Orono couple sue mortgage holder that failed to pay property taxes and illegally raised payments on their home in Orono. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

An Orono couple claims the company that held the mortgage on their home failed to pay property taxes on their behalf or register the purchase of the home with the county deeds office, increased payments illegally and then refused to correct those and other errors.

Unable to resolve the matter outside of court, the couple — 54-year-old Sandra G. Mitchell and 63-year-old Robert A. Clark — sued the mortgage holder, six legal entities owned by Alex and Antoni Szkaradek of South Carolina, in Penobscot County Superior Court last month.

The Szkaradeks and the companies they own have come under fire in much of the country, accused of using predatory business practices to target low-income and minority buyers who don’t qualify for conventional home loans. Their mortgage firms allegedly write sales contracts with terms they know the buyers can’t fulfill, then initiate foreclosure or eviction proceedings to regain control of the property.

Attorneys general in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New York have taken action against the companies, and a class-action lawsuit against the Szkaradeks is pending in federal court in Detroit.

A 2013 Pennsylvania investigation concluded that 79 percent of the sale contracts issued by the Szkaradeks’ companies resulted in termination of the contracts in which the buyers did not retain ownership of the properties. The vast majority ended with an eviction action taken against the buyers.

Mitchell and Clark have sued six legal entities owned by the Szkaradeks.

They are represented by Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which assists low-income Maine residents in civil legal matters, including housing problems.

Their attorney, Jonathan Selkowitz, declined to comment on the case. No attorneys representing the defendants have filed paperwork at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Mitchell and Clark purchased an uninhabitable house at 2457 Essex St. in late 2011 for $34,500, the complaint said. The contract called for the couple to make a $500 down payment and to pay the mortgage company $365 per month toward the interest and principal, plus $200 per month to be held in escrow to pay property taxes.

Mitchell and Clark would own the home after making 180 payments over 15 years, according to the complaint.

The Orono couple did substantial work on the home to make it habitable before they were able to move in.

The companies owned by the Szkaradeks allegedly made late property tax payments between 2016 and 2022, causing the  buyers to owe Orono more than $800 in late fees and interest. As a result of the late payments, five tax liens were placed in the property.

The property is currently up to date on payments, according to staff in the Orono town office.

Beginning in January 2021, the mortgage holder increased the monthly payment from $565 to $955, but the buyers have continued to pay the lower amount, the complaint said. The buyers also allegedly discovered an unexplained reduction of $12,728 from their escrow account.

The mortgage holders also transferred the mortgage from one company to another several times without registering the transfer with the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds, the complaint said. None of the six entities sued by Mitchell and Clark is licensed to do business in Maine.

The couple is asking a judge to order the Szkaradeks’ firms to pay them compensatory and punitive damages not to exceed $75,000. They also are asking a judge to order the mortgage holder to abide by Maine law and the contract.