‘It eats away at you day after day,’ Kalamazoo Co. foreclosure battle continues

Posted at 8:53 PM, Nov 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-06 23:22:21-05

KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. -- Deborah Calley, the woman who lost her home after missing a single property tax payment, is speaking out for the first time since a judge ruled against her.

Calley and her attorney Ven Johnson fought the Kalamazoo County Treasurer's Office after they foreclosed her home in March. However, a judge ruled the county did everything right under the law.

"It eats away at you day after day after minute," Calley said. "The word 'foreclosure' just keeps running through your head."

Calley's Richland Township home that she paid nearly $156,000 cash for in 2010 is now owned by the county.

The tax payment she missed was from 2011. Calley said that while most people have two payments a year, she had three, because she lived in a township.

Records show she made her 2012 tax payment to Richland. She said when she paid it no one informed her she was delinquent.

Under state law, a county can start the foreclosure process after two years of delinquency, making it final the third year. While Calley claims she never received any notice about a looming foreclosure, the county showed FOX 17 records of several notices that were sent to her house. While that would include both certified and first class mail, the certified mail was all returned to sender.

Ven Johnson said he's filing an appeal on behalf of Calley.

"From their [the county's] perspective, they've already won," Johnson said. "They got the house. Now, we're agreeing not to sell it."

Johnson said the treasurer's office has agreed to keep Calley's home out of the tax sale until the appeal process is final. That means the county could be paying for the upkeep and taxes on the home for up to two years.

Calley's home initially sold in a tax sale for more than $80,000.

Not only does the county get what it's owed it also keeps the profits. Since first telling Calley's story in September, several FOX 17 viewers began writing in, questioning the law and how a county can profit off the loss of a person's home.

"Huge issue. Thanks to you and thanks to the viewers and the readers and the radio and the listeners we all have to get on the same page," Johnson said. "We talk about reaching across the aisle politically, ladies and gentlemen, what better thing to do than this right here? Call your legislator--write your senator."

Calley and Johnson said the law needs to be changed.

Johnson told FOX 17 as it's written, the law allows the government to take control of your home if you stop paying taxes and abandon and leave it to become dilapidated.

"The last time I knew this is still America and we believe that our government should not be abusing its power and dictating everything to us," Johnson said. "What we had here was a law passed by government for government to really help everybody out, and now it's being interpreted in a way to hurt the people for whom government works."

The profit isn't the only issue. When FOX 17 asked Kalamazoo County treasurer Mary Balkema why homeowners can't pay what's due and get their properties back, she said the county's just doing its job under the law.  She added that once the foreclosure process is complete there's nothing they can do.

"There's no payment plan. There's no deal. There's no, 'I'll pay you $2,000,'" Balkema said. "That is not the way the Property Tax Act works. Tax foreclosure is absolute. On March 31 if you don't pay by 5 o'clock, title rests in the name of the Kalamazoo County treasurer."

However, Johnson said it's a civil suit, meaning the county could reach an agreement to give Calley her home back. While he's hopeful that will be the outcome, Calley said she's not as optimistic.

"They foreclose on your house or your property and your back taxes are $2,000 and they sell it for $10,000 or $80,000 or $100,000; that's a massive profit--ludicrous. It's robbery," Calley said.

While Calley hopes to get her home back she said if that's not the case she doesn't want to lose it in vain.

"My house is a house. It can be sacrificed if that's what it takes. But, I will not be quiet," Calley said. "I will do whatever I can to change this law."

Senator Rick Jones has agreed to look over the law and sit down with FOX 17 in the near future.