Thursday, May 10, 2007
7 News Investigations: Home Heartache
Owning a home is the American dream, but many South Floridians unable to pay their mortgages or taxes are reaching out for help. In some cases, that help could cost them their homes. The nightteam's Patrick Fraser introduces us to two people who went to court to get their homes back. Here's his investigation, "Home Heartache."
WSVN -- Clara Wade has lived in her home for 30 years. She raised her kids here.
Clara Wade: "My daughter, she got married here, Crystal. Two of my daughters got married here, out of my house."
Connie and her husband had a dream, and it came true.
Connie Hull: "The only thing I ever wanted was a beautiful home, and it took me all these years to finally get that."
Connie and Clara, two people with something else most of us have in common: too many bills.
For Clara, it was soaring property taxes that she couldn't afford to pay. That fact is listed in public records, and Clara suspects a man read it and came to her home.
Clara Wade: "I was sitting in my living room, looking at TV, and he come by and told me he could help me pay my taxes."
Connie's husband got sick and couldn't work. When they fell behind on their association fees, the group tried to foreclose on them, then they reached out for help.
Connie Hull: "We were told through telephone conversation that not to worry, the government would step in and help us with a loan that could be paid back."
Connie and Clara soon had one more thing in common, they no longer owned their own homes.
Clara Wade: "I was sick, I was under distress and I thought I was fixing to die, really."
Connie Hull: "I was horrified, I was horrified. How could this have happened?"
How it can happen is simple.
How often it happens in South Florida is sickening.
Carol Lombardi of Legal Services of Greater Miami: "I have been involved in maybe 15 or 20, and we have another lawyer here that has done even more than me."
Patrick Fraser: "Dozens, hundreds, maybe even more people signing their homes away, and they say they have no idea they are doing it.
They get behind on their mortgage, their taxes, their association fees; a savior comes in and they trust him and soon the homeowner no longer owns the home.
Clara Wade: "He said he would help me pay my taxes."
Patrick Fraser: "He didn't say you had to pay him back?"
So Clara sat in her home alone with the man and signed a few pieces of paper.
Patrick Fraser: "What did you think it said?"
Clara Wade: "I didn't see anything on it."
Clara says she had no idea one of those pieces of paper was this quit claim deed, which gave her home to this man, Hencile Dorsey.
Clara Wade: "I really wasn't thinking that he could do that."
Legal services then filed suit.
Carol Lombardi: "It really enrages me sometimes."
As Carol Lombardi prepared Clara's case, she saw how Dorsey made money without even selling the property, taking out six mortgages: One for over $78,000, another for $71,630, on and on. Totalling more than $328,000.
Carol Lombardi: "They go out and get new mortgages, and they in effect take all the equity out of the property."
While he was mortgaging the property, Clara was still paying her mortgage on a home she didn't even own.
Clara Wade: "I had no knowledge, no clue, and this was not a part of the contract."
Connie thought she was signing a federally backed loan, but in the stack of papers was this warranty deed which she signed along with several other documents that turned her home over to a trust run by a company called the Florida Housing Council.
James Brady, Hull's Attorney: "They found this opportunity with this savior to be a godsend, and they in effect fell for it, and now they've risked the loss of their home."
James Brady has filed suit to try and get the Hulls' home back from the Florida Housing Council, but the company agent told us they rescued the Hulls.
Jack Moussa of the Florida Housing Council: "They were six days away from losing their house. Their home was up for foreclosure."
Patrick Fraser: "Where would they be today, if you hadn't come along?"
Jack Moussa: "They would be homeless, sir."
Moussa told us he never told the Hulls he was with a government agency and that he wrote these checks, totaling over $40,000 to stop foreclosure on the Hulls and in return they agreed to give the trust half interest in their home.
Patrick Fraser: "Did they know what they were signing when they signed it?"
Jack Moussa: "Absolutely."
Moussa says the Hulls need to follow the contract they signed, pay the trust $160,000 for its work, and they will get the house back in their names.
Jack Moussa: "They are quite aware of the American system. They do realize what a contract is."
Hencile Dorsey refused to talk to us on camera.
On the phone, when I asked him if he tricked Clara Wade out of her home, he said, "I never took advantage of her. I paid her taxes, and the property was mine, but I let her live there."
He later left a voice mail telling me he would get in contact with Mrs. Wade.
Clara Wade never heard from Dorsey, but he did email me, telling me to quit harassing him, that he had done nothing wrong, but a judge ruled against Dorsey.
Patrick Fraser: "So far his punishment was to lose title to Ms. Wade's home and to have title put back in her name."
Clara got her home back.
Patrick Fraser: "What would you say to this fellow?"
Clara Wade: "I don't know what I might do to him."
The Hulls hope a judge rules in their favor as well.
Connie Hull: "It's one of the worst things that has ever happened in our lives. I mean, I've cried countless tears over this."
Patrick Fraser: "Connie and Clara signed documents to save their homes and had no idea those documents could cost them their home."
The simple way to avoid losing your home like Clara did is to never sign any documents you don't understand without having a lawyer read them.