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How a Church Tried to Evict a Woman From Her Home

One doesn’t usually think of a church as the sort of organization that would work to kick a woman out of her home, but that’s what happened to a woman in Springfield, N.J. Donna Maxwell has lived in a trailer there for 28 years, but she hasn’t paid the taxes on it in a few years, so there’s a tax lien against the property.

Here’s where the church comes in: FS Properties 194, a company created by Fountain of Life Christian Church of Florence, N.J., bought Maxwell’s lien as part of its investment strategy, according to the Times of Trenton. Fountain of Life foreclosed on the property, on which Maxwell owes more than $50,000 in back taxes (the annual tax on her property is about $2,400), and sent Maxwell a notice that the county sheriff would arrive at her home to remove her from the property on April 22. Maxwell told the Times of Trenton the church is working with her on a plan to help her stay, and she believes she will not be evicted on that date.

One of the church’s companies, Mercer SME Inc., was the subject of a class-action lawsuit brought by homeowners alleging Fountain of Life bought tax sale certificates and sold them to what the lawsuit called “shell companies” (a term the church disputes) like Mercer SME to disguise the church’s involvement, the Times of Trenton reported. SME Mercer pleaded guilty to violating anti-trust law, and it settled the class action suit for $250,000.

The church reportedly stopped buying tax liens and tax sale certificates as part of its investment portfolio in 2012, and in a March 1 letter to its congregation obtained by the Times of Trenton, the church apologized and said it should never have been involved in such practices.

“Several years ago, the Fountain of Life Church began the process of divesting itself from its tax lien portfolio,” Steve Spadaro, a member of the church’s Board of Elders, said in a statement to the Times of Trenton.

The frequent buying and selling of debt can make the issue very confusing for a consumer. Whenever a person or company claims you have a debt, ask for verification of that debt in writing — that’s one of your many consumer rights in the debt collection process. Things like collection accounts, tax liens and judgments have a seriously negative impact on your credit standing for many years, so while they may be confusing and difficult to address, it’s important that you don’t ignore them. You can get a free credit report summary at Credit.com to see if any of these negative items are affecting your credit. You can also get free annual credit reports under federal law at AnnualCreditReport.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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