Wall St. as tax collectors

New Tax Man at Huffington Post points us to a growing trend:

Nearly a dozen major banks and hedge funds, anticipating quick profits from homeowners who fall behind on property taxes, are quietly plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into businesses that collect the debts, tack on escalating fees and threaten to foreclose on the homes of those who fail to pay.

The Wall Street investors, which include Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co., have purchased from local governments the right to collect delinquent taxes on several hundred thousand properties, many in distressed housing markets, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund has found.

In many cases, the banks and hedge funds created new companies to do their bidding. They gave the companies obscure, even whimsical names and used post office boxes as their addresses, masking Wall Street’s dominant new role as a surrogate tax collector.

In exchange for paying overdue real estate taxes, the investors gain legal powers from local governments to collect the debt and levy fees. At first, property owners may owe little more than a few hundred dollars, only to find their bills soaring into the thousands. In some jurisdictions, the new Wall Street tax collectors also chase debtors over other small bills, such as for water, sewer and sidewalk repair.

The Big Business Wall Street Won’t Discuss Full VideoSome states allow the investors to tack on as much as 18 percent interest and a passel of legal fees and other charges. When property owners fail to make full payment, the investors can sue to foreclose – in some states within as little as six months.

And anatomy of a tax sale describes the 17 LLCs traced back to one hedge fund:

Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund led by former Fannie May chief Daniel Mudd, emerged as the largest purchaser in the Pinellas tax lien sale, though it never used its own name to bid. The hedge fund spent about $12 million buying nearly 20 percent of the county’s liens. It bought them using 17 different “limited liability companies,” or LLC’s, that trace back to its Manhattan headquarters.