Jakob Williams, a 3L, secured a victory on behalf of the City of Philadelphia after arguing in the Court of Common Pleas that a mortgage company was not entitled to proceeds it sought from a tax sale.
The motion Williams argued July 29 represented one of several matters he worked on in the Real Estate Tax Unit of the Philadelphia Solicitor’s Office as a recipient of the Annual Carl “Tobey” Oxholm Summer Fellowship.
This one was complicated, Williams said, and the result was especially rewarding.
The case surrounded proceeds from a property the city sold in a sheriff’s sale in 2017 after the homeowner had neglected to pay her taxes. Because the city was able to sell the house for far more than the tax that was owed, the original property owner was entitled to receive the excess proceeds.
But, Williams explained, the property owner did not respond to the city’s notification informing her that she was entitled to a windfall of some $20,000 to $30,000.
However, a lender who also received notification of the sheriff’s sale claimed it had a security interest in the property and filed a motion with the court claiming it should receive the proceeds, Williams said.
This prompted a careful review of the property’s title history by Williams, who discovered that the mortgage company had previously sold its interest in the home to a different lender, who in turn had sold it to another mortgagee.
Making the picture even more problematic, Williams said, one lender had neglected to send invoices to the property owner for 15 years, even as security interests continued to change hands.
“At this point, whoever was holding the fraudulent interests developed an invoice that was four times the outstanding balance,” Williams said. “They’re coming after everything...We concluded there was a bad faith actor.”
Attorneys in the city Solicitor’s Office had never seen this scenario before, Williams said, adding that they provided him with tremendous support and encouragement along the way. They are now exploring whether the case was a fluke or evidence of a wider scam, Williams added.
While “fly by night” mortgage companies claimed they could not find the original property owner, Williams said, he tracked her down through a simple Google search.
On the day Williams argued the motion, the former property owner was in the courtroom.
The judge’s ruling that came a few weeks later ensured that the former property owner could receive proceeds from the tax sale that came close to the home’s original purchase price.
“It felt really good to actually help someone,” Williams said, adding that it also protects the integrity of the city’s sheriff’s sales and reflects the city’s commitment to taxpayers. “We were able to defend her interest when no one was looking out for her.”
The Oxholm fellowship is funded through a generous gift from Tobey Oxholm, who led efforts to launch the Kline School of Law while serving as general counsel of Drexel University.