At the height of the real estate boom in 2006, Rory Skinner paid $305,000 for a duplex in Tumwater while his friend bought an identical duplex next door.
Although the value has declined since the real estate market crashed, Skinner has kept his two-unit building occupied with tenants. However, his friend’s investment went into foreclosure in 2013 and was taken over by the Federal National Mortgage Association, a government-owned company better known as Fannie Mae.
Today, the Fannie Mae-owned property at 211 and 221 Blass Ave. SE is covered with trash. Broken windows reveal piles of garbage inside the abandoned duplex where squatters have left everything from empty food containers to syringes.
Neighbors say the conditions have attracted rats. Tenants at Skinner’s building next door told The Olympian that the Fannie Mae duplex has attracted unwanted behavior and disturbances from people who have turned it into a drug den.
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And because of confusion over who owns what, Skinner says he has been wrongly blamed.
In short, the legal descriptions for both properties don’t match the assumed addresses. Fannie Mae is listed as the owner of Skinner’s occupied duplex while Skinner is technically considered the owner of the abandoned Fannie Mae duplex, according to property records.
Skinner said he learned about the mix-up when an eviction notice was served to his tenants in 2014. Title documents from 2006 show that Skinner had been claiming 231 and 241 Blass Ave. SE — yet that address has been paired with the property tax parcel number for 211 and 221 Blass Ave. SE, which is the Fannie Mae duplex.
The Skinners have hired an attorney and have filed a complaint with Stewart Title Company, but the process has been slow, he said.
“If Fannie Mae thinks they’re going to take it away from me, they can do it over my dead body,” said Skinner, a Tacoma resident. “I have too much time and too much invested to be screwed over.”
Sherrie Bush, property control analyst with the Thurston County Assessor’s Office, said that street addresses are assigned by jurisdictions — in this case, Tumwater — to correspond with a particular parcel number. However, a property is officially identified by its legal description (such as land boundaries) and corresponding parcel number, not by an address.
Upon reviewing the property records for the Blasse Avenue duplexes, she said the issue boils down to the assumption that the buyers had purchased a certain address. One possible solution is to rewrite the deeds so that the addresses correspond with the legal descriptions.
“You don’t really own the address. The parcel is what you own,” Bush told The Olympian. “It seems to me all these people who are using the wrong address really need to be notified of the correct address.”
Olympia real estate attorney Jay A. Goldstein said this type of “bureacratic snafu,” although relatively uncommon, can usually be resolved without any lasting damage to property owners. Earlier in his career, Goldstein said he encountered a similar issue while working on a lawsuit against a contractor that shared the same name as another corporation.
“You can understand how easily it might happen,” he told The Olympian. “It’s a pain in the neck because once it gets stamped with the official stamp that this property has this address, then you’re dealing with the post office and the assessor’s office and all the different government agencies.”
Goldstein said that settling a dispute with a federal agency like Fannie Mae is more difficult, and a lawsuit is often a last resort for getting the agency’s attention.
“The larger the bureaucracy, the harder it is to get someone to pay attention to your problem,” he said, offering a suggestion for those wanting quicker action. “Quite frequently in dealing with federal issues, it’s helpful to call the local congressman’s office.”
The Olympian has not received responses after leaving messages seeking comment from Fannie Mae and Stewart Title Company.
Meanwhile, Tumwater officials have taken steps for authorization to legally enter the property and clean it up. The city issued an order of abatement Sept. 21 for cleanup, and both parties (Fannie Mae and Skinner) have 30 days to respond.
At the Tumwater City Council meeting Oct. 4, city attorney Karen Kirkpatrick said a representative from Fannie Mae disputes ownership of the abandoned property, “but at least we have someone in person that contacted us, so we’ll continue forward.” Kirkpatrick said the city will file a complaint in Thurston County Superior Court to obtain a right of entry and a warrant to clean the derelict property.
“Once we have that, then we have the ability to go onto the property or hire someone to go onto the property and do the work,” she said.
Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet said he has reached out to Congressman Denny Heck’s office to help “get Fannie Mae interested.”
“The place is a mess, absolute mess,” Kmet said at the Oct. 4 council meeting. “Fixing it can’t happen soon enough.”
Rebecca Cody, who lives in Olympia city limits across the street from the duplex, has complained multiple times to the Tumwater City Council about the property’s condition.
“It needs to be boarded up so that people stop living in it,” she told The Olympian, noting that at one time, responsible tenants had lived in the duplex. “It’s a blight on the neighborhood.”
Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869