This story was originally published on July 1, 2012. Seventeen days later Jan Singleton, the property owner highlighted here, began serving a 60-day jail sentence after pleading no contest and being convicted of failing to obey the order of a housing inspector for multiple code violations.
DAYTON — For 20 years, Dayton resident Jan Singleton has been buying rundown properties with an eye toward developing them one day. He says he’s performing a public service, acting as a neighborhood savior.
But Dayton and Montgomery County officials, neighborhood activists and local property owners have a different view of Singleton.
They say he’s destroying neighborhoods, not building them up.
Singleton owns 54 abandoned properties in Montgomery County, by far the most of any single landowner. He also owes $329,017 in unpaid taxes on those properties.
His strategy, which Singleton freely admits, is not to pay taxes in order to entice lenders holding the mortgages to either forgive them or to decide against foreclosure due to the high tax liability.
“Between the property taxes, weed assessments, the cost of clean-up and repairs, they’ll find there is no profit for them, no value in the property,” Singleton said. “It’s a stick to hold over banks and mortgage companies.”
Singleton owns a total of 68 properties. Of the 30 with structures, he has made property tax payments on just three. He has made almost no tax payments in seven years on his 38 vacant lots.
“His game is not to pay taxes. He plays the game until his time runs out,” said Daniel Gerhard, Montgomery County’s assistant treasurer.
The treasurer’s office foreclosed on at least five of Singleton’s properties for back taxes, Gerhard said. Another dozen ended up in tax lien sales.
Singleton acknowledges his properties are in bad shape. He says he’s looking for investors or bank loans to finance repairs.
In just the last five years, the city of Dayton has issued Singleton 18 citations for property code violations, 10 repair orders and 16 warning notices. Eight of his houses were boarded up and the city took him to housing court on 13 cases.
“This guy has found a way to work around the system,” said developer Theresa Gasper, who grew up in Dayton’s South Park and now owns rental properties there. “Everybody’s aware of the guy. But nobody has the authority to do anything about it.”
Singleton tells a different story.
“I’m a guy trying to improve the community, trying to fix properties that nobody else wants,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is supposed to be alive in Dayton. I have my doubts, especially on the days when I have to appear in housing court.”
Singleton calls most of his properties “walk-aways” that he discovered by researching rundown homes that had been foreclosed on and sent to sheriff’s sale. He said he approaches homeowners and offers to take the properties off their hands.
“Some of them didn’t even know they still owned the property,” Singleton said. “They thought they had lost it to foreclosure years ago.”
Once he targets a property, Singleton sends the owner a letter along with a quit-claim deed.
Warranty deeds, where the seller guarantees there are no outstanding claims on the property from creditors, are traditionally used in residential home sales. A quit-claim deed transfers the interest the current owner has in a property without making warranties about rights that others, like a mortgage company or county treasurer, may have in it.
“There’s no money involved,” Singleton said. “They just mail the quit-claim deed back to me.”
By keeping the ownership murky, Singleton effectively circumvents the system, said Tyrone Sampson, Dayton’s senior housing inspector in charge of court duties.
“I think it important to know that when Jan Singleton acquires a property, he won’t have the deed recorded,” Sampson said. “That’s what he hides behind.”
Montgomery County Recorder Willis Blackshear said Singleton often transfers the deeds in the county auditor’s office, but doesn’t follow up by having it recorded in Blackshear’s office. The Dayton Daily News identified 18 of Singleton’s properties that were not recorded in this way.
“He’s playing a shell game. Looking at the auditor’s records gives the appearance that the transaction is complete, but it’s not complete,” Blackshear said. “If someone is doing a title search on a property, the new owner would not be reflected.”
Singleton said the two-step process of transferring the deed in the auditor’s office and then having it recorded in a separate office is laborious and costly. He files the properties in the recorder’s office when he can afford to do so, he said.
Maintaining an arm’s length connection to the property allows Singleton to generate revenue, such as from a rental, while avoiding responsibility for code violations, said Kevin Powell, the city of Dayton’s acting division manager of housing inspection.
“If we have that hard copy document (the deed), we can prove to the judge that he is the owner,” said Powell.
Sampson said he has seen Singleton beat housing violations repeatedly over 20 years by not recording deeds.
In the meantime, neighbors say Singleton’s abandoned properties continue to deteriorate.
Walter DeLoats lives next to a Singleton property at 124 Monmouth St. in Dayton. Siding is falling off the house. Windows are broken. A broken gate leads to a yard full of weeds and refuse. The house has become a habitat for feral cats.
“It should have been demolished a long time ago,” DeLoats said. “If (the city) would just tear it down and leave a vacant lot, that would be fine.”
Singleton said he doesn’t understand why the county considers him a problem when there are more than 6,000 properties on the county’s abandoned list.
“I’ve never been one to let stress take over. I sleep pretty decent at night,” Singleton said. “I’m providing a service.”
Contact these reporters at (937) 225-2362 or jsmith@Dayton DailyNews.com and (937)225-7455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan Singleton abandoned properties: Jan Singleton and his trust had more abandoned properties in Montgomery County in December 2011 than any other owner. Those 54 properties - all in Dayton - are among 68 for which he currently owes $329,097 in delinquent property taxes.
142 Milton St..
153 155 Boltin St..
2041 E 4Th St.
539 Parrot St.
201 Dover St.
315 Burkhardt Ave.
24 N Van Lear St.
14 Spring St.
22 Spring St.
24 Spring St.
26 Spring St.
68 Burlington Ave.
133 135 Garfield St.
124 S Monmouth St.
112 S Monmouth St.
203 Irwin St.
332 E Maplewood Ave.
1029 1031 Superior Ave.
936 938 Lexington Ave.
435 Orchard Ave.
2124 W 2Nd St.
311 S Broadway St.
1252 Broadway St.
3000 Hoover Ave.
S Alder St.
100 Mia Ave.
29 Ringgold St.
2159 E 3Rd St.
341 E Lincoln St.
2225 E 5Th St.
36 Hivling St.
34 Hivling St.
209 Linden Ave.
21 23 Harper Ave.
257 259 Fillmore St.
401 403 Wyoming St.
1206 1208 Wyoming St.
17 19 Gilbert Ave.
21 Gilbert Ave.
221 Martz Ave.
1029 1031 E Huffman Ave.
2143 2145 E 3Rd St.
235 N Irwin St.
161 63 Marathon Ave.
1029 S Smithville Rd
4501 Eichelberger Ave.
122 124 Ringgold St.
1523 Mclain St.
2135 E 3rd St.
1944 E 4Th St.
827 Clover St.
723 Lorain Ave.
*Abandoned designation as of December 2011 based on the property having chronically delinquent property taxes, nuisance assessments and water shut-offs. Some properties may have since been demolished or changed hands.
Owners with the most abandoned properties in Montgomery County
Note: City of Dayton and State of Ohio own property forfeited in tax foreclosure sales or acquired for redevelopment.
Source: Montgomery County Auditor - Dec. 2011 list
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