BREWER, Maine — A notorious house in Brewer, the site of more than 150 police calls during the past two years, has been foreclosed upon by the city for unpaid taxes, despite the objections of the former owner who accuses officials of stealing her home.
Candice White stopped paying property taxes on her home at 91 Longmeadow Drive in 2013, which led city officials to foreclose after repeated warnings. The house is valued at more than $200,000. White blamed hardships and health problems for leading to her unpaid bills.
“I have suffered many hardships throughout the last four years and haven’t been in a sane state of mind,” she wrote in a June 25 letter to the Brewer City Council, explaining why she was delinquent in paying the taxes.
White said she purchased the home in 2012 with cash from her mother’s inheritance. About a year later, after she moved into the house with her boyfriend and his daughter, he died. Her two teenage daughters also lived in the home. Then, “in December 2013, I suffered a debilitating stroke,” White’s letter states.
White said this week she offered to make good on her back taxes in order to reclaim the home, but the city won’t let her.
“It’s because they hate me,” she said, standing inside Brewer City Hall after Tuesday’s council meeting.
City officials confirmed they turned down White’s offer, a tough stance, especially because most of the 50 foreclosures they have handled in the last three years have resulted in the homeowners reclaiming their property. Only five have resulted in residents losing their homes, and all of the foreclosures have “unique circumstances,” Brewer City Solicitor Joel Dearborn said Tuesday.
Brewer, like many municipalities, prefers to work with delinquent taxpayers before taking possession of properties.
White believes the city is refusing to take the money because the house has been repeatedly visited by law enforcement — 155 times since 2014 — for a variety of complaints from neighbors.
She wrote in her letter to the city council that after she got out of the hospital following her stroke, “My girls had taken complete control over our house and allowed friends to come and destroy our neighborhood and our home.”
Her letter was part of the city council’s packet for Tuesday’s meeting, during which the issue was discussed in executive session. No action by the council was taken.
“I didn’t have the mental capacity to stop it and my daughters didn’t have the maturity level to make different decisions,” White’s letter to the council states. “I was told that several notices were sent to my house about delinquent taxes, but unfortunately I do not remember receiving them. That could be because they were intercepted by the several people that I allowed in the home or by the fact that I opened them and then forgot.”
Officials confirmed the property has been the scene of frequent unruly gatherings, featuring drag racing, suspected drug use and underage drinking resulting in calls to law enforcement, but denied any connection between those events and the foreclosure.
“The fact that this house was foreclosed upon and that there was a significant police presence dealing with problems here in the neighborhood are distinct issues,” Deputy Chief Chris Martin said Wednesday, standing in the vacant home’s driveway. “This house was foreclosed upon, with the city taking possession, because the property taxes simply were not paid over a several year period.”
The city notified White numerous times about her unpaid taxes and pending foreclosure over the last several months, and “at no point during the notification process did the owner reach out to the city of Brewer or attempt to pay any of these taxes,” Assistant City Manager James Smith said Thursday in an email.
On Tuesday, White said she arrived at City Hall with a new business associate who had a cashier’s check for $17,000 to cover the past-due taxes. He said his name was Pedro Rodrigues and said he met White about two weeks ago.
“Considering the amount of time and actions already completed by the city, we did not and do not feel comfortable accepting payments,” Smith said, when asked why White was not allowed to pay her back taxes.
The city has taken possession of three other properties in the last year, one in 2014 and one in 2013, and there are others in the process, the assistant city manager said, adding, “In short, this is not isolated.”
History of nonpayment
After White failed to pay her 2013 property taxes, the city filed a tax collector’s lien on June 17, 2014, with the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds. As the statutory 18-month deadline to pay her taxes or lose her home neared, Brewer officials sent White a certified letter — which she signed for on Nov. 16, 2015 — telling her she must pay her taxes or be subject to an automatic foreclosure of the property.
The 2013 taxes were not paid, and the lien matured.
“There is nothing she can do to get it back,” Dearborn said.
Since then, White’s 2014, 2015 and first 2016 tax payments have not been paid, and there are nonpayment of taxes liens already filed for 2014 and 2015, as well as a lien for her unpaid 2015 sewer bills. At the end of July, White owed $17,298 in property taxes to Brewer, according to Mary Marquis, the city’s tax collector. The property is valued at $230,200, with the land valued at $27,200 and the rest being the house, the city’s assessor said Monday.
The final hearing on damages in the City of Brewer vs. White court case is Sept. 6 at the Penobscot Judicial Center.
“At the hearing the court looks at the official documents and decides if the city followed all the statutory steps to take the property,” Dearborn said.
White was notified by Dearborn in June that the city planned to evict her once the final court order is in place. She said she moved some of her and her two teenage daughters’ belongings to Bangor about two weeks ago because she was afraid to come home and find her home padlocked. The city has since mowed the lawn, posted no trespassing signs on the property and is only allowing White and her daughters back into the home with a staff escort.
White said she knows the city followed the letter of the law when they foreclosed on her property.
White, a friend and Rodrigues, who said he wants to purchase the property, went to Brewer City Hall on Tuesday with a check to cover the past due amount, but were turned away. The three also went to the Brewer City Council meeting Tuesday night but White said afterward that she was too afraid to speak during the public comment period of the meeting.
Dearborn said Tuesday that the city hired Bangor attorney Charlie Gilbert as an outside consultant to work with White’s attorney in an attempt to come to a resolution that possibly could provide White with a portion of the revenue, once the house is sold by the city. A municipality may disburse excess funds to the former property owner, if it chooses to do so, according to state law.
“The city has no obligation to do anything,” Dearborn said about the ongoing negotiations. “We’ve done everything statutorily required to do to take possession of the property.”
‘Bullied the neighborhood’
Even though the city has foreclosed and the house now sits empty, residents along the quaint neighborhood roadway are reluctant to discuss the property or their former neighbor.
“I’m afraid someone will drive by and throw a rock through my window,” two separate neighbors said Tuesday morning, referring to the people who stayed at the house after White purchased it and moved in four years ago. The neighbors asked not to be identified.
“They are afraid of retaliation. They are afraid of retribution,” Martin said. “[The former occupants] essentially bullied this neighborhood.”
“The actions of those living at and those frequenting 91 Longmeadow Drive adversely impacted the right to peaceful enjoyment of all in the neighborhood,” Martin said in a recent memo about the property to City Manager Steve Bost. “A majority of the issues involved juveniles who had little, if any, adult supervision. Neighbors were harassed and threatened and after a period of time even altered their behavior by no longer walking on the street or allowing their children to play outside.”
Law enforcement personnel responded to complaints for everything from drag racing, drug use and underage drinking to assaults, threatening neighbors and juvenile sexual abuse, among other criminal violations investigated, Martin said.
“The foul language was the worst part,” one neighbor said Tuesday.
“It was worse than what I heard in the military,” another neighbor said. “I could feel [outrage] for the young families.”
Brewer created a Disruptive Property Ordinance in September 2014 to address residents who repeatedly throw rowdy parties or host chronically troublesome tenants and shortly afterward 91 Longmeadow Drive was deemed disruptive.
“This was a catalyst for that,” Martin said, making a connection between the Longmeadow property and the new ordinance.
Property owners are given a warning if police are called to a disturbance complaint. If there is a second disturbance at the property within 60 days, it’s classified as a disruptive property by the police chief and can lead to fines if a resolution with the owner or tenant is not established.
After 91 Longmeadow was deemed disruptive in October 2014, the fines racked up quickly, Martin said.
White was served a notice of “Violation of Disruptive Property Ordinance” for failing to allow for site inspections and to meet with the chief of police, as required by the ordinance, on Nov. 11, 2014, and was fined $1,000 per day until she complied.
The fines were dismissed by former Chief Perry Antone at the end of November 2014 after “White asked for assistance in removing problem individuals from her home so that it could be just her and her children,” Martin said. “Ms. White explained that they were getting family counseling and working on not having any more problems. Chief Antone decided not to pursue enforcement of the numerous violations of the Disruptive Property Ordinance for failing to comply, thus waiving thousands of dollars of potentially accrued violations, in an effort to provide Ms. White with one more opportunity to come into compliance.”
Antone met with White shortly after Kirk Panther, who lived at the house, was charged with two sex offenses, the deputy chief said.
“Our focus was in assisting the family in stabilization,” Martin said.
One neighbor said he felt bad for White because her longtime boyfriend died and because she had a stroke just six months after his death.
He added, however, that “when you don’t pay and don’t pay, they [city officials] have to do something.”
White acknowledged Monday that her household was out of control.
“It was a bad scene — I’m not going to deny it — but that doesn’t give them any right to take my home,” she said sitting on the porch of the Hammond Street apartment in Bangor she moved into about two weeks ago. “They are stealing my house.”