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New Castle County cracks down on tax-delinquent landlords

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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George Fantini, property owner, talks with residents of Overlook Colony and Edgemoor Gardens

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer signed an executive order Tuesday cracking down on landlords with delinquent properties.

The County is also taking legal action against one landlord in particular. 

Residents of the neighborhoods George Fantini owns property in confronted him at the executive order signing in Claymont, yelling things like, “You’re a slumlord!”

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Credit Sophia Schimdt, Delaware Public Media
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The bill signing happened in front of a vacant Fantini property (center) on Fourth St. in Overlook Colony

Fantini, a Hockessin-based landlord with over three dozen properties, owes more than $400,000 in unpaid taxes and fees. His properties, which are mainly in Claymont, have generated nearly 300 public safety responses in the past 18 months, says Meyer.

“We’ve initiated 1,992 inspections of his 36 properties. We’ve found 418 violations,” he said.

Fantini's properties include 13 parcels in the Overlook Colony subdivision and six in Edgemoor Gardens.

According to the New Castle County parcel search, one Fantini-owned property in Overlook Colony has 54 outstanding tax and code violation fees. Another has outstanding fees dating back to 2008.

A small petition that circulated on Change.org this spring urged elected officials to take action against Fantini, calling his properties “nuisances,” and claiming they are associated with drugs and criminal activity.

According to a County spokesperson, County officials from code enforcement to public safety are concerned about the welfare of tenants living in substandard conditions in Fantini’s properties.

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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County Executive Matt Meyer signs the executive order

Fantini, who showed up in Overlook Colony halfway through the signing, says he doesn’t owe any taxes.

“I’m very proud of my properties. I have the worst tenants in the world,” he said.

He says his tenants don’t pay rent. But Karen Cheeseman, director of the Edgemoor Revitalization Cooperative, Inc. and a homeowner in Edgemoor Gardens, disagrees.

“He gets his rent or he locks them out,” she said.

Other residents of Overlook Colony and Edgemoor Gardens say Fantini rents his properties by room and often doesn’t give his tenants leases.

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Locals document the remarks made by County officials at the bill signing

The new executive order expedites sheriff sale proceedings against owners of multiple properties who fail to pay property taxes, or fees and fines associated with failure to maintain them.

 

According to a spokesperson, the County already had this authority, but County policy had effectively put a moritorium on sheriff sale procedings.

Meyer says first on the list are Fantini’s properties.

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Another of Fantini's properties on Fourth St. in Overlook Colony. Locals say it has recently become vacant, and code enforcement officials checked the interior Tuesday.

“We anticipate, unless things change dramatically, by the end of this year the first of his properties will be brought to sheriff sale,” said Meyer.

Meyer hopes the executive order will send a message to other landlords as well.

“Any property owner in this county who is not paying their fair share, who is not maintaining  their property, should be on notice that we are now paying attention,” said Meyer.

Lynn King has lived in Edgemoor Gardens for almost 25 years, and has been using county parcel data to keep track of who owns the properties around her.

She says when she got to the neighborhood, it was roughly sixty percent resident-owned, forty percent real estate investor-owned.

She watched that ratio slowly flip, and says now about 75 percent of properties are rentals owned by someone living outside of the community.

She says the dominance of investor-owned properties has taken a toll on the neighborhood, as many have code violations which landlords don’t fix.

Sanjay Bhatnagar, assistant county attorney, says he’s currently authorized to take legal action against any of Fantini’s delinquent properties, including pursuing monition sales.

 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.