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Wednesday, December 28,2011

Past due

The top 10 property tax delinquents in Ingham County

by Andy Balaskovitz

The annual list of property tax delinquents in Ingham County keeps growing, but at a much less alarming rate than recent years. And the Ingham County treasurer is hesitantly hopeful that the amount of foreclosure activity is about to plateau. 

“2009 was the peak year for the dollar amount of delinquent taxes turned over,” Treasurer Eric Schertzing said. “2011 I would hope is the peak year for forfeiture action you’re seeing. … Forfeiture activity is still going up. It’s no slam dunk the number of forfeitures and foreclosures are going down into 2013.”

The annual list is published each year by law, showing the properties and their owners in Ingham County on which delinquent property taxes are owed. If taxes are unpaid by March 31, the property may be foreclosed upon and turned over to the county treasurer. This year’s list (which is inserted in this issue) reflects taxes owed from 2009.

The number of properties facing foreclosure increased 9 percent from last year: 1,654, up from 1,504 parcels last year. In 2009 there was an 82 percent increase in the number of parcels from 2008.

The Treasurer’s Office prepared a top 10 list for City Pulse of property owners who owe the most in Ingham County. The list turns up a variety of LLCs backing housing developments and commercial real estate and also a long-time Lansing-area business.

The resident agent of three LLCs in the top 10 — 101 S. Washington Development LLC, Vlahakis Family Limited Partnership and Montrose Professional Centre LLC — is Paul Vlahakis. (But an Ingham County judge ruled this year that Vlahakis is in effect the owner of the properties in deciding against him in a libel suit he filed against City Pulse for calling him the county's second biggest tax delinquent in 2009.) The resident agent of a business entity may not outright own a property, but he or she receives notice of owing taxes. The three companies owe a combined amount of $392,759.39 for the prominent commercial building at 101 S. Washington Square downtown; a shopping center on Waverly Road near Michigan Avenue; and at Vlahakis Co. Inc. at 4900 Montrose Ave. in Okemos. Most of that owed — $265,133.34 — is on the downtown office building.

Vlahakis blamed  high vacancy rates for why his properties are delinquent. He added that making necessary repairs and making mortgage payments typically comes before paying property taxes, as a sort of bill-paying triage: “Sometimes property taxes are one expense that you have the luxury of repaying.”

Vlahakis said “absolutely” the property tax bills will be paid by March 31 — “they get paid every year.” 

Fielek Land Development LLC and BCD Apartments LLC sit second and third, respectively, on this year’s top 10 list for properties in Leslie and south Lansing. Julie Fielek, resident agent of Fielek Land Development, could not be reached for comment. BCD Apartments, whose resident agent is Dua & Associates PLLC, owes $142,086.40 on seven parcels in Lansing. A request for comment sent to attorney Sameer Dua was not returned. Dua topped City Pulse’s top 10 tax delinquent list in 2009.

James R. Johns, who has owned the Pro Bowl bowling alley at 2122 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. since 1979, said he is challenging the assessed value of the property with the Michigan Tax Tribunal because he believes the city has had the taxes “way too high.” While more than $82,000 is owed in property taxes, Johns said he is paying it off “little by little.”

Mark Diebolt, the resident agent for MD Real Estate LLC, said, “I think anyone who has property taxes intends to pay them” when contacted about this story. MD Real Estate owes a total of $78,208.28 — and ranks fifth on the top 10 list — on 10 parcels throughout Lansing. He declined to comment further.

The resident agent for Labath Investments LLC, Stefan and Tamara Farrell and the resident agent for Mason-based Marmike Investment Co. LLC could not be reached for comment.

While nowhere near making the top 10 list, at least two Lansing-area elected officials appear on the non-payment of property taxes list: Ingham County Commissioner Carol Koenig and Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann. Koenig owed $3,388.27 on the property at 108 N. Magnolia Ave. in Lansing, but said she paid that off since the list was published. Lindemann owes $6,197.92 for the commercial property at 2010 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing. Lindemann said he intends to pay off the property taxes by mid-February. 

“It’s a building that’s hard to make money on. It needs a lot of repairs and I’m trying to keep it up. It’s the same old thing every landlord is crying about,” Lindemann said.

Property owners have until April 2 to pay off taxes due from 2009. Show cause hearings scheduled for Feb. 2 and Feb. 7 allow property owners to contest the foreclosure notice. The county adds a $245 fee and a retroactive, monthly 1.5 percent interest rate to each property that is delinquent for more than a year. By the second year of delinquency, the interest rate could reach 18 percent on top of a 4 percent administrative fee attached in the first year.

Schertzing predicts about 80 percent of the property owners will end up paying the delinquent taxes before the deadline, which is on par with trends over the past two years.  “They did last year, I presume they will again. But there’s no guarantee.”


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