The search for heirs to an estate left sitting idle for almost 10 years could be coming to a close, county attorney Philip Burnett told the Cumberland County Health and Safety Standards Board.
“Finally, today, I spoke with a living heir,” Burnett said during the June 23 meeting. “I’m trying to talk him into becoming an administrator.”
The owners of the home on Bent Tree Dr. passed away in 2010 and 2013. They had no children.
At that time, the state had a $108,000 lien it could have filed against the estate through TennCare for long-term care services rendered.
However, the state never filed the claim. A new law passed in April requires TennCare to file claims within four years or it is barred from seeking recovery.
Crossville attorney James Marlow researched the wife’s genealogy, identifying nine siblings with two still living. There are at least 18 possible heirs.
“He thought the house had been taken by the state,” Burnett said. “He had been approached by neighbors and realtors to purchase the property and he has not been responding because he thought the state owned it.”
Last month, Burnett proposed the county solicit bids to clean up the property, which needs some vegetation removed, and then open an estate as a creditor. However, that would cost the county money that it might not recover following the identification of multiple potential heirs.
Burnett said the best option to proceed was for a member of the family to open an estate and begin the probate process with the courts.
“That would be the best way to do it,” he said.
A second property on Jada Dr. is working through the probate process, Burnett reported.
“People ask, ‘Do I need a will?’ Yes. This is what happens if you don’t,” he said.
Committee member Craig Clark said, “We will continue to run across cases like this.”
The panel also heard about progress on properties in Lake Tansi.
Work was in progress at a property on Oswego Rd. A dilapidated mobile home had been demolished and the contractor had said debris and other items, including disabled vehicles, would be removed by the end of the day.
A second property on Wabash Lane has also been cleared of trash and debris.
On Yourk Dr., the property owner said he would complete demolition of a structure that had burned a little over a year ago. The owner said he had paid someone to take the structure down, but that person left without doing the work. He has struggled to find people to take on the job since then and had been dealing with some health issues.
“The place looks bad, I won’t argue,” he told the committee. He did contest comments that the structure was attracting vermin, adding he had placed poison inside the house along with a pet black snake.
He had removed debris and has plans to continue removing boards and wood from the site, estimating work would be complete by the end of July.
The panel tabled further discussion until its next meeting, set July 21.
Hyder said property owners bringing the complaints to the county committee had expressed frustration with the Tansi POA, which has property standards that exceed the authority of the HSSB.
“They say the POA won’t do anything,” Hyder said. “That’s why we want people from the POA here. We’re beginning to feel like we’re doing your business.”
Dan Smith, president of the Lake Tansi Property Owners Association board of directors, said the POA was trying to be more proactive in property enforcement.
“We are trying,” Smith said. “I’ve been in this role for just a few months, and we’re trying to be much more proactive and represent the people that are in the community that want a nice place to stay.”
Smith said the POA’s authority was limited, however.
“We’ve got a series of letters that we’ve written,” he said of one of the properties. In May, the POA informed the owner it would pursue legal action against the owner.
“But being a not-for-profit, it’s hard for us to go out and spend $2,500 a pop on legal action,” Smith said. “We don’t have a lot of excess cash around to do this, so we try to appeal to people to go out and do the right thing. But that doesn’t always work.”
Smith said that as neighbors complain about properties, they reach out to the property owners by letter and verbally.
“We did give them the petition to get the three signatures — and that comes to you. We thought that was the appropriate next step,” Smith said.
Committee member Joe Koester said the properties were clearly in violation of the POA’s property covenants and restrictions.
“Can’t the POA take legal action? They do in other communities,” Koester said. “Rather than coming to the board — and I have no problem coming to the board — don’t you have other legal recourse?”
Smith said the covenants and bylaws are “toothless” in some circumstances. For example, the POA cannot take the property over or clean up the property and bill owners.
“We don’t have the ability to do that,” he said.
Burnett asked Smith and the POA to communicate with him when there is a problem property.
“I know there are various teeth — it depends on where you live,” Burnett said. “Some of them are stronger than others. I think this committee would rather … bring the proof to this committee that you don’t have the teeth.”
Burnett also previously represented the POA and has knowledge of their covenants and restrictions. He noted that the covenants often went further than what the committee could address. The HSSB is limited to issues related to health and safety concerns, not “eyesores” or properties that detract from property values.
“The ones that you can, it would be better for everyone if the POA could take a stance because, right now, property owners don’t think you’re going to do anything,” Burnett said.
Smith said the POA wanted to handle property issues itself.
“We’ll make sure we fully exercise everything we can do,” he said.