

We shared our finding with Mayor Levar Stoney. He says it’s a big concern.

“For 20 years we have basically ignored money that has been left on the table,” says Mayor Stoney.

The Mayor believes Richmond can no longer turn a blind eye to tax delinquents.

“Every time you shortchange the City and decide not to participate and do your responsibility for the City, you also shortchange children, you shortchange fire, you shortchange police officers as well,” says the Mayor.

This backlog of delinquent properties began long before he took office, but how did it happen?

“It is a lengthy and somewhat expensive process,” says John Wack Richmond’s Finance Director. Wack explains you have to track down heirs and file a lawsuit to take control of these properties before you put them up for tax sale. It’s a process that can take 8 to 10 months for each case. Some tell 8News the City has lacked the staffing for the job.

Others say there was a belief it wasn’t worth the return on investment. However, Mark Motley who runs tax sale auctions for the City disagrees.

“This money I think is desperately needed of course for the schools,” says Motley.

He believes it’s important to get these properties where no one is paying taxes into the hand of investors and homeowners and back on the tax roll.

“We are in the hottest real estate market that the City has seen in many many years,” says Motley.

8News has been told staff is being added to the City Attorney’s office to help get more the backlog of delinquent properties ready for tax sale and the Mayor’s office will urge the City Attorney’s Office to outsource some of the work.

Meanwhile, next month the Mayor will offer a tax amnesty program giving delinquents a chance to pay up penalty free.

“Once that grace is over, that is the time that we’ll come after you,” says the Mayor.

About 33 delinquent properties will be auctioned off at Motley’s on August 23rd.

The auction is open to the public.  Motley’s will post photos and information about the properties on its website. 

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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