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Contact 5 Investigation: PBC landlords taking taxpayer money, still owe property taxes

Posted: 5:27 PM, Nov 02, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-03 00:40:22Z

KEY FINDINGS:

*A Contact 5 investigation found some landlords In Palm Beach County are taking your taxpayer dollars, but not paying their own property taxes.

*42 landlords, who are a part of the Housing Voucher Program, haven't paid their property taxes as of September. That's according to records requested and obtained by Contact 5. 

*Those landlords owe a combined $118,000 in delinquent property taxes.

 

A Contact 5 investigation found some landlords In Palm Beach County are taking your taxpayer dollars, but not paying their own property taxes.

HOUSING CHOICE VOUCHERS
 
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federally-funded program that uses your tax dollars to provide safe and affordable housing to low-income families. 

In Palm Beach County, the program runs through the housing authority.   

Landlords who participate in the program get a check from the housing authority, and the tenant pays the difference if any. 

"They subsidize the rent for someone," says Ezra Saffold. He's one of the landlords in the program. "It's an implied guaranteed income if you meet their standards."

Sometimes, Saffold says, he falls a month or two behind in paying his yearly property taxes, because the money he gets from the housing authority is going toward other homes. He does say he ends up paying hefty interest.

"It's part of rental investments, it's part of my business model. I make sure my houses are in tip-top shape," says Saffold.

But other landlords in the program are not like Saffold.

"To understand that there are landlords out there, that are receiving taxpayer funds from the government and at the same time, not paying their obligations to the local government, is astounding to me; it's quite frankly frightening," says Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner.    

OUR FINDINGS

42 landlords, who are a part of the Housing Voucher Program, haven't paid their property taxes as of September. That's according to records requested and obtained by Contact 5. 

Those landlords owe a combined $118,000 in delinquent property taxes.

Many are repeat offenders. One landlord, with two properties in the voucher program, owes more than $16,000, since 2015.

The money trail isn’t hard to follow. Contact 5 asked the tax collector for a list of all delinquent property owners. We then requested, from the housing authority, a list of landlords in the voucher program. We combined the lists. It didn’t take long to figure out who was on both.

Contact 5 had to threaten to sue, to get the list of landlords from the Housing Authority. 

"It's those tax dollars that they're not paying that we pay our firefighters with, our deputy sheriffs, we pave our roads with that money," says commissioner Kerner.

The Governor's Office appoints members of the Housing Authority's board, but commissioner Kerner says their actions affect the people he represents.

"It shouldn't have to be the press finding this information out," says Kerner.  

So the question now, why aren’t these two agencies comparing notes?

THE HOUSING AUTHORITY'S RESPONSE

The Housing Authority has not fulfilled a Contact 5 request, to know how much money is being paid to these landlords on the list. It's been 70 days since we put in that request.

There are no federal regulations that automatically ban landlords who have piled up delinquent property taxes from receiving taxpayer subsidies.  

The Palm Beach County Housing Authority would not do an on-camera interview. In an email, the Housing Choice Voucher manager at the Palm Beach County Housing Authority said "no owner has a right to participate in the HCV program," adding, "there are a number of criteria where the PHA may deny approval."

One of those times is if "the owner has not paid state or local real estate taxes, fines, or assessment."  In the email, they said the PHA "may, on a case-by-case basis, choose to approve or disapprove an owner." 

Contact 5 asked specifically if the Housing Authority talks with the Tax Collector, to determine whether someone is delinquent. That was 11 days ago. The manager has not answered that question.

The manager wouldn't answer whether they can cancel existing contracts with landlords for not paying, or just simply say they are not allowed to put a new home on the list.

TAX COLLECTOR'S OFFICE

The tax collector’s office would also not tell me if they’re communicating with the Housing Authority to identify the delinquent landlords in the program. We asked her the question, in multiple emails, beginning on October 9th.

"After you've brought this to my attention, and Channel 5 has brought this to my attention, I'm going to proactively speak to Anne Gannon, our tax collector, and I know she will do the right thing and get this information to the housing authority," Kerner said. 

Property owners know when they are delinquent. According to the tax collector's office, every property owner receives a tax bill by the first of November. Taxes are due and payable in November, December, January and February. April 1st, taxes become delinquent.

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