Rita James (pictured above) bought her Atlanta home nearly 50 years ago, and she paid off her mortgage in 1994. So she was flabbergasted when, in 2007, a company called Intown Ventures brought a lawsuit against her claiming that she owed them five years of back rent for living in her own house -- because Intown was actually the owner.
It was when she landed in court that she learned of a now-18-year-long saga during which her home was auctioned to satisfy the debt on an unpaid tax bill that wasn't even hers. And she didn't even know any of this had happened, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The drama began when James paid her last mortgage bill in 1994. She received two tax bills from the Fulton County tax commissioner's office, one addressed to her and another to Archie James, a man she didn't know. She paid hers and ignored the other.
But even though it was a billing error, the tax commissioner's office still considered her on the hook for the second tax bill. When it went unpaid, the office filed a tax lien against James. And after the late fees mounted, the office sold the lien to a collection company.
That company then demanded that the county sheriff's office auction off James' property in 2002 to pay down the debt; that's when Intown Ventures said it acquired James' home. Meanwhile, James was blissfully ignorant of the ordeal.
Just before Christmas 2007, Intown filed suit against James, asking her to cough up rent on her own home dating back to its 2002 acquisition.
Since then, James and Intown have been locked in a battle over who actually owns her home -- until now. The company recently bowed out of the suit, and James has won her home back, the AJC reported.
Intown said that the drawn-out legal wrangling just wasn't worth it anymore.
"We're not saying we didn't have the right to do what we were doing," an attorney for Intown, Adam Caskey, told the AJC. "We just voluntarily relinquished all our rights to the property to put an end to this, which, frankly, is what we've been trying to do for four years."
James, however, said the company backed down because "they knew in their heart they didn't own the land."
"I wasn't really surprised because they really didn't have any reason to take my house," James told the AJC.
Still, it was her responsibility to at least follow up on a bill that wasn't hers, argued Robert Proctor, an attorney for Vesta Holdings, the company that purchased James' lien from Fulton County.
"Why should we have any sympathy for this woman?" Proctor told the AJC. "When someone doesn't pay their taxes, who has to make up for that? We do."
Though Intown dropped their suit, James hasn't dropper hers: She's suing Dan West, the owner of Intown Ventures, for trespassing and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to the AJC.
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