Cory Lake Isles owners learn developer's debt could put properties at risk

CORY LAKE ISLES — More than a year after the embattled developer of this gated community promised to pay a $1 million bond debt attached to about 65 homeowners, he has failed to make payments.

As a result, some residents have forked over the money to pay off their share of the debt while others have sought legal counsel to absolve them of any responsibility.

Many have found help from a familiar face: attorney Angela Mason, who is not only their neighbor, but also happens to be one of the affected homeowners.

And she's going after developer Gene Thomason and anyone else who should have known about the bonds but did nothing to protect homeowners.

"Out of nowhere, the developer decides he doesn't want to pay anymore, and now we're stuck holding the bag," Mason said. "It's definitely a personal issue for me."

Thomason took out a Series B Bond more than a decade ago to pay for infrastructure such as water, sewer and streets. The debt is secured by a lien against properties in the development.

Typically, the bonds are paid off with a tax levied on residents. However, Thomason started making the bond and interest payments himself. The bond came to light when Thomason missed a deadline to pay taxes in the fall of 2008. The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office prepared tax bills for those homeowners reflecting the debt. The letters were about to go out when Rizzetta & Co., the financial consultant for the development, received Thomason's payment. Rizzetta notified the county that Thomason had paid, and then relayed the situation to the affected homeowners in a letter. It was the first time the residents had heard of the debt.

Mason and her husband, Jeramy Reimer, learned that their home carried the debt two weeks after moving in. The bond does not need to be paid off for a few more years. But the interest — up to $3,000 per home — is assessed on the tax bill. Any missed payments can result in liens on the homes by the county.

A couple of residents have paid their share outright — the debt ranges from $10,000 to $30,000 per affected home — while others have chosen to fight it.

Most of Mason's cases are in various stages. However, Mason has resolved the issue for two residents who received $24,000 each from their title companies to pay off their portions.

After Mason filed an "informal demand for payment," the title companies realized that a mistake had been made, she said. The Series B Bond should have been disclosed in title documents as an "exception," but wasn't.

"It's definitely good news," she said. "That doesn't address the culpability of the developer, the builder or some of the other parties, but it at least has resolved the issue for these homeowners."

When reached briefly on his cellular phone last week, Thomason would not say whether he had any plans to pay the debt.

"I can't say anything about it until I figure out what's going on," he said. "I can't talk anymore."

David Burman, who sits on the taxing district board, said he refinanced his home and has closed three times since moving in six years ago, but never saw mention of the bond in any documents.

He's trying to assemble the affected homeowners to meet in June to compare notes.

"We're still gathering information in hopes that we can resolve this," Burman said.

Reimer, a former financial analyst who is now helping his wife with the cases, said he hopes to shed light on the loophole in the laws that would allow something like this to occur.

"This is germane to people in communities all across the state," Reimer said. "This can happen to people, and they have no idea."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

Cory Lake Isles owners learn developer's debt could put properties at risk 05/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 12:47pm]

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