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Broke and Homeless: Home seller featured in 13News Now investigation remains legal owner, judge finds

13News Now Investigates asked the seller questions as he left the courthouse for a hearing related to one of the homes he sold.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A Newport News judge ruled the home seller at the center of a 13News Now investigation remains the legal owner of some of the homes where his buyers now reside. 

Joey Chianese sells homes under the LLC "72019" to people in Hampton Roads. 

The structures are often in dire disrepair and, in the case of one house on 24th Street in Newport News, in violation of city codes.

City officials cited him to court for failing to maintain that property through the proper permits. The judge had to decide who is responsible for the repairs: the seller or the tenants?

PREVIOUS STORY: Some local home buyers may not legally own their home

Our investigation last month revealed some people buying these homes began fixing them up, thinking they were the legal owners.

But we found in many cases that it's actually the LLC.

"As far as my husband and I know, we are the owners of this house," the tenant of the home on 24th Street wrote in an email to a City Codes Compliance official. "How do we find out if this is true? I mean we are tired of being used."

Property records reveal the legal owner of that 24th Street home remains 72019 LLC.

Credit: City of Newport News FOIA Request
Credit: City of Newport News

Judge Michael Stein sided with the findings of our investigation, telling Chianese in court: "The occupant is not the owner, it is your problem until they close with the City."

Judge Stein continued: "You can't contract away your responsibilities. Your responsibility still lies with the City as title holder."

Under oath and before a judge, Chianese confirmed that he remains the owner with 72019 LLC until buyers pay off the loan.

It's a change of tune from last month, when after our story aired in May, a post on his Facebook page read: "...if you purchase a home from me, or any investor I work with, you ARE the legal homeowner."

Chianese ignored our requests for an interview in May, but we asked him questions about the home sales as he left the Newport News courtroom.

"They have equitable interest to purchase the properties, sir," Chianese said when we asked about the confusion of some of the buyers. "The first sentence in our whole contract says the deed is not transferable over until the full prepayment -- until it's fully paid. It's a land contract, it's worded like that."

When we asked about one contract that came with an interest rate of more than 15% -- almost triple what a traditional bank would offer -- Chianese said: "I guess it's about the same as a hard money loan, right?"

Chianese is due back in court in September to update Judge Stein on obtaining the proper permits for the repairs to the home on 24th Street. 

He told Judge Stein that he wasn't aware he had to pull a permit and that the disrepair in question was already fixed by the time he was cited to court.

72019 LLC faces a second criminal charge regarding disrepairs on another property. The judge will address that in September, as well. 

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