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Bank of America in contempt over vacant house

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

One of the largest banks in the world has been found in contempt in Riverdale City Court, accruing a $500-a-day fine that is approaching $20,000, and is at risk of having one of its branch managers jailed for failing to comply with an order from the judge, the city attorney said Tuesday.

Riverdale City Attorney Deana Johnson said Bank of America officials have repeatedly ignored orders from a local judge to demolish a foreclosed house, or to even cut the grass.

During Tuesday's hearing, Judge Ronald Freeman placed a $17,500 lien on the property at 6878 Cedar Hill Court and set a June 28 hearing for Bank of America officials to show cause why the manager of the Riverdale branch should not be arrested for contempt.

"We cannot get the bank to show up for court," said Johnson. "They have been served, but no one shows up. It's ridiculous. Bank of America is a good corporate neighbor and I'd hate to issue a bench warrant for a branch manager, but we can't get them into court."

Johnson said the city has the discretion to fine the bank up to $1,000 a day.

Bank of America officials said late Tuesday night they no longer own the property, but did not provide information on who does, or when the bank ceased to own the property.

"Bank of America no longer services the loan, and we do not have an interest in the property," said spokesperson Jumana Bauwens in an e-mailed statement.

The house caught fire in December 2008, forcing the occupants -- Janice Johnson, her deaf mute sister, Faye, and their mother, who suffered from Alzheimer and has since died -- to move.

Neighbors said Johnson, who now lives in Conyers and could not be reached for comment, was forced to let the bank take possession of the property. The house has deteriorated with time and the elements, and has became a danger and an eyesore, complained neighbors.

"It used to be a beautiful corner," said Alice Butler, who lives across the street with her husband, Dana Butler. "[The previous owner] kept it nice, she had beautiful flowers. In fact, that's where I first met her, she was planting flowers. I just fell in love with that corner from that moment. Seeing it like this makes it all the more sad."

Butler's neighbor, Ann Petty, said she sympathizes with Johnson's plight. "No one wants to lose their home," she said. "I am sure she would have paid if she could have, but she was between a rock and a hard place and money is hard to come by these days. But I'd like to see the house come down. It may take someone getting hurt for someone to do anything."

But Deana Johnson said the city is doing everything it can to try and force the bank to take responsibility for the property.

"It's one house, put in a request and demo it," she said. "I think this has just fallen through the cracks. I don't know what else we can do to get their attention. I certainly understand the frustration of the neighbors."

Petty said she finds the city's battle with the bank a bit ironic. "The city code enforcement is so strict in Riverdale," she said. "If you don't cut your grass, you get a citation telling you to get it done, but here we have this house here for two-and-a-half years, sitting and rotting away. No one does anything."