November 16, 2015

DC doubling down on dispossessed catches attention of the Washington Post

By Christina M. Martin Attorney

Late last week the Washington Post published an article by Todd Gaziano of our DC office and me, called D.C. doubles down on the dispossessed. We wrote about Benjamin Coleman and other dispossessed homeowners’ class-action lawsuit against the District of Columbia. Coleman, an elderly veteran who suffers from dementia, lost his home, which the tax appraiser valued at almost $200,000, when he failed to pay a $133.88 tax on time. The District took his title and sold it to a private company who then foreclosed and sold it for a profit. The District and company reaped a windfall, but Coleman never saw a penny of his equity. When the Washington Post exposed the District’s unjust tax scheme a couple of years ago, the District changed its law. But the District still refuses to set things right and is fighting the lawsuit brought by Coleman and the other homeowners who are suing under the Fifth Amendment, which provides that government may only take property when it is for a public use and if it pays just compensation. The District claims that homeowners forfeited their Fifth Amendment rights when they failed to pay their bills on time. But as we say in the op-ed,

If government officials have the final say on what constitutes a forfeiture of constitutional rights, they could not only take property without paying compensation but also “redefine” when other constitutional rights are forfeited. If so, the failure to shovel snow from your sidewalk could justify the seizure of your home and the denial of your voting rights. Neither is true.

Although the hearing was set for this week, the federal district court just rescheduled the hearing for January 22, 2016. That gives the District more time to do the right thing.

Read the whole Washington Post article here.

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