Friday, January 16, 2015

tax sale - statutory right to repayment agreement

Battisti v. Beaver Co. Tax Claim Bureau – Cmwlth. Court – December 1, 2014
Tax sale of $250,000 home for $234.72 tax delinquency overturned, because of
            - a violation of the tax sale law, obliging the TCB to affirmatively offer an installment repayment plan to a taxpayer who has paid 25% of the amount due, 72 PS 5860.603, as the homeowner did here, and
            - a violation due process, because the TCB repeatedly sent inaccurate and misleading notices to homeowner, and failed to tell her about the installment option, Darden v. Montgomery Co. TCB, 629 A.2d 321 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993).
The purpose of the Real Estate Tax Sale Law is to ensure the collection of taxes, not to deprive citizens of their property or to create investment opportunities for those who attend tax sales. . . . . People must pay their taxes, and the government may hold citizens accountable for tax delinquency by taking their property. But before forcing a citizen to satisfy his debt by forfeiting his property, due process requires the government to provide adequate notice of the impending taking. . . . .
The focus in a case like this is not on the alleged neglect of the owner, which is often present in some degree, but on whether the activities of the Bureau comply with the requirements of the statute.  Smith v. Tax Claim Bureau of Pike County, 834 A.2d 1247, 1251 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003). A failure by a tax claim bureau to comply with each and every statutory requirement will nullify a sale.
Section 603 of the Real Estate Tax Sale Law provides that a scheduled tax sale may be stopped by the taxpayer’s payment of 25% of the amount of taxes due and agreement to an installment plan for the remainder.   So long as said agreement is being fully complied with by the taxpayer, the sale of the property covered by the agreement shall be stayed. 72 P.S. §5860.603. The tax claim bureau must advise the taxpayer of the Section 603 option because its failure to do so “would deprive the owner of his or her property without due process of law.”
Stated otherwise, it is not the taxpayer’s burden to request an installment agreement.  The obligation of a tax claim bureau to notify a taxpayer of the right to an installment plan upon receipt of at least 25% of what is owed has been recently reviewed and underscored.  Where an owner has paid at least 25% of the taxes due, the tax authority is required to inform the owner of the option to enter into an installment agreement and that a failure to do so is a violation of the owner’s due process rights. Reilly v. Susquehanna Cnty. Tax Claim Bureau, 904 A.2d 49, 53 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006); York v. Roach, 163 Pa. Cmwlth. 58, 61-62, 639 A.2d 1291 (1994); Darden v. Montgomery Cnty. Tax Claim Bureau, 157 Pa. Cmwlth. 357, 629 A.2d 321, 323-24 (1993).
Moreover, due process requires meaningful notice of a tax liability.  Here there was a multitude of inaccurate and conflicting notices.
Earlier in the case, the Cmwlth. Court reversed the trial court's grant of judgment on the pleadings to the TCB, holding that an evidentiary hearing was required under the tax sale law, Battisti v. TCB, 76 A.3d 111 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013).