by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
ATLANTA - Lenders have taken over hundreds of thousands of North Georgia homes, because the owners couldn't pay.
"It's a serious crisis in our area," said Michael Crew, who manages 120 homeowners and condo associations across the metro area.
Crew said it's very common for banks to force homeowners out, but then wait to file the paperwork.
Under current Georgia law, when the bank finally does foreclose, it can wipe out all of those old homeowners association bills.
"They are really hurting the people that are their neighbors in essence. But since they don't live in these communities, they apparently don't care about that part of it," Crew said.
Phil Smith is president of the McGill Park condominium association in downtown Atlanta. He said it's lost nearly $150,000 in the past three years, because banks refused to pay dues they owe.
"The bills don't stop coming just because the bank isn't paying for the bills for the property that they've taken possession of," Smith said.
He said the banks deliberately wait to file, even though they've kicked out owners months or years earlier.
If they foreclosed right away, the banks would have to pay the dues for all of those months the units sit empty.
"They know that until they actually file that foreclosure paperwork, they can get away without paying and that's just simply not right," Smith said.
He and Crew are partnering with other homeowners associations to support legislation to stop it.
"When they actually do foreclose on it and they go sell it, they still reap the benefits of the maintenance that occurred during the period of time when they did not contribute," Crew said.
Eighteen other states have already passed laws forcing banks to pay six months or even a year of back dues. Representative Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, is working on drafting legislation here.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer asked Willard why Georgia had been reluctant to make the banks pay.
"They've got a big lobby," said Willard, "But we also have people who are lobbyists and people also have a strong voice."
He said homeowners associations are much more common in the major metro areas, so legislators from more rural counties don't necessarily understand how crucial it is.
Smith said he hopes Georgia law changes before his neighborhood has to raise everyone's dues.
"The legislators, at the end of the day, they do represent the people, so I'm hoping they will take our side on this," Smith said.