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Property tax sales can take as long as 5 years

Staff writer

Marion County property owners can get as many as five years behind before their property is seized and sold for back taxes.

Some owners have learned to game the system by paying one year, which pushes back the process.

State law requires delinquent property to be put on the tax sale list when owners become three years delinquent. Once that happens, however, it can take two more years to bring the tax sale to fruition, treasurer Jeannine Bateman said.

Title work must be done, and a legal notice must be prepared and served to the owner of record, county clerk Tina Spencer said. Generally, that process has to be complete for all parcels before a judge will set a sale date and issue an order for sale.

The system works much the same with tax sales in Harvey County.

“We’re working on one right now that has people delinquent as far back as 2016,” treasurer Emily Nichols said.

Dickinson County claims to have shaved a year off the process by getting the register of deeds, a title company, county counsel, and the treasurer’s office to start doing their parts of the process early, treasurer Leah Hern said.

The treasurer’s office mails out warning letters notifying property owners their property is at risk of forfeiture.

The title company starts working on title searches.

The county counsel then can file promptly and send out summonses to property owners.

In Marion County, various options help avoid delinquent payment. The treasurer’s office offers a monthly payment plan so owners can catch up overdue taxes.

By the time a property owner is five years behind, proceeds ordinarily don’t cover the cost of the sale, Bateman said. That leaves nothing to apply to the taxes.

Sale costs include letters to property owners, title work, lawyer fees, and publication costs. Fees are paid to a title company, a lawyer handling the court work, and the official newspaper for publication of the upcoming sale.

New owners do not have to pay delinquent taxes if the property is purchased at a tax sale.

Two state Department of Revenue programs also help qualifying homeowners pay property taxes. A homestead refund provides filers a partial rebate of property taxes. A property tax relief claim pays 75% of property taxes for low-income seniors. The relief claim is paid directly to the treasurer’s office.

Occupied residential property with unpaid taxes goes the sale list after three years, business properties go on the sale list after two years, and abandoned property goes on the sale list after one year, according to state law.

The treasurer’s office works with people who come in to pay delinquent taxes.

“When people come in, we always encourage them to pay the oldest balance first,” treasurer-elect Susan Berg said. “It’s ultimately up to the customer if they say they want to pay the current year so their name isn’t in the paper.”

Paying current year taxes alone doesn’t protect people from losing property in a tax sale, Bateman said.

Properties go on the sale list according to the first year of delinquency, not the total number of years taxes are delinquent.

“It’s three years back,” Bateman said. “If they owe three years back, it’s on the sale.”

Some years county commissioners set a minimum bid for tax sales, but none was set for this year’s sale, Bateman said.

Last modified Aug. 26, 2021

 

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