$3.3 Million Lien on House

WSVN — When her disabled parents died, she inherited their home and a $3.3 million lien they didn’t know about. Why? Because they didn’t plant some grass and a hedge. Now, is she stuck paying it? It’s why she called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

This is Victoria with her mother and father.

Victoria Berquist: “My dad was disabled since he was 31.”

Robert, injured in the Navy, and Zofia Bass. Two veterans who did not have an easy life.

Victoria Berquist: “My dad was in a wheelchair; you can see all the wheelchair ramps around here. My mom was his caregiver.”

Victoria’s parents bought this duplex in the 1970s. Robert lived the last 51 years of his life in a wheelchair. Victoria’s mother cared for him, even as she developed Alzheimer’s in the early 2000s.

Victoria Berquist: “So it was the only place they ever owned.”

A few years ago, Victoria’s parents passed away, and she inherited the duplex. This year she decided to sell it. An investor showed up.

Victoria Berquist: “He said to me ‘May I take a look around?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he pulled a contract out of his trunk for cash to close in two weeks, and I signed it.”

Then they did a title search.

Victoria Berquist: “And I found out that there was a $3.3 million lien on the property, and the lien was applied in February of 2001 at $700 a day.”

Victoria’s reaction when she went to Pompano Beach City Hall and saw the paper that said she owed millions?

Victoria Berquist: “When I get really nervous or upset, I either laugh or I cry, and I burst out laughing. Are you kidding me?”

Turns out, back in 2001, Victoria’s parents were told to plant two small trees, some sod in the swale and a hedge. When the man in a wheelchair and the woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s didn’t, the city started fining them $700 a day.

Victoria Berquist: “I don’t think they knew about it. The city said that my parents never showed up to the magistrate.”

Victoria can plant what the city wants, but paying $3.3 million in fines is impossible, which she told a city official.

Victoria Berquist: “He goes, ‘That will be adjusted.’ I said, ‘How do you adjust $3.3 million? To what? $30,000? I don’t have it.'”

Well, Howard, you inherit a property and a $3.3 million lien. Can a government agency do that to you?

Howard Finkelstein: “Yes, they can, and they do it to get the owner to comply with their codes and laws, and while the government can do it, they can also significantly reduce the fines or even eliminate them if you do comply with their rules and regulations.”

I then talked to Sandra King, the spokesperson for Pompano Beach. She said Victoria’s parents had been notified through the years but ignored the city. However, they wanted to help Victoria resolve this, that she needed to bring the property into compliance and work with them because they know the fine is ridiculous.

Victoria then planted two trees, some sod and this hedge. Pompano Beach even gave her a break, letting her meet the 2001 code for plants back when the fines started. Then they scheduled the hearing for Victoria to get the $3.3 million fine lowered.

The city attorney and the magistrate could not have been any more helpful.

Victoria Berquist: “I will have to pay $2,500.”

They lowered the fine to $2,500 to cover the city’s cost in the process, surprising Victoria in a good way.

Victoria Berquist: “I thought they would probably hit me with like $30,000 or something, because you drop from $3 million. How much do you drop from $3 million?”

Victoria was relieved and delighted.

Victoria Berquist: “They could have been difficult. They weren’t, so I am very happy.”

Patrick Fraser: “Thanks to Pompano Beach for making that $3.3 million lien go away. I was told by city officials they keep track of these big liens, even sending letters offering amnesty if the property owners will bring them up to code. Victoria’s elderly parents ignored them. And if you have a lien on your property, work with the city official who has the power to get your lien lowered or wiped out, but never give up.”

Inherited a problem that’s not growing on you? Liening towards giving up? Contact us. We don’t have millions of solutions, but you only need one to make things go away, and that’s fine with us.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
E-mail: helpmehoward@wsvn.com (please include your contact phone number when e-mailing)
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
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