PITTSBURGH — A fictitious company that tried to swoop in and take several properties on Pittsburgh’s North Side could face legal consequences.
11 Investigates Angie Moreschi first exposed the scheme in a report last week.
The Northside Redevelopment Association of Pittsburgh filed documents with Allegheny County to condemn and take over 20 properties by eminent domain—something only the government can do. Now, the case is referred to the Allegheny County Police department for investigation.
Eminent Domain Scheme
11 Investigates discovered the same people behind Northside Redevelopment did the same thing last fall under a different name. The name used then was the Marshall Shadeland Association of Pittsburgh, also an unregistered business. Four homes on Hawkins Street in Perry Hilltop were targeted.
Each time, an official looking document was sent to homeowners, saying their property was being condemned and taken by eminent domain.
“I was confused, but I know when someone’s trying to take my home,” said Kevin Wade, one of the targeted homeowners on Marshall Street.
Properties Strategically Targeted
All of the properties appeared to be strategically targeted. Each looked to be in disrepair, vacant and many owed back taxes.
Targeting blighted properties increased the likelihood that no one would object in court.
“They were tricking people into believing that their organization was fully legal and that those property owners owed them,” said Dwayne Barker, president of the Perry Hilltop Citizens Council.
Several community groups, including Perry Hilltop Citizens Council and Northside Leadership Coalition stepped in to help.
“It was based on people not knowing their rights and people who didn’t have funds to fight back,” said Barker.
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Perry Hilltop Executive Director Joanna Deming did an online search of Allegheny County real estate records and discovered Wade’s property was transferred to Marshall Shadeland Redevelopment, even before a court hearing.
The county changed the online records back to the true property owners when the mistake was discovered, but property owners are still concerned.
“Who’s to say there aren’t others doing this?” Deming said.
When asked how that mistake happened in the first place, County Director of Communications Amie Downs told Channel 11 it was a “coding error,” but wouldn’t explain further.
Changing online records
Real estate attorney James Herb said it should never have gotten to the point of having property owner names changed online.
“In my opinion, the Department of Real Estate should not have changed it over,” Herb said. “There’s nothing that says this was legitimized by a court proceeding. They should have verified the person has the legal authority to take the property.”
It’s not the first time the Division of Real Estate has changed online records without a thorough verification process.
In February 2019, 11 Investigates Aaron Martin discovered a case in which a man in North Carolina tried to take over a Penn Hills family’s home and sell it. He got the Division of Real Estate to change the online ownership record to his address.
At the time, the county told 11 Investigates it would improve its real estate security, but now there are renewed questions.
The county would not make anyone from the Division of Real Estate available to interview to explain the process. Homeowners and taxpayers are left with uncertainty as to whether changes were made to safeguard the system from this happening again. 11 Investigates will continue to try and get answers.
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