Article: Adventures in Tax Certificate Purchases

We found this article from chicagotribune.com to be pretty interesting:

By Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune reporter 6:29 p.m. CST, February 20, 2012 Besides the kids who ride through on their bikes or the homeowners who keep the grass neatly clipped, nobody ever really noticed a triangular 3-acre plot that’s a functioning but humdrum component of New Lenox’s flood-prevention system.Things changed last month when residents got a letter from a salty Channahon contractor telling them he was about to bulldoze it.Heavy-equipment operator Mark Michelsen, 49, is threatening to rip up or fill in the subdivision detention pond he unwittingly bought for $11 at a tax sale if the village or homeowners don’t pay up.He said he’s within his legal rights and is playing hardball only because New Lenox refused for more than four years to pay about $200 to take the property, which it apparently never owned, off his hands. Now he’s seeking substantially more.“It’s pretty obvious I’m an (expletive) — I’ve been an (expletive) my whole life,” Michelsen said jokingly, surveying his unwanted dry-bottom pond recently. “But I do what’s legal … and they think they’re going to ignore the laws.”Things came to a head last month after Michelsen sent New Lenox an email saying the drainage “pipes are now plugged” and would remain so until “payments and lease are arranged.”

Faced with a bulldozer-backed power play not often seen on the winding streets of the Chadwick subdivision, New Lenox took him to court. A judge recently ordered Michelsen not to alter the pond while the dispute is being resolved.

“That was a poker move, and it made them get off their (butt),” Michelsen said of plugging the pipes, which he said he didn’t actually do. Michelsen says that after paying attorney’s fees and other costs, he now wants “fair market value” for the 3-acre property off Spencer Road.

Village administrator Kurt Carroll said he couldn’t comment on the case because it was being litigated. In court documents, New Lenox says it has a “perpetual easement” on the improvements to the pond, which it says helps prevent several properties and a public road from flooding.

“There is no adequate remedy at law for the disruptions, dangerous conditions and threat to the public that will result from … (Michelsen) filling in … the detention pond,” the town wrote in a court filing.

Last year, Will County auctioned off nearly 4,500 liens on tax-delinquent parcels, bringing in about $17.6 million, according to Joseph E. Meyer & Associates, whose auction software the county uses. Buyers can earn a profit based either on the penalties property owners must pay to redeem the liens or by foreclosing on the property after a two- to three-year waiting period.

In Joliet, where Michelsen took title last year to a 7-acre detention pond in the Riverbrook Estates subdivision, the problem typically arises with older developments that don’t have a formal homeowners’ association, said Joliet City Manager Tom Thanas.

“The lots are essentially worthless as far as market value,” he said, and their upkeep is the subdivision residents’ responsibility.

He said the city will intervene if Michelsen threatens to destroy the pond and can assist residents in other ways, such as creating a special taxing district to raise a few thousand dollars a year for the pond’s upkeep.

Michelsen said the purchases aren’t his fault. The New Lenox pond he bought was listed at auction as two buildable lots and never should have been sold because it wasn’t being taxed, he said.

The Joliet pond was listed as farm property, he said.

Michelsen said he ended up with a few oddball properties in the eight years and tens of thousands of dollars he has spent on tax certificates, but this is the first time he has ever foreclosed on one. Someone typically jumps to buy it back after he starts writing eye-opening letters, he said.

Once, when Michelsen discovered he had taken possession of a strip of Will County road, he sent letters to four property owners who lived along it. “I’m going to have to rip out the blacktop and plant grass so I’m not liable for snow plowing,” Michelsen said he wrote.

“Man, some old lady called me up right away,” he said. “(Then) she called up the county, and I had a check in a couple of days. So I figured that’s what these idiots (in New Lenox) would do.”

But the village didn’t take him up on his offer. “They said, ‘No, screw you,'” Michelsen said. “I said, ‘Man, I’m not going to walk away — I’m going to teach you a lesson.'”

So the village attorney began receiving some colorful legal correspondence.

“I can go in with a dozer legally and even though it would be more fun than Disney World … I’d rather fix this quietly,” Michelsen wrote in one letter. Another said, “YOU HAVE NO EASEMENT YOU DUMB (expletive).”

Michelsen said he also dressed up in his bright-green construction gear and hand-delivered a letter to the village saying he was going to start demolishing the detention pond. The village responded with a cease-and-desist letter, which prompted him to write back saying “LOL” and that “past rent … is still due and accumulating.”

Last month, Chadwick subdivision homeowners who live near the detention pond were caught off guard when they opened letters from Michelsen telling them to remove the swing set, bench and trees that have been planted on the property. “I will start to fill in (the pond) within 72 hours,” he wrote.

“It was a surprise,” said Ken Agema, who lives nearby. “I just read it and thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ But the village says there’s no muscle behind it.”

Jim Kapsalis, a retired Country Club Hills police officer, also wondered if it was a joke, but didn’t take offense. “It’s his property — he can do whatever he wants with it,” he said.

The swing set and park bench remained last week. But Michelsen said he may soon take down a couple of trees planted on his property.

“I don’t want to do anything, but if a kid climbs that tree and falls, someone’s going to sue me,” he said.

Michelsen said he believes the easements New Lenox has on the pond are no longer valid. And he said now that he owns it, the dozens of surrounding homes are technically violating village code by discharging water onto his property.

“They’re acting like I’m an idiot,” he said of the village. “Listen, I didn’t buy this (expletive) thing through eBay or Craigslist. I bought this through the county clerk’s office. And I intend on winning.”

He had told New Lenox he could re-grade the pond by 6 inches without a permit and dig 16-foot holes for soil samples. He said in an interview that he could earn $75 a load dumping dirt on the property.

“I’m going to recoup my money one way or another,” he said. “I can dig trenches … just to aggravate the hell out of them.”When his conflict with New Lenox is over, Michelsen says he’ll be moving on to his only other unusual property — the 7-acre detention pond in Joliet, where nearby residents likely will be getting some interesting mail..

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