In 2011, Eileen Battisti’s $280,000 Pennsylvania family home was sold at auction – over a $6.30 interest charge on a tax bill. Yes – the decimal points are in the right place – that’s six dollars and thirty cents.
Eileen’s husband, Anthony had been responsible for managing the family’s finances including the payment of all bills and taxes. Anthony died in 2004 leaving Eileen to struggle with assuming responsibility to manage everything.
When Eileen received some money from her husband’s life insurance policy, she paid off the mortgage on their home. Her home was free and clear of any mortgage.
Eileen paid her 2008 school district taxes six days late making her payment $6.30 short in interest. When she paid her 2009 taxes in the amount of $897.19, the $6.30 remained unpaid causing the Tax Claim Bureau of Beaver County, Pennsylvania to sell the house. Eileen thought she was up-to-date on her taxes. Her house was sold at auction over the $6.30 unpaid interest.
Eileen hired an attorney and challenged the tax sale saying she never received notice her 2008 payment was short the $6.30 and she never received noticed of the tax sale. The Tax Claim Bureau did send her a ‘notice of return and claim’ June 2009, but that notice was returned to the tax bureau as unclaimed – and no further notices were apparently sent.
Eileen appealed the sale to a county court that ruled in May 2012 she did receive all notices required by law. A month later another judge ordered the county could not issue a deed to the new owner, S.P. Lewis while Eileen appealed. Lewis bought the $280,00 house for a measly $116,000.
While dealing with the death of her husband, and then the loss of her paid-off home, Eileen suffered a series of setbacks. Eileen’s daughter suffered a serious physical injury, her son’s best friend was murdered at college and Eileen also suffered a serious physical injury that kept her out of work for a length of time.
The new owner of the home, S.P. Lewis did offer to sell the home back to Eileen – for $160,000 giving him a $44,000 quick profit.
For investors, tax lien sales are a gold mine. They’ll snap up properties like Eileen’s at huge discounts and resell at a huge profit. Eileen’s house was literally a steal – there was no mortgage and the tax lien was ridiculously small.
For the past few years especially, state and municipal tax offices often fill budget holes by aggressively going after unpaid property taxes by auctioning off homes. Last year tax lien sales on homes were over $15 billion. Sadly homeowners, particularly the elderly and those not understanding the law are the victims.
On Monday, August 19th, 2013, Judge Mary Leavitt vacated the matter allowing Eileen a fresh opportunity to argue she shouldn’t lose her home. “The outstanding liability was small and the value of the home was far greater than the amount paid by the purchaser,” wrote Judge Leavitt. The court declared the trial court acted too hastily when it denied Eileen a proper hearing to prevent her home from being sold at auction.
This homeowner lost her home for less than a value meal at a local hamburger joint. Let’s hope reason intervenes on Eileen’s behalf.
Eileen continues living in her ‘paid-off’ home waiting for a new court date.
Keith A. Gantenbein, Jr. is a Colorado consumer advocate attorney, foreclosure defense and real estate attorney located in Denver and servicing all of Colorado. His foreclosure defense practice includes: foreclosure prevention, foreclosure assistance, loan modifications, short sales, and all other foreclosure defense legal assistance. He also handles bankruptcies, wrongful credit reporting, mortgage negotiations, lender liability, real estate, civil litigation, debt defense, debt harassment, contracts and landlord/tenant. If you think you will be facing debt collection, foreclosure, or are in the foreclosure process, or have had a wrongful foreclosure, contact Keith Gantenbein at (303) 618-2122 for a one-hour consultation where he will discuss your situation and go over all your options with you.