Woman fights to keep her Glendale home initially seized for $68 debt
By Erin Alberty
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 05/19/2008 12:18:48 AM MDT
Capri Ramos refuses to believe she lost her home 13 years ago over a $68 dental bill.
She still lives there. She still pays the mortgage.
But a court ruling earlier this month may boot Ramos and her family from the tax-subsidized home she claims was taken without her knowledge.
It all started with baby-teeth cavities that landed Ramos' daughter in the dentist's chair in 1995. The $68 bill went unpaid.
"At that time, I was young, brand new married and kids, just bought a house and wasn't really aware of everything going on," said Ramos, now 41. "I had no idea that by not paying a dental bill, this man would get my house."
Capri Ramos and her 10-year-old daughter Tica Ramos sit in front of their Glendale home . Ramos has been involved in a protracted legal battle to retain ownership of the house. It was sold at a county sale after it was seized to pay a dental bill. (Jim Urquhart/The Salt Lake Tribune)The Salt Lake City collection agency North American Recovery sued Ramos in 1995 over the dental bill. Ramos, who says she did not realize how dire the consequences might be, did not contest the suit. The Salt Lake County sheriff's department was ordered to sell Ramos' real estate to pay off the debt, which had reached $958 with interest and added fees. Third District Judge Sheila McCleve oversaw the collection. A court spokeswoman said McCleve did not remember the case.
In 1994, Ramos had taken out a low-income homeowners loan from Salt Lake City to buy her Glendale split-level home for $51,000.
It sold two years later at the sheriff's auction for $1,550.
The home was transferred to Salt Lake City-based Jarmaccc Properties LLC, whose registered agent and manager is listed as attorney Ralph Petty. Court records indicate Ramos was served with notices of the sale, but Ramos claims she knew nothing of it until 1998.
"I tried to get a loan, and they said, 'You don't even own that house,'" Ramos said. "I was shocked. I had no idea."
It isn't clear why North American Recovery collected on the bill through Ramos' home. Most court documents on the dental debt have been destroyed in accordance with state court archive guidelines.
Ramos said she would have preferred to part with a less valuable asset. "I've always had vehicles," she said. "I've always had a job. They could have garnished my wages."
North American Recovery President David Saxton says Ramos' case runs counter to the agency's current procedure. It no longer pursues debts as small as $263, he said, and almost never uses real estate to recover a judgment. Of about 50,000 collections the agency handled in the last year, only one involved seizing a house, he said.
Another mystery festers in the city loan that paid for the house at 5 percent interest. The agreement forbids Ramos from selling, renting, leasing, or transferring the house to anyone else for 15 years, said Marion Barnhill, who oversees the city loan program. If those conditions aren't met, the house reverts to the city, the deed states.
The goal is to keep the city's investment in the hands of the low-income buyers for whom the loans are intended, Barnhill said. Had Ramos stopped making payments when the title transferred to Jarmaccc, the city would have foreclosed.
"We would not let it stay as a subsidized loan in the hands of an investor," Barnhill said.
The danger of trying to enforce the rules now, he said, is that it could mean evicting Ramos and her family from a home she has been paying off for 14 years - even if she no longer holds the title.
"If we were to act on that clause, [the borrower] would be the one harmed, not the guy who bought it," he said.
Petty, whose company holds the title, did not return phone calls seeking comment as to why Jarmaccc allowed Ramos to live in and make mortgage payments on the home.
When Ramos found out about Jarmaccc's claim on the property in 1998, a lawyer told her filing for bankruptcy could help her keep her house. Jarmaccc was listed as a creditor in the bankruptcy plan because, Ramos said, she believed Jarmaccc had covered her dental debt.
"She thought they were ... a creditor that had a lien against the home, not a creditor that owned the entire property," said Ryan James, an attorney representing Ramos.
Ramos paid $1,200 to Jarmaccc through the bankruptcy, which she says she filed only because of Jarmaccc's claim on the home. The plan carried the stipulation that Jarmaccc would have no claim to the house after the debt was paid.
Ramos' divorce from her first husband in 1999 named her the owner of the house. In the meantime, she continued to make mortgage payments to the city. It will be paid off next year, she said.
In 2004, Ramos sued Jarmaccc, claiming the bankruptcy plan returned the house to her and there were inaccuracies in the property description written on the sale notices.
Ramos won the case, but the Utah Court of Appeals returned the home to Jarmaccc this month after ruling Ramos should have filed her lawsuit by 2002 at the latest.
The city likely will take no legal action until Ramos exhausts her attempts in court, Barnhill said. Ramos' attorney, James Haskins, said his client now will seek help from the Utah Supreme Court.
Ramos says she intends to keep paying the mortgage.
"I still totally, totally oppose the thought that it's his house," she said. "There's no way this is his house. I have put everything into it - sweat to replace the tile floors. There's no way."
Meanwhile, Ramos has launched a career as a loan officer.
"I went to school last year to figure out how all that stuff works. I'm finding all kinds of little things out that, had I known back then ..." she said.
She continues to live in the house with her second husband and two youngest children, 3 and 10.
"I spent more money than I ever thought I would, selling jewelry, selling everything ... for attorney's fees," Ramos said. "All I have is this house."
Glad I don't work for that "man"....
Glad I'm not taking his phone calls today...
Speaking of the devil.
He's irking me.
He asks for the tenants current state as far as payments. I give him the update. The tenant argues the point. I get drug in. APPARENTLY the boss had given the tenants a 'deal' or made an 'agreement' WITHOUT telling me about four months ago. He always changes things on me without telling me, mainly he changes the amount for rent on different properties and never tells me.
Kind of essential to tell the accountant on that subject I'd think. Apparently they are allowed to pay twice a month and have it be considered "on time" and apparently all late fees are waived.
Grr.So now I have adjust/backtrack the ledger to make the payments correct (every secretaries nightmare = backtracking in hopes they recorded things -very- well).
I look and feel stupid in front of these tenants simply because the boss neglected to tell me some valuable info. Grr. I already look stupid when he won't take his calls or call back and clients think its MY fault that I didn't get the message to him.
P.S. Earlier today I had the opportunity of stealing about $130 from the boss today. Well, mainly the tenant, but still. The tenant didn't write who the check was for....
He had about $900 with no owner of the check...but knowing me I'd only take about $130 of it and the tenant has a payment credit so he wouldn't even know anyway.... sigh..
But I did not steal from either the tenant or the boss.
But it was very tempting. No lie.