City officials are accusing a former landlord of deliberately collecting rent on properties she had lost through foreclosure.
“People told me straight out they had paid her,” said Deputy Corporation Counsel Rachael Ward.
As Ward and other city employees went door-to-door in August, inspecting every foreclosed house, tenants at two buildings insisted they had just paid their landlord, Susan Singh. Tenants at one location said they had just put down $1,500 to rent an apartment from her the day before, Ward said.
“Shocking. Really upsetting information,” Ward added.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he asked the police to investigate the allegations of fraud.
“The police are following up,” he said. “We were going around notifying people, inspecting. She was running ahead of us, collecting rent.”
Singh denied committing fraud, but at the same time acknowledged doing some of the things city officials said she had done.
She said she had offered an apartment to some tenants the day before city officials came by in mid-August, but asserted that it wasn’t wrong. “I still have 90 days to redeem my property,” she said, adding that she felt the city was in the wrong.
“There was a woman there, she had a little baby. The city turned off the power. Technically, it’s illegal. You can’t tell people I’m not the owner anymore. They went over there illegally.”
Actually, the redemption period ended July 31, Ward said. After that period ended, the city went to court, won the foreclosures cases, and took title Aug. 12 — days before Singh rented out the apartment.
Tenants who had receipts showing they had just paid rent were allowed to stay through the end of August, Ward added. The city now works with many agencies to help such tenants find other housing quickly, and in this case most of them have already found new apartments, Ward said. The rest have been allowed to stay through September.
“We don’t want people homeless,” she said. “But for some of these people, it’s just devastating. Those girls paid $1,500 for first and last months, they hadn’t even moved in yet. They were devastated.”
Singh acknowledged that she had offered the apartment to the women, and said they were showing their new apartment to a boyfriend when city officials arrived. They had access to the unit, she said, but insisted that she had not taken any money from them.
The women returned to their old apartment and found a new place to live, Ward said.
“It’s very unsettling. We just want to get away from these people, who are preying on these tenants,” Ward added. “She’s our worst-case scenario. She’s the only one bold enough that she actually went out and tried to squeeze more money out of these people.”
In the last round of foreclosures, in 2012, city officials also found one case where an apartment had been rented after foreclosure. In that case, then-Deputy Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico took on the tenants’ case pro-bono to get their money back from the landlord.
Ward said she walked the women through the process of filing a civil court claim and they filled out the paperwork to do so.
Singh meanwhile has hung flyers on doors of houses that don’t belong to her, telling owners that they are facing foreclosure and urging them to call her for help. When asked about this by The Daily Gazette, she said she is not an attorney but works for one and filed her own paperwork to fight the foreclosures on her properties.
She then said she was busy and hung up the phone without answering other questions or providing other details about her efforts.
Ward said the flyers have irked city officials because they were placed on properties that were not in foreclosure.
When she got the first panicked call from an owner, Ward checked the address and confirmed the city was not foreclosing. She speculated to the homeowner that the property might be facing a bank foreclosure. Then she got a call from residents who had already paid off their back taxes. Eventually, city officials traced the calls back to Singh’s flyers.
They have inaccurate information on them, including a redemption date of Sept. 30, and a list of ways to stop bank foreclosures even while saying that the goal is to stop the city’s tax foreclosures.
There’s not much the city can do about it, but Ward is trying to warn residents to be cautious.
“We don’t have any affiliation with this [flyer],” Ward said.