CHARLOTTE — Mary Leary turned 95 this year, but all she wanted was to just go home.
“She always asks, like, ‘I want my house back,’ you know,” said Jashena Massey, Leary’s granddaughter.
But there was no home for Leary to go back to. The 95-year-old lost her west Charlotte home of more than 50 years.
“My parents bought this house back in 1963,” said William Leary. “They wanted this house for all of us, you know, not only me, the kids, but grandchildren, nieces, nephews.”
“She was very adamant about keeping this home, and everybody knew it,” civil rights attorney Alesha Brown told Channel 9′s Madison Carter. “Everyone knew it.”
In September of 2019, Leary no longer owned her home.
“My sister sold the house to Gokam Properties,” William said.
Gokam Properties bought it for $100,000.
“I wake up one day and find that the house is gone, like really? It feels like something was really snatched away from you,” said Massey, who is Leary’s legal caretaker.
Brown told Carter that Leary had been declared incompetent in June of 2018, but the house wasn’t sold until September of 2019.
Leary’s story isn’t unique.
“It’s not grandma and grandpa who are selling their homes; it’s not the senior citizens,” said Brown. “It’s when they transition, younger family members are selling the homes.”
Brown says the next generation isn’t getting the idea by themselves.
“The daughter testified under oath through an affidavit that it was the property company [that] told her to go and get a limited power of attorney so that she could sell the home,” Brown said.
It’s one of many tactics that Brown and others in the community call “predatory.”
“Constant mailers, text messages, emails, phone calls, making cash offers, knocking on doors with cash in hand -- [they’re] trying to find the weak link in the family,” Brown said.
Investors have swarmed on several Charlotte communities in recent years. According to data from Redfin, at the beginning of 2022, investors purchased 32.5% of the homes sold in Charlotte.
That number is down significantly this year, but advocates say it’s still a big issue.
“What they’re doing is legal, in my opinion, it’s not ethical,” said Mecklenburg County Commissioner Mark Jerrell.
Jerrell has been outspoken about protecting vulnerable communities.
“You’re targeting communities of color. You’re targeting people that are vulnerable. You’re targeting communities and you’re decimating these communities so that people can’t take advantage of the American dream,” Jerrell said. “I think it’s shameful, actually. I think it’s disgusting.”
Jerrell says it’ll take a legislative fix to restrict the tactics some investors use to buy up homes.
“We’re getting roadblocks, we’re getting every reason in the world why we can’t,” he said.
Currently, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office has no specific plans to go after these types of investors. The office does encourage consumers to submit complaints.
As of Monday, there weren’t any complaints against Gokam Properties.
Brown says until legislators step in, there are still ways to fight back. She says she’s focusing on a class action lawsuit, but she told Carter that’s a few years out.
But there was one case she couldn’t wait that long for.
“When I heard about the home being sold by her daughter, working in conjunction with a property company called Gokam, I said absolutely not,” Brown said.
Brown took Leary’s case pro bono in 2019, months after her home was sold. It was a four-year battle.
“We were finally able to get her day in court,” Brown said.
The trial started on Sept. 25 and ended days later.
A judge ruled in the family’s favor, and now, at 95 years old, Mary Leary lived to see the day she gets to go home.
The property will be placed in a trust.
“It’ll keep going generation to generation,” William said. “None of us can sell this house anymore.”
William said his parents didn’t have much growing up, and they wanted their children to have a lot. He said that’s what this fight was for.
“I told her, I said, ‘Mama will never stop fighting for this house.’”
Gokam Properties told Carter they do not target vulnerable individuals or communities. A representative said it’s a small business that doesn’t advertise.
The company said it accepts the ruling of the court, saying Leary’s daughter wrongfully represented that she had the authority to sell her mother’s house.
Gokam Properties did sue Leary’s daughter, who sold the home. Gokam Properties won that lawsuit.
We reached out to Leary’s daughter as well, but have not received a response.
For Brown, she’s also helping people improve their living conditions in the homes they’re already in. She created For The Struggle, Inc., to provide community support and assistance.
For The Struggle’s Elder Response Initiative is a program that offers free services to seniors, including property tax relief, critical home repairs, access to legal representation, or environmentally friendly upgrades.
You can find an application for the Elder Response Initiative Critical Home Repair program at this link.
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