A series of certified letters arrived at homes across Missoula County in mid-July announcing that Florida-based LienBase might purchase a lien on the property if delinquent taxes weren’t paid in two weeks.
“This could result in the loss of your property listed below,” the brief letter said. It was signed in a scribbled name and directed all questions to the Missoula County Treasurer’s Office. On the envelope’s return address space, under the “LienBase” company name was the name “Lambros.”
That return address has prompted Lambros ERA Real Estate owner and chief executive officer Bruno Friia to receive a series of nervous phone calls, wondering why his company plans to buy delinquent tax liens.
He is not. And the “Lambros” name on the envelopes is not that of his company.
Missoula County is required by state law to put delinquent tax liens up for sale, and roughly $4.9 million worth went through the July 2011 tax sale. Many letters from companies hoping to purchase the first-come, first-serve delinquent tax lien assignments were sent out in mid-July.
Since then, Friia said, he’s received about half a dozen worried calls.
“We’re known in western Montana, so that’s where we’re getting most of the calls,” Friia said. “What is this all about? They think we’re buying out their delinquent taxes, you know, and we’re not.”
Lambros is a fairly common Greek name, Friia said. There’s even a Hollywood, Fla.-based Lambros real estate company, unrelated to LienBase. But this is the first time Friia has dealt with delinquent tax lien complaints.
Friia has an attorney looking into the issue, but said he has not spoken with anyone from LienBase.
“We just want to get the word out it has nothing to do with the Lambros real estate company,” Friia said.
The “Lambros” part of the LienBase letters sent in Missoula County belongs to Lambros Xethalis, who is a partner at LienBase and has made a career of investing in delinquent lien assignments.
Xethalis was listed as the director of acquisitions and portfolio manager of Virginia-based Mooring Tax Asset Group in a 2006 Montana Associated Press story. The AP reported then that Mooring sent letters to delinquent taxpayers in six Montana counties in 2006 and more than 736 letters to Yellowstone County residents.
It quoted Xethalis as saying the tax lien system here helps counties collect its taxes faster.
Xethalis is now a partner in the Florida-based LienBase. He said in a phone interview Tuesday it wasn’t his intention to cause any confusion. He didn’t put his full name on the envelope because “it’s just ‘care of.’ ”
Xethalis said he doesn’t run across the name Lambros much, but he does remember seeing the Lambros real estate business during a trip to Missoula.
“I’ve spent time in Missoula. I drove by their building, and I even stopped at the building and they were very polite to me,” Xethalis said.
Property owners aren’t immediately at risk of losing their property. They’re only late on their 2011 taxes. State statute dictates that property owners have three years to pay back the taxes, thus redeeming the tax lien assignment, Missoula County Clerk and Recorder Vickie Zeier said Tuesday.
But delinquent tax lien assignments can be purchased at any time during the 36-month redemption period. Certified mail notification with specific wording announcing the potential purchase of delinquent tax liens must be sent by companies contemplating purchases in each county.
A 10 percent interest rate is attached to late tax payments. Once purchased, any interest accrued on the tax payments is paid through the county to the holding company.
Zeier has seen an increase in activity on delinquent tax lien purchases because the interest rate charge remains at 10 percent, higher than what most other investments are paying now.
Classes are even being offered online to tutor people on the best way to purchase delinquent tax liens, she said.
Xethalis also has seen an increase of activity from delinquent tax lien purchasing companies in Montana but he isn’t exactly sure why.
Xethalis hasn’t made any purchases in Missoula County’s July tax lien sale and isn’t sure how many, if any, he’ll make.
Incorrect wording on the notices sent in Missoula County this year may void companies’ ability to purchase any assignments. Two investment companies – including LienBase – hoping to purchase tax lien assignment in Missoula County sent out notices with incorrect language, said said Annie Cathey, Missoula County delinquent tax clerk.
“Both of those individuals had to go back and reprint their notices, and re-certified mail all of them,” Cathey said.
Cathey has done 30 tax lien assignments for the July sale so far, but said there’s a lot more in the works, especially if the companies choose to remail the notifications.
Xethalis said he hasn’t decided if he’ll resend the Missoula County notifications. He doesn’t remember the exact date the two-week notice period expires, but said “it’s looming.”
If a taxpayer makes good with the county, LienBase eats the cost of the certified letter and the paper it cost to print the notice, he said.
The best thing property owners can do if they receive a notice of delinquent tax lien sale is pay their taxes as soon as possible, Zeier said. That cuts down on the interest they’ll have pay.
“Sometimes these notices are actually a good thing – people realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to take care of this’ ” Zeier said.
Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.