Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nonprofit Blue Ridge Housing Development Corp. to shut down

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Blue Ridge Housing Development Corp. ran into problems three years ago with debt and a conflict of interest.

By Laurence Hammack - Roanoke Times
 
981-3239

Photo by WSLS Channel 10
A nonprofit Roanoke housing agency that tangled with the city over money issues while its president was a member of the city council is going out of business.

Blue Ridge Housing Development Corp. is dissolving "due to poor economic conditions," its president, Alvin Nash, wrote in a May 23 letter to city council members.

"I feel lousy that this is happening, but I feel good about what we have accomplished," Nash said Thursday. "I think we've had a really good run."

Created in 1991 with the mission of providing housing to low-income Roanoke families, Blue Ridge became a well-known community development group that built nearly 100 houses and renovated another 50 or so.

Hard times came three years ago. At a time when Blue Ridge was already struggling with cash flow problems caused by the national housing slump, the nonprofit was informed it owed the city $261,427.
The funds involved federal grant money, funneled through the city, that Blue Ridge used to build houses. Rather than returning to the city revenues generated when homes were sold, the nonprofit invested the money in other programs, according to correspondence at the time.

Complicating the matter further was a conflict of interest raised by Nash's dual jobs as a member of the city council and the head of a nonprofit at odds with the city.

Nash, who resigned his council seat in February 2009 in the midst of the controversy, said Blue Ridge's debt to the city "was a factor, but not the only factor" in the demise of the organization.
In April, Blue Ridge's board of directors voted to dissolve the organization, effective June 30, because it no longer has the money to run an operation that has been relying on a skeleton staff working for no pay.

Part of the problem has been the Roanoke-At-Home program, which places low-income residents in apartments with the rent subsidized by the federal government.

Unlike with similar programs, the 43 single-room apartments are spread out over five housing units.
"This arrangement has been very difficult to manage and very expensive to operate," Nash wrote in the letter to the council.

Blue Ridge plans to shut the program by June 30 and sell the buildings to satisfy debts. Most of the apartment residents have received rent vouchers and have either already found new places to live or are in the process of moving, Nash said.

While the nonprofit dealt with that and other problems caused by the sluggish housing market, it also struggled to fulfill an obligation to repay the $261,427 in grant money to the city.

The grants in question, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, were administered by the city. That meant that when the grants generated revenue, usually when Blue Ridge sold a home, the extra money was supposed to be returned to the city, which maintained the funds in an account for future programs.

But Blue Ridge kept the money and put it back into operational costs and programs, according to letters written by city officials. Blue Ridge took issue with the city's interpretation and argued that it owed less -- or perhaps nothing at all.

The city has since taken out a lien on some of Blue Ridge's properties to satisfy the debt. Other homes will be sold at a public auction under a dissolution plan approved by Blue Ridge's board of directors.
At times, the nonprofit's financial problems were complicated by Nash's dual roles.

After Nash was appointed to the city council in April 2008, Blue Ridge agreed to forgo federal housing grants administered by the city to avoid a conflict of interest while he continued to serve as its president.

In December 2008, when the debt dispute with the city was beginning to heat up, Nash resigned as president of Blue Ridge. Two months later, he stepped down from his public office in order to rejoin the housing agency.

Despite the controversy, those who work to provide housing to the poor in Roanoke say Blue Ridge's contributions will be missed.

Over the past five years, more than 150 renters bought their first home through Blue Ridge's mortgage programs, 870 people attended the agency's home ownership classes and more than $12 million in assistance was provided in total, according to Nash's letter to the city council.

"Certainly, the loss of a partner is going to be felt," said Glenda Edwards, executive director of the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority. "You don't lose a contributing partner in a city this size and not feel it."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How To Training On Obtaining Criminal Background and Evictions via Public Information for Free

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Click Here To Get Yourself To The Virginia Courts Website

To do a full criminal and civil background check you will need to check BOTH the General District Court "Case Information" and the Circuit Court "Case Information".

Click the link under General District Court that says Case Information. Put the Captcha code in and hit enter. Enter the court you are looking for. I like to search all of the surrounding areas. Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Salem, etc. Select either name search on traffic/criminal or on civil which will show previous evictions. Put their last name in and then a few letters of their first name. Change the data status to All. Then select search. 

Check their criminal and civil background in each town around where they have lived. Then go back and search the Circuit Court information as well.  That's it. All you have to do.

Now go and check to see if they are on the National Sex Offender Registry.

Click This Link HERE

Click Search the Sex Offender Registry. Put in the Captcha code. Then search by Name, Address, Zipcode, County, or City. Check your properties and see if you have any sex offenders living in the area. I guarantee you do because Roanoke City is full of them. Then see their photo and play the fun game, "name their perversion". Look at their photo when you hover the mouse over their house, you determine if they are a child molester, rapist, or whatever. Click their photo and it will reveal the answer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Virginia Laws That Affect Your Business

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HB 1610 / SB 942 Chineese Drywall - If a landlord has knowledge of the defective drywall in their property they are required to disclose it to the tenant. The tenant can terminate the lease otherwise. 

HB 1461 Trespassing - Gives the property manager or person acting as an agent for the landlord the ability to prohibit trespassing on the property. Once notice has been given the violator shall be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor if they step foot on the property again.

HB 1611 Landlord / Tenant Laws -
Requires tenants to maintain smoke detectors. Code enforcement can no longer violate the landlord for the tenant having a dead battery, removing the battery, removing the detector, etc. Violations go to the tenant.

Prohibits tenants from painting or altering their unit built before 1978 without written approval to do so.

Sets interest rate on rental deposits to 0% for 2011

If the landlord requires the tenant to temporarily vacate the dwelling for non emergency repairs the landlord can require them to be relocated, at no cost to the tenant, and with a 30 day written notice. The tenant is required to continue to pay their rent and can not terminate their rental agreement based on the landlords requirement. 

Changes the amount of time of removal of tenants property who dies to 10 days instead of 30 after notice has been given

HB 1768 Mold remediation - Tenant is still required to pay rent for the remainder of the rental agreement in the case where landlord has to relocate tenant for mold remediation.

HB 2425 / SB 1216 - Allows the Water Authority to shut down a landlords business by refusing to turn on water until the previous tenants water bill lien is paid.

SB 829 Escrow of Rent - Incorporates sections of the Virginia "Residential" Landlord and Tenant Act into the Virginia Landlord Tenant Act to allow the escrow of rent money to the court for an issue that effects the health or safety of the occupants. Tenant is required to FIRST serve the landlord with a written notice notifying them of the violation or the notice of violation can be given by condemnation. The landlord has up to 30 days to resolve the issue prior to the tenants right to escrow the rent. It shall be a sufficient answer by the landlord if they prove that the condition does not exist, that it has been removed or remedied, that it has been caused by the tenants or their guests or that the tenant did not allow reasonable entry to the for the purpose of correcting the condition. If the case is continued the tenant is required to deposit rent payments within 5 days of the payment being due until the issue is resolved.

Rent escrow is required for continuance of tenants case. Where a landlord has filed an unlawful detainer action seeking possession of the premises and tenant contests, "at the request of the landlord" the tenant is required to escrow all of the rent to the court for the case to be set for a continued or contested trial. If the tenant has a good faith defense the court may not require the rent to be escrowed.

SB 1220 Foreclosure notice - If the landlord has been given a foreclosure notice and fails to notify the tenant the tenant can terminate the rental agreement upon 5 days written notice.

SB 1478 Forced Sale of Real Estate - The locality can sell at a tax sale any landlords property they desire if they have put a lien on it and it has not been paid for 1 year. They are restricted to liens as a result of "spot blighted" areas, houses with drug use, houses declared derelict, structures harboring a "bawdy" place, etc. They also have increased power of eminent domain in these areas. Under the new laws these houses that have been boarded up for many years all over Roanoke will be sold at a tax sale within a year if the city deems fit to do so.

HB 1522 Water Authority - Water Authority now has power of eminent domain as set out for other political subdivistions rather than just by the powers of the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner.

Those are a few key changes for landlords this year. Many more, too many to list.


 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Landlord Murderer Only Gets 17 Years, NOT THE DEATH PENALTY AS SHE SHOULD HAVE

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Photo by Roanoke Times

Woman gets 17 years in killing of landlord

A Roanoke woman was sentenced to 17 years in prison Friday for beating her 80-year-old landlord to death with the help of her husband because the man balked at loaning them his car.

Meghan Melissa Musser, 20, was given a four-decade prison sentence by Roanoke Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Apgar, who suspended the sentence after 17 years. The judge also ordered Musser to serve 20 years of supervised probation after her release from prison.

Musser's husband, Justin Lyn Musser, 23, faces sentencing Aug. 2.

The couple pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the May 18, 2010, killing of Harold Markham, 80, who boarded them in his home in the 1200 block of Dale Avenue in southeast Roanoke.

Markham, a neighborhood fixture who gave $4 haircuts in his living room, was attacked for his car keys, neighbors said after he was killed.

Neighbors said Meghan Musser emerged from the house laughing and smiling, saying, "We killed the old man."

The Mussers fought in the street before fleeing, according to witnesses. They were caught days later in South Carolina.

-- Mike Gangloff
Roanoke Times original article here

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Trash Can Placement And More Fines For Roanoke City Landlords

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Photo by Roanoke Times
Below is an open letter to the city council and mayor pertaining to some changes to city code requiring citizens to put their trash cans at the side or behind the principal structure. The porch does not count as the principal structure.

REI was concerned with the additional fines that landlords will get from what tenants do. This is a letter written to the council and mayor and a response below. I was happy to see that the city council and mayor appear to be listening to our concerns and willing to work together to develop a solution that works for everyone.

Responses came from Mayor Bowers, Court Rosen and Bill Bestpich. Mr. Bowers and Rosen said that if we are having problems at the implementation of the program we should contact them. Mr. Bestpich offered a solution as to where if landlords document our first 2 attempts to get compliance from the tenant, the city will work with us to develop a mutually satisfactory solution.

All were misinformed by a comment made by the Solid Waste Department that implied that the landlord is the one who gets the notice of non - compliance. They were not aware that notices of non - compliance for the trash cans go to the tenant and we are not aware that there is a problem until the day we get a fine.

Mayor Bowers and City Council,

Real Estate Investors of Roanoke, an association of 450 investors in Roanoke, is aware that there will be a scheduled council meeting tonight pertaining to a modification / clarification to the city code to require citizens to put their trash cans on the side of the house rather than the porch or front yard. And that there will also be 2 more people hired to enforce violations.

We all agree with doing what we can to make Roanoke a nice place to live. The one thing REI of Roanoke has issues with is the increase of fines to landlords as a result of this for what tenants do. In most of our leases we require our tenants to follow the city code. I'm sure you are aware that it is impossible for a landlord to actually monitor this. It is more of an empty threat. And I'm also sure you are aware that a tenant is not concerned with their landlord getting a fine. Especially when they are skipping out in the middle of the night without paying rent.

A landlord should not be accountable for what a tenant does.  People should have accountability for their own actions. If we are truly trying to resolve the trash issue I would like to suggest giving the fine to the person who created the problem. If a tenant leaves their trash can at the street or puts out more than 6 items, they are the one who should get the fine. If that was the case, they would NEVER do it again ANYWHERE they live in Roanoke. However giving the fine to the landlord will result in the continuation of this bad behavior as they will never suffer the consequences of their own actions.

You may be thinking how this could be enforced considering that the city can easily determine the property owner but not the tenant. I would like to offer a solution to this problem.

There are 2 points of contact that the city has with landlords pertaining to solid waste issues. One, if the tenant sets out more than 6 items the Solid Waste Dept has been good about contacting the landlord so we are aware and can clean it up. Another point in contact is when a fine is sent to the landlord.

REI of Roanoke would like to suggest that if the landlord responds to either of these points of contact with the tenant who created the problems name, SSN, DOB or anything else needed, the city submit a bill to the responsible party. If the landlord does not respond to these points of contact than go right ahead and bill them for it.

If the objective is to solve the problem, which I have found is the most talked about issue in the neighborhood association meetings I attend, billing the person who created the problem is the solution that will clean up this city. Billing the landlord will never resolve the issue.

We are small business owners and times are tight for us as well. We are continuously bombarded with many forms of taxes, fees, fines, tenant trash removal, painting between tenants, mortgage payments, insurance, mowing, repairs, continual maintenance, court costs, lawyer fees, etc. The list goes on and on. We don't need more fines from ramped up solid waste violations. Please consider adding a sentence to the city code that requires fines be given to the appropriate party so we can permanently resolve this issue.

Best regards,


Dallas.



Response from Mr. Bestpich:

Dallas

I agree with your basic premise that we all should be accountable for our
own actions.  Actually, if common sense and common courtesy really were
common, this wouldn't even be an issue for any of us.

I would encourage you and other landlords to make compliance with local,
state and federal laws and regulations more than an empty threat in your
leases.  We were assured yesterday that no one would be fined before
receiving three notices of non-compliance.  If you can document your
efforts to get a tenant to comply after the first two notices, city staff
should be willing to work with you to develop mutually satisfactory
solutions.  I hope you will let us know if that is not your experience.

As you note, real estate investment is a business activity, and each
business owner has an obligation to the larger community to conduct
business in a manner that benefits all the stakeholders.  I am sure that is
your goal in the operation of all your business interests.

Thanks for taking the time to share your concerns.

Bill Bestpitch


REI Response:

Hi Bill,

Thanks for taking the time to read REI of Roanoke's viewpoints on this issue. And thanks for offering the solution pertaining to documenting our efforts to gain compliance.

Regarding this comment:
"We were assured yesterday that no one would be fined before
receiving three notices of non-compliance.  If you can document your
efforts to get a tenant to comply after the first two notices, city staff
should be willing to work with you to develop mutually satisfactory
solutions.  I hope you will let us know if that is not your experience."

I'm afraid that what you have been told by the Solid Waste Department was misleading so I am copying Skip Decker on this email so he can tell you the truth. Yes, it is "technically correct" that the Solid Waste Department will give three notices of non-compliance before sending a landlord a fine for the tenants bad behavior.... however when we are talking about the big blues, those notices do not go to the landlord. They go to the tenant.

The "first notice" the landlord has is the fine. There is no opportunity to rectify the situation. And this is why this issue is important to REI.

Skip, could you tell the mayor, city manager, city councilmen and REI if you have made a policy change as to where now landlords will get the notices of non-compliance for the tenants bad behavior pertaining to the big blues?  Maybe this is a new policy change and REI has been left out of the loop.

I asked our group at our meeting last night if it was just me that did not get notices for "big blue violations" and the vote was 100% unanimous that no one in the room has ever received one.  The notices of non-compliance for "big blues" are presently given to the tenant.

We feel it is important that when any department in the city makes plans that will negatively affect small business owners such as ourselves, that they come to one of our weekly meetings prior to doing so to talk about the issue and work together to develop a viable solution that is a win win for everyone. We have been working diligently over the past year attempting to work with both the city and the neighborhood associations to fight neighborhood blight. We are trying to provide an open line of communication so this is not an us against them scenario but rather one that works together to make Roanoke a great place to live.

It has been an uphill battle and we are still being left out of the decision making process but we don't intend to give up. We are under the belief that working together will develop solid relationships and foster an environment that will lead to change. We hope the city feels the same way.

Thanks again for taking your time to hear our viewpoints on this issue.


Best regards,


Dallas 


Response from Mr. Bestpich:

You're exactly right, Dallas.  Keeping the lines of communication open is
the best way to resolve concerns to everyone's satisfaction.  We need a
system to send three notices to the person who will be fined before that
happens.  I am sure that Skip and Chris will continue to work on an
equitable process to implement the policy adopted by city council.

Bill


 

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