An unpaid $6.30 late fee that led to a tax lien could cost widow Eileen F. Battisti her $280,000 home in Center, Pennsylvania.
A county judge upheld the sale of Battisti’s home to an investor.
“To steal a house for $6 is ludicrous,” Battisti told The Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
Battisti and her three children will lose their home because she didn’t pay the $6.30 late fee charged to her because her property tax payment was six days late. When the fee wasn’t paid, a lien on Battisti’s home was sold to an investor named S.P. Lewis at a county tax auction.
Battisti contends that she never received any notice of the late fee or the auction. County Judge C. Gus Kwidis disagreed and ruled that she had received the proper notices.
“There is no doubt that (she) had actual receipt of the notification of the tax upset sale on July 7, 2011, and Aug. 16, 2011,” Kwidis wrote. “Moreover, on Aug. 12, 2011, a notice of sale was sent by first class mail and was not returned.”
“I paid everything, and didn’t know about the $6.30,” Battisti told the Associated Press. “For the house to be sold just because of $6.30 is crazy.”
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Not surprisingly, Battisti and her attorney, Ed Santillan, plan to appeal Kwidis’s ruling. Santillan noted that Battisti could lose as much as $200,000 in equity if the higher courts don’t overturn Kwidis’s decision.
If Battisti is forced to move, she will be entitled to $108,039 in proceeds from the tax auction, Kwidis said. Her home, which has an appraised value of $280,000, sold for $116,000 at the tax auction, and around $8,000 from the auction was used to cover unpaid property taxes that Battisti claims she paid.
Battisti told the AP that she had a hard time paying the property tax because her late husband had handled the family’s taxes. She became behind on her taxes after he died in 2004.
“Yes, I had issues. I’m a widow. I’m raising three kids on my own, trying to put them through college,” Battisti said. “Yes, it took me a while to get the bills, but I pay my bills.”
Tax Lien Nightmares Across the Country
Battisti and her children are not the only ones facing such tax lien nightmares. News stories indicate that many Americans are losing homes to investors because of what some see as tax lien abuse. Some examples of such abuse uncovered by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Bulletin and The Washington Post include:
- Bennie Coleman, a 76-year-old retired Marine who suffers from dementia (memory loss) and was evicted from his $197,000 home because he had not paid a $134 tax bill. The bill caused Coleman’s home to be sold to investors at a tax auction, who foreclosed on the elderly man and threw him out of his house.
- Vietnam Vet Melvin Phillips and his brother Steven almost lost their family home in Washington DC to a company called Elm Capital LLC. The two didn’t know about an $8,000 tax lien on their house until they received a foreclosure notice. To make matters worse, Elm Capital’s lawyer told Phillips he would have to pay $15,000 to keep his house.
- A company called American Tax Funding Servicing foreclosed on a family home belonging to Linda Hart in Schenectady, New York. Even though Hart owned the home free and clear, the company was able to buy it at a tax lien auction. American Tax Funding then charged Hart 21 percent interest on the tax lien — a level of interest that Hart’s attorney contends violates state law.
- Another Washington, DC, resident, 80-year old Barbara Morgan, almost lost her home to investors because of a $2,390 property tax bill. Morgan’s attorneys later discovered that the city had charged her the wrong tax rate; the city failed to give her a senior citizen’s tax exemption that would have cut her taxes in half.
- Aeon Financial, a company The Washington Post called a “debt collecting machine,” bought up hundreds of property tax liens in the District of Columbia. Aeon then allegedly tried to bill each owner $5,000 for legal fees and other costs, The Post alleged. In some cases the fees were three times the amount of the tax lien.
- In Syracuse, New York, Calvin James lost his home to foreclosure even though he had paid the $9,877 in back taxes he owed. Investors foreclosed because James still owed $936 on the home. James is now renting his own home back from the investors who bought it.
Apparently in America, even the smallest amount of unpaid taxes could cost you your home.
Should someone lose their home because of an unpaid $6 bill? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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