CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A Tri-State man bought a house on an EBAY auction. But the house had already been torn down, and now he's responsible for the demolition costs.
Keith Hensley said he purchased the property at 4402 Winton Road in Cincinnati with plans to flip it to help pay for his son's college tuition.
When he drove up to the address for the first time, he said he did a double-take.
"First I thought I was at the wrong place, obviously," Hensley said. "This property was supposed to have house on it, it was sold to me with a house on it, but there's no house. I bought an empty lot."
Hensley won the EBAY auction in December of last year. He said the listing included a photo and read the property had no tax liens and a two-bedroom house. He sent $4,805, that included a $500 deed fee, by wire transfer to the EBAY seller.
"There were about 40 or 50 people bidding on the property," he said. "I was the lucky sucker."
Hensley later discovered the City of Cincinnati had torn down the house two months earlier.
"As soon as I paid for it, I came over here, there was an empty lot," he said.
FOX19 Investigates did some digging and found Hensley wasn't the only one.
Ed Cunningham, manager of the city's Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Division, said the company that sold the property to Hensley also marketed other properties with condemned buildings, some the city had already torn down.
"They're doing this as a pattern now," Cunningham said. "A woman called me from Australia, said she'd just bought this property for $9,000, said it was her savings, wanted to know what she could do," he said.
Cunningham said he also received another call about a Cincinnati home listed on an EBAY auction, but when he looked up the records, the city had demolished the house.
"They've got it on EBAY, showing a picture of a building, showing that it's for sale," he recalled. "I contacted EBAY and said, 'there's no building. I'm a city official, there's no building on the property.' It was about to be sold in a few minutes."
Cunningham said a woman named Jessica Rusin bought more than two dozen properties at the 2013 Hamilton County forfeited land sale. Records obtained by FOX19 show she paid $400 for 4402 Winton Road, the property Hensley later purchased.
"You can buy property basically for whatever anyone will bid, sometimes as little as five dollars," he explained. "We're as transparent as we can be, we attend that sale, announcing to folks, 'hey, if you buy this, let the buyer beware, you're gonna (sic) be responsible.'"
He said after the city later sent her letters about the demolition costs, Rusin transferred the properties to a corporation called LimeDeeds.
On LimeDeeds website, FOX19 found dozens of properties for sale in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo, as well as cities in Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
FOX19 learned many of the properties were purchased at forfeited land sales like the one in Hamilton County. Public records show LimeDeeds and another corporation, Toledo Investment Team, listed as the owners.
The company website lists a mailing address in Las Vegas. When LimeDeeds agent, Jessica Rusin, purchased the properties at the Hamilton County sale, she gave P.O. BOX in Surprise, Ariz. According to public records, Toledo Investment Team, is in Rockford, Ill.
Of the Cincinnati properties on the LimeDeeds website, all but two were listed as sold. Those two properties, 3181 Saffer St. and 1877 Baltimore Ave. included photos and descriptions of the houses. There was no indication the properties had or were scheduled to be demolished.
FOX19 drove by the addresses and found both lots empty; The two houses featured no longer exist.
FOX19 contacted LimeDeeds for a comment.
A managing partner said they buy properties "as-is" and sell them the same way. He also said as the company is out of state, that "…we do not guarantee the condition of the property and are very transparent that we have never been to the homes and do not know the condition or repairs needed. We always advise buyer to do their due diligence and inspections and always list the pictures may not be accurate as they are from public record."
He sent FOX19 copies of purchase agreements that outline the potential purchaser's responsibilities. Hensley said LimeDeeds never provided him documents that the property he purchased had orders of demolition.
When FOX19 told LimeDeeds that the city had already town the houses on Saffer Street and Baltimore Avenue, they pulled the listings from their website.
And while the city said they informed LimeDeeds about the orders of demolition, the company spokesman said they didn't know.
"I really don't know what this person thought when they bought these and whether they knew," Cunningham said. "They should have known, honestly. We made reasonable efforts to let them know."
Cunningham added while LimeDeeds may have sold most of the Cincinnati properties, they'll still be getting bills from the city. A city ordinance specifies anyone who owns a property when it's condemned is still partially responsible for demolition costs. But as LimeDeeds is out of state, Cunningham doubts the city will ever receive any payments.
As for Keith Hensley, he asked LimeDeeds to return his money. He didn't get it back.
In a statement to FOX19, LimeDeeds said, "The 4402 Winton property is an unfortunate situation and we did try to work with that buyer but found that to be simply not possible based on his terms. This is not the typical situation we have closed over 300 transactions within the past few years with very few complaints."
Hensley admitted he should have driven by the property before he wired any money. Now he's just hoping to sell the lot.
"I'll just have to swallow the rest I guess and to make the same mistake again," he said.
The Ohio Attorney General's office is looking into Hensley's complaint. You can report a consumer complaint online at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov.