Beshouri declined, through a court spokeswoman, to comment on how he handles attorneys’ fees or his docket more generally, but attorneys representing both lien-buyers and property owners praised his handling of the cases.
Paul Hunt, a lawyer who frequently represents lien buyers, said the system works well in the majority of cases. Those appearing most often as tax-lien defendants are developers who have not paid their taxes for business reasons, he said, and the auction process is the most efficient way to put properties back to productive use.
“This process is part of community development, strange as that may seem,” he said.
Most lawyers who practice in Room 519, Hunt said, are conscientious about who owns the properties they deal with, helping bona fide homeowners navigate the system to get their properties back.
“If we get the little old lady, we’ll continue it, and we’ll never ask for judgment,” he said.
But Hunt acknowledged that legal fees can be excessive for cases that are “a little bit procedural in nature.” Higher fees can be justified in more complex cases, he said, such as those with multiple defendants or requiring complex title research.
One case heard Wednesday seemingly contained all of those elements — a complex legal situation, rocketing legal fees and a family home in the balance.
Muriel Oliver, 64, and son Brian Oliver, 45, stood before Beshouri trying to save a home on Kennedy Street NE that has been in the family for nearly 50 years. After the matriarch of the family died, they said, the home was placed in a trust. With the property no longer eligible for tax exemptions for seniors and owner-occupiers, tax bills skyrocketed, and the family fell behind after Brian Oliver lost his job.
The tax bill of $3,391, including interest and penalties, was sold last year to a bank. Now, the fees total $12,000 and counting. To pay the bills, the family hopes to get a loan secured by the property, but the bank won’t sign until title is transferred away from the trust — requiring the location of long-lost documents.
Beshouri gave the family until January to get the financing in place. Brian Oliver said afterward he was hopeful he would be able to save the family home, but said he felt overwhelmed by the system.
“I’m disappointed in the city,” he said. “It’s hard to see people lose their homes, see the greed that’s taking place.”