Warren couple surprised by tax news

WARREN – For the past year, Bacil and Penny Rogers have worked on a home they are purchasing from Sunshine Inc. under a land contract.

The single-family fixer-upper at 2036 Highland Ave. lacked plumbing and a hot water heater, and it needed other repairs.

“We worked on it for three weeks before moving in,” Bacil Rogers said. “We’re making it a home.”

The couple paid Sunshine $400 as a down payment. They continue to pay Sunshine $400 per month: $320 for the mortgage and $80 for the insurance, assessments and property taxes.

“I go up to their office every month and personally hand the money to someone,” Bacil Rogers said. “I don’t trust dropping the money order into a box.”

Penny Rogers said they are buying the three bedroom house so their three children will have a place they can call home.

“It also is close to my husband’s family,” she said.

Despite their work and intentions, the couple learned this week that their home is one of 59 properties owned by Sunshine that is behind in property taxes to Trumbull County and facing foreclosure if the nonprofit organization doesn’t either pay off its delinquent property taxes or agree on a payment plan by next week. Sunshine owes $2,764.39 in taxes on the Highland Avenue home. The majority of the amount was owed by Sunshine before the Rogers signed the contract.

“We’re concerned that it could be taken away from us,” Penny Rogers said. “We are doing what we’re responsible to do. We pay them at the first of every month. We love this house.”

In total, Sunshine owes Trumbull County about $188,600 in back property taxes and penalties on the 59 properties.

Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa said families with bona fide land contract agreements filed with the county will be able to halt any foreclosure proceedings.

“We would work with them and Sunshine to rectify the situation,” Lamancusa said.

Lamancusa said anyone living in the house during the foreclosure process would be notified that the property is being foreclosed.

“They should bring in a copy of their land contract agreement to our office,” he said. “However, the land contract agreement should be identified during the title search.”

The City of Warren and Trumbull County created Sunshine in 1993 using federal HOME grants to provide housing for low-income residents. Sunshine obtained money from the city and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase, rehab and construct homes, mostly in Warren.

Other Sunshine land contract properties in arrears are 2530 Hamilton St. S.W., which has a $641.44 property tax debt; 2518 Hamilton St. S.W., which has a $1,240 property tax debt; and 275 Parkman Road, which has a $2,282 property tax debt.

Executive director of Sunshine, Anthony A. Iannucci Jr., said they are not keeping any information from the residents.

“The land contract vendees are aware of the tax situation,” Iannucci said. “As in the past, we pay all taxes due when the land contract is paid off by the vendee. We would not let a property go to foreclosure for taxes, and land contract vendees are a priority.”

Virginia Charlton, who has a land contract for the 2530 Hamilton St. house says she is surprised there is any back property tax owed.

“I was told that I did not have to pay property taxes because I’m in a wheelchair,” she said. “In the last property I had I did not have to pay taxes, and I thought that transferred to this house.”

According to the treasurer’s office, no one is exempt from paying property taxes. However, there is a program through which some elderly and disabled people can have their property tax obligation reduced by more than $400 per year. In some cases, the property tax obligation is lower than the amount of the reduction.

The 2518 Hamilton St. S.W. property was sold to Tiffany Charlton and Michael Kelley under a land contract agreement in February 2012. Charlton and Kelley made payments through May.

The couple was in the news in November when they were accused of animal cruelty after a raid that turned up several dead dogs and cats in the house. They were sentenced to five years of probation in connection to the animal cruelty case.

Sunshine terminated the contract, and Iannucci said the house is expected to be demolished later this year.