Go ahead. Count ’em. It’ll take you some time.
There are 120 red-and-black auction signs posted in front yards around Valdosta — the largest number of individual properties sold by a single owner in recent memory.
Charles Toles, the owner of C-Max Investments (also known as CMI Properties), is liquidating his holding of about 150 income-producing units in Valdosta, which he bought in a one-lump purchase in 2005 for about $4.2 million, according to tax records.
His holdings represent a variety of real properties including undeveloped parcels of land, single-family homes, duplexes, apartment buildings and office buildings, but they are almost all aging, and at least two have been condemned.
An absolute auction will be held 2 p.m., Sept. 25, at the James H. Rainwater Conference Center, for all of the properties, with each starting at $1,000 and sold to the highest bidder, regardless of the ending price.
“No matter what the high bid is, none of the bids will be rejected,” said Auction Coordinator Mark Manley, the man responsible for putting the event together. “It’s going to be the biggest thing in Valdosta in many, many years.”
Manley said he placed all of the 120 auction signs in a single day, with the help of one other employee and a GPS system. He believes it’s an exciting prospect — the sale of so many properties in a matter of hours.
Some of the residents of those properties, however, are much less impressed, and worry that new
landlords may impose a higher rent or throw them out altogether. But their rents should not change, and there is a greater chance they will see improvements rather than problems.
“We’re selling subject to the outstanding leases,” Manley said. “Most of the properties have current leases, and some of those leases have almost 11 or 12 months remaining on them.”
C-Max property residents received a letter notice written by Manley along with the sign in their yard, outlining the process.
“There will be no changes to your lease, rent amounts, or to whom you are paying rent during this time,” the letter states. “When the property sells at auction, the new owner will not take over management of the property until closing.”
Closing will occur between the date of the auction and Oct. 31, 2012, according to the letter.
“Continue to pay your current rent as you have through October and you will be notified when a change of ownership occurs,” the letter continues. “The property is selling subject to your rights in possession as tenant.”
Tenants are likely to see improvements to their leased properties, said Manley, who attests that investors usually make improvements when they buy a house, either to bring it up to code or to personal standards.
“This (sale) will probably be a good thing for the tenants, and it will be a good thing for the City of Valdosta,” Manley said. “New purchasers tend to improve the properties they buy. The ones around college might be turned into upscale student housing.”
Some of the houses are dilapidated, and many tenants have complained about their living conditions and the alleged refusal to fulfill work orders. C-Max tenants Brenda Hawkins and Paula Ingram have both refused to pay their rent until certain problems are corrected.
Hawkins lives in a duplex that has had the dividing wall knocked out to join the two separate apartments into a single unit. She lives with two other adults and three children in the modified duplex, she said, and pays a rent of $375 per month.
There are only two window units cooling the house, said Hawkins’ 69-year-old uncle, Larry Williams, one of the tenants. Though the family was promised central air-conditioning in their lease agreement, they had to purchase the units themselves, which they decided to put in each of the children’s bedrooms, Williams said.
The family has tried on numerous occasions to contact the owner for a variety of problems, including roof leaks, weak floors and the A/C, Hawkins said, but received no answer.
The Ingrams reported similar problems getting work orders filled. The family of nine — three sisters, their three children, their two parents and a friend — lives in a four-bedroom, two-bath house. They pay $625 per month.
When they signed their lease, they knew what they were getting, said Paula Ingram, whose unemployment is the only income for the family. The house had problems with electrical outlets, no air-conditioning and no hot water heater, she said.
Still, because Ingram was going through chemotherapy and the family was on a tight budget, there were few options. But she never expected rats.
“The rodents are bigger than my cat,” Ingram said. “My cat runs from them!”
The family caught a rat by hand during the day, had one or more die under the house, causing a foul odor, and set up traps only to have it snap shut on one of their children’s fingers, nearly breaking it, according to the family.
The family also discovered a baby-bottle nipple that a rat had chewed heavily, which they found especially macabre. So Ingram refused to pay rent until the rat problem was solved.
In addition to the rats, Ingram complained of a heavy flea infestation in the back yard, which has resulted in numerous flea bites on the young children living in the house as well as the rest of the family.
The C-Max lease agreement contains a clause that places the liability of pest control on its tenants, but the maintenance of any building is the ultimate responsibility of the homeowner, regardless of whatever language appears in lease agreements, according to the City of Valdosta Community Development Department.
The Valdosta Daily Times attempted to contact Toles by telephone on several occasions and pursued him at his workplace twice. He was present neither time. He did not return phone messages.
The Times left messages with Toles’ assistant requesting an interview. He never replied, and his assistant said Toles was unlikely to speak with the newspaper.
“The owner is always responsible,” Community Development Director Mike Martin said. “Anything dealing with the property, whether it’s the maintenance of the structure, keeping of the yard and any other things like pest control, including roaches, rats, bats and whatever else, ultimately goes back to the owner. Because if the tenant packs up and leaves, then who’s responsible? The owner.”
Problems that pose serious health hazards, like flea infestations, can lead to the condemnation of a building until the problem is solved and the property brought back up to code, Martin said.
Other criteria to condemn a building include electrical problems, water leakages, raw sewage, mold, mildew, rats and roaches, Martin said. Structural criteria include weak foundations, rotting floors and buckling roofs.
A condemned building is not torn down unless its issues continue to go unaddressed. Once a condemned building is brought back up to code, the status will be lifted.
By law, sellers must report the condemnation of a property before making a sale. Neither the Ingram house nor Hawkins house is condemned.
Taxes on at least 111 of the C-Max properties have not been paid for 2011 or 2012, according to the Lowndes County Tax Commissioner’s website. The information shows Lowndes County is owed about $40,000 for the 2012 fiscal year alone.
Properties in Lowndes County do not enter delinquency until after two years of non-payment of property taxes, said Delinquent Tax Manager Don Sirmans.
Without a change of ownership, taxes on the properties would go delinquent Nov. 16, and the county would begin the process of acquiring a lien after that date. Ultimately, the county would auction the properties solely to acquire the tax money owed.
But an owner is “well within his rights to sell his property,” Sirmans said. The auction is a personal endeavor, not run by the county, and the back taxes that are due will be collected during the auction.
Because most of the taxes owed on each of the properties are less than $1,000, it is likely the auction will net all taxes due, Sirmans said.
Go ahead. Count ’em. It’ll take you some time.
- Local News
VDT Weekend Update
News Reporter Caitlin Barker speaks to Bernard Bulemu and Eric Mathis, representatives from the South Georgia Regional Library about their summer programs for kids, teens and adults during the month of June, as well as lists fun summer camps taking place in the Valdosta area.
Troopers prepare for Memorial Day traffic
Georgia State troopers are preparing for patrols during the peak travel times this coming holiday weekend.
Blaze damages cars, blocks I-75
A tractor-trailer transporting automobiles northbound on Interstate 75 Thursday morning caught fire just north of exit 5 in Lake Park.
VECA recognized at VSU
Rising juniors from the Valdosta Early College Academy (VECA) were recognized at Valdosta State University Wednesday night as the first group of students to begin earning college credit while still in high school.
Businesses raise funds for Oklahoma disaster
By now, we’ve all heard about the tragedy in Moore, Okla., a mile-wide, F5 tornado with winds of more than 200 miles per hour carved through 17 miles over a span of 50 minutes on Monday afternoon.
Southwestern State Hospital to close
One of Thomas County’s largest employers — at more than 700 people — and a longtime regional state mental hospital will close Dec. 31.
Search for survivors continues
Helmeted rescue workers raced Tuesday to complete the search for survivors and the dead in the Oklahoma City suburb where a mammoth tornado destroyed countless homes, cleared lots down to bare red earth and claimed 24 lives, including those of nine children.
Curator offers arts a helping hand
If you’ve been to the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts in the past four years, you have seen the quiet art of Bill Shenton.
Albino gators visit Wild Adventures
Two rare albino American alligators have joined the other gators at Wild Adventures for the summer.
Officers wound man in shootout
A Lanier County man was wounded Saturday during an exchange of gunfire with lawmen, according to a Lanier County Sheriff’s Office press release.
- More Local News Headlines
- VDT Weekend Update