Getting the most out of land records.

Things any reporter can find using land records:

People: 'When someone attaches his or her name to a piece of property, that name will hang around for hundreds of years - as will the names of others who may know his or her current whereabouts.

True Owners: Forget the name written on the mailbox or even written on the property-tax bill. That doesn't mean he or she is the owner. It may take some digging, but land records will provide you with lots of clues.

Assets: When you start looking into the holdings of a person, corporation, agency or organization, you should start with the land records.

Unholy Alliances: Since most people don't understand property and land records, many corrupt, crooked, conniving characters don't cover their tracks very well when they jump into a real-estate bed with people they should be keeping at arms, distance.

Irregularities: If everyone really gets taxed equitably in your area, I want to move there. Someone has found a way to pay less in taxes than other folks with equal property. Just start comparing tax bills and you'll find gold.

Dark Secrets: As with many other public records, the attitudes and associates people had before they entered politics show up on property records. Look for restrictive covenants they once accepted -covenants intended to keep minorities out of the neighborhood.

Discrimination: Forget history. Take a look at how government agencies today apply the rules, provide the services or determine the assessments differently in different socioeconomic neighborhoods.

Price Inflation Scams: 'When the real estate market is booming, the scamsters are blooming. They'll work in teams to manipulate appraisals, mortgages and sales to make it appear a property is worth more than it really is. Their goal is to drive the price up, quickly sell and get the hell out of Dodge before anyone catches on.

Developer Scams: If you haven't studied the laws for subdividing land, you'd better. Because a lot of crooks have read them - and they're skating right on the edge to turn Farmer Johnson's place into 'Blue Skies Estates." There are no electric wires to obstruct the view of the sky. That's because no electrical service is available - no water, no roads, no sewers and no developer to be found when the new owners find out.

Takeover Scams: Could be the company installing the new carpets or adding that fancy aluminum siding asked old Mr. Trustworthy to sign "the standard contract"' - or maybe someone just forged a deed. But regardless, Mr. Trustworthy is now out on the street - with no recourse.

Make-believe Landlords: It sounds impossible, but it happens all the time in big cities. The tenant receives a warm letter from the "new owner" - along with instructions of where to send the rent check each month. It can sometimes take a couple of months before the tenant gets booted for non-payment. There really was no new landlord.

Prior Polluters: It's amazing how, in a generation or two, everyone can forget that Arsenic Industries once had a plant where today there's a preschool. And everyone wonders why the average daily attendance is down.

Hidden Ownership: That piece of dirt seems worthless until the freeway off-ramp bumps up next to it. Now it's worth millions. 'What a coincidence that the mayor holds a 49 percent interest in the property.

Hideouts: 'Where's the governor going on those long weekends? Is he reporting the ownership of the time-share or that mountain cabin on his Statement of Economic Interest?

Bribes: 'What a nice new house you're living in, Mr. Zoning Commissioner. Wasn't it built by the same company that put in the new mall where that park used to be?

Questionable Funding: Who lent the director of that big nonprofit corporation the money to buy the million dollar home on the hill? It might very well have been a "loan" using monies earmarked for feeding the starving children.

Please feel free to copy and distribute without permission.

Compiled by Don Ray, Exclusive News Group, P.O. Box 4375, Burbank, CA 915034375. (818) THE-NEWS
- Fax: (818)843-3223 - Email: - Website: www.donray.corn/donray