City properties on auction block

City properties on auction block

CUMBERLAND – It’s only the second Allegany County sheriff’s sale to be held in the city, but already the auction block is seeing its share of repeat offenders.

Another five properties facing outstanding debts to the city of Cumberland will be up for grabs Aug. 6. Four of the properties are owned by people whose properties were in the first sheriff’s sale in January.

Jeff Rhodes, director of administrative services for the city, said he couldn’t speculate on why property owners allow so many of their buildings to fall into outstanding debt with the city, but that it’s not uncommon for investors to purchase cheap buildings and later learn they can’t “do what they intended to do with it.”

“All kinds of things could go wrong,” he said. “A lot of out-of-town investors buy property, and even though it’s cheap, they realize they can’t flip it. It’s more expensive than they realized.”

According to the state land records Web site, Leon Granoff has owned around a dozen properties in the county that he purchased several years ago, all through tax sales. In April, three of his properties – 310 Independence St., 318-320 Independence St. and 334 Independence St. – were sold to a high bidder from Frederick. The city of Cumberland purchased 325 Independence St. for $500.

Unless Granoff, a Realtor from Gardena, Calif., settles the debt before the Aug. 6 deadline, his buildings at 470 Baltimore Ave. and 657 Greene St. could be sold at public action. The buildings were purchased following foreclosures for $985 and $265, respectively.

Mary Owens, who is listed with a city post office box on the state tax and assessments Web site, also has two properties up for auction next month, 652 Baker St. and 804 Maryland Ave. The Baker Street property was purchased in 1986 for $11,500, according to its deed. The Maryland Avenue property, which is owned by both Owens and David Owens, was purchased the same year for $12,500.

Like Granoff, Mary Owens also had property auctioned earlier this year. A building at 100 Independence St. had previously sold for $2,500.

“Both Mr. Granoff and Ms. Owens have numerous properties we have been monitoring the progress of, in terms of their conditions,” Rhodes said.

The final property to be auctioned next month, 800 Maryland Ave., was purchased by Juan Gomez of Montebello, Calif., for $575 in 1999.

The city started the sales earlier this year as a way to collect debt owed when property owners are cited for municipal infractions such as missing spouting or broken windows.

Rhodes said it is expensive pursing these collections, and often times the property owners would not even show up for court.

Although many buildings in these sales are considered blighted properties, Rhodes said it is the owner’s debt to the city, and not necessarily the condition of the house, that brings it to the sheriff’s sale.

“In theory, one violation that isn’t solved could continue to be cited and reach that magical number we feel we need to pursue a sheriff’s sale,” Rhodes added. “You could have a house on Washington Street that’s missing spouting on one side. In theory, that could be cited enough that it becomes financially necessary to enforce a sheriff’s sale. But you could ride by that and say, ‘That doesn’t look like blighted property to me.’ ”

City Solicitor Mike Cohen said all the sales from January’s auction have been ratified, and the city is waiting for the high bidders to pay off their remaining balances and pick up their deeds.

The sale begins at 9 a.m. on the steps of the Allegany County Circuit Court, 30 Washington St.

Tai Shadrick, Cumberland Times-News

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