published Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Chattanooga's mistake is a hassle for a family in East Brainerd

High grass from a lot adjacent to the home of Chattanooga firefighter Ben Bradley on Windrush Loop in Chattanooga can be seen in the Stormy Hollow subdivision.
High grass from a lot adjacent to the home of Chattanooga firefighter Ben Bradley on Windrush Loop in Chattanooga can be seen in the Stormy Hollow subdivision.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

Ben and Korian Bradley can't refinance their home in East Brainerd because Chattanooga erroneously placed liens against it for cleanup work done at nearby properties.

What work was done, Chattanooga public works isn't sure. How a lien was placed incorrectly, city attorneys don't know.

The Stormy Hollow and Gentry Road properties that required attention were owned by Crosswinds Properties LLC, a Chattanooga developer that went bankrupt and dissolved in 2006. The properties are now in the possession of a title insurance company.

The city says it performed $588 worth of labor at the Crosswinds properties around December or January to bring them up to city code. Somehow, the bill for the work -- in the form of a lien -- was attached to the wrong property.

"Everybody knows that this is a mistake," Ben Bradley said Wednesday. But it's a mistake that is holding his property -- and potentially a dozen other homes in the neighborhood --hostage. On Thursday, no one was certain how many properties are affected.

Bradley said he only found out about the lien because he and his wife tried to refinance their mortgage early last month.

"I'm the lucky guy," he said Thursday, about being the one to discover the error.

City officials say they don't know what happened to catch the Bradleys in the red tape.

Kenneth Fritz, in the city attorney's office, said the office has been contacted multiple times with multiple explanations about the liens. He doesn't think the contractor who did the work for the city recorded the wrong street numbers, but he proposed that something might be wrong with the neighborhood's plat numbers in county records.

The property assessor's office said Thursday that the plat numbers and lines all are correctly recorded.

Fritz said three affidavits have been filed -- but none on the Bradleys' property -- to clear any innocent parties of fines. If multiple residences were wrongfully cited and fined, it was a mistake, he said.

"It was never the city's intention to file liens against every lot in that neighborhood," Fritz said Wednesday.

Donna Casteel, chief code enforcement inspector, said a lien would only be placed against a property after numerous attempts to contact the landowner, a court date and a sign posted at the property. She said it's possible city workers did grass or brush service back in the winter.

But Bradley cuts his grass. The Bradleys' home is textbook clean suburbia. Their neighborhood is a quiet corner with cul-de-sacs and wooden fences.

"I don't understand it, so I got to looking into it," Bradley said.

What he found is a quagmire of bureaucracy.

Casteel said Wednesday the code enforcement department doggedly pursues landowners in violation of a city code. But since Crosswinds Properties dissolved in 2006 and left no phone number, address or email, there was no one to answer city requests for a response. Even the law firm now auctioning the foreclosed properties has never talked with the ex-developer.

Casteel directed further questions to the mayor's office Thursday and told the Times Free Press any inquiry about property liens would require written public records requests for each property in question.

Bradley said he's had similar luck getting answers.

Bradley, a full-time, six-year veteran of the Chattanooga Fire Department, said he has been advised by a loan officer that the city has the power to clear the whole thing up. But so far, no luck, he said.

"It's just frustrating," he said, having the fines over his head, being unable to do anything about it and seeing no progress by the city.

And if nothing gets done by next week, the Bradleys may simply bite the bullet and pay the city just to avoid losing a lucrative refinancing option.

"As of right now, I'm going to have to pay the $588," Bradley said Thursday.

It's normal behavior for him, putting out other people's fires.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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