Atlanta realtors forced to pay fines for rundown homes

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ATLANTA (AP) - Atlanta real estate agents trying to ride out the housing slump by selling foreclosures are getting more than they bargained for because city inspectors are holding some liable for code violations on run-down properties.
Several agents have been taken to court recently in yet another offshoot of a foreclosure crisis that's spread across the region but hit some neighborhoods especially hard.
Agents who are often selling the properties

ATLANTA (AP) - Atlanta real estate agents trying to ride out the housing slump by selling foreclosures are getting more than they bargained for because city inspectors are holding some liable for code violations on run-down properties.

Several agents have been taken to court recently in yet another offshoot of a foreclosure crisis that's spread across the region but hit some neighborhoods especially hard.

Agents who are often selling the properties for out-of-state institutions, say the city's singling them out because they are easy targets. City officials, however, say they just want some of the blight cleaned up.

Rick Hale, a Midtown agent who represents lenders with properties in some of Atlanta's toughest neighborhoods, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for a Sunday story that he'd never heard of agents being ticketed until he got cited in May.

"Realtors are hurting right now," Hale said. "This is not cool. They think we are just going to get reimbursed. But it doesn't work that way. They are going to ruin some careers over this."

The Atlanta Board of Realtors has already organized a meeting between some agents and the city to soothe some of the tensions.

Robert Broome, governmental affairs director for the board, said he understands the city's efforts but says slapping fines on every agent with shoddy properties isn't the way to go.

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"The situation in several neighborhoods in Atlanta is tragic," Broome said. "We are as distressed as anyone about the conditions. I am afraid there may be a little bit of going after the low-hanging fruit - if there's a sign out there, the agent is an easy target."

Hale said when he got eight citations - one for each unit in a now-abandoned apartment building in northwest Atlanta - he thought it was a mistake or a joke.

Hale said he was advised to plead no contest because that would quickly resolve the dispute and let him get back to work.

He was shocked when the city court socked him with $3,311 in fines last month.

"This is a huge stretch and an injustice," Hale said.

Hale faces an August court date from a ticket at another building and says he plans to fight that one.

Such buildings often sit vacant and dilapidated for months as lenders go through the process of taking them back through foreclosure and then putting them on the market.

City officials said they could not estimate how many agents have been cited and noted the city code gives officers leeway to cite anyone from the owner to someone who has the ability to control or maintain the property.

Owners of some of the worst properties are often out-of-state financial institutions, which can make it difficult to track them down or get them into city court. Real estate agents, though, are local and have their names and phone numbers right out front.

"They are certainly getting a little bit desperate," said Wayne Flanagan, another agent who has been cited and even threatened with arrest. "One code enforcement agent told me, 'We don't know how to get hold of out-of-state asset managers. We know how to get hold of you.' The only reason they are fining us is because we are available."

City officials say that's not true.

Tenee Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the code enforcement department, said her office isn't "out there citing just listing agents" and there's lots of pressure to act on distressed properties.

"The city is desperate for all of us to take whatever steps we need to resolve this," Hawkins said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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