An aerial photo of the Vulpis home (Bing)Dominick Vulpis admits he had an outstanding $140 sewage bill. But when that bill went unpaid for four years, the $140 bill turned into a home foreclosure notice and $50,000 in debt.
MSNBC reports that Middletown, N.J., turned over the utility bill to Approved Realty Group, an investment company. The practice is far from unheard of. Private companies buy up existing debts from local governments and then pursue the responsible parties, charging interest and fees. Several states have placed limits on the amount of money these private companies can charge for unpaid public utility bills.
But last December, Vulpis, a 60-year-old plumber, and his wife, Lindarose, discovered a notice that their home was being foreclosed.
"It was never brought to my attention until it was too late and we were served with papers saying we had to move out of our house," Vulpis told MSNBC. "I may pay a bill late, but I pay them. I'm not trying to beat anyone for $140."
Eventually, Vulpis was allowed to keep his home. He reached a $37,500 settlement with Approved Realty Group. But Vulpis had to use his mortgage company to come up with the funds. And now, Vulpis says the added attorney fees and higher interest rate on his mortgage balance could put the total tab over $50,000.
"I think he stuck me up without a gun, this guy," Vulpis says of Approved Realty Group. "If he was a nice guy he could have said, 'OK, I understand what happened, give me $5,000 for my troubles.' But he wanted a lot of money."
MSNBC says Approved Realty Group did not respond to phone calls requesting comment but notes that the settlement amount is 260 times the original $140 balance.
UPDATE: For any readers confused by the photo used in the yahoo.com front page link to this story, please take note that it was not a photo of the Vulpis home. It was an unrelated photo of a real estate company's signage. The actual story here features an aerial view image of the Vulpis home.