Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lack Of Notice, Dispute Over Homestead Eligibility Left Couple Facing Possible F'closure By Tax Certificate-Holding Neighbor & Subject Of Local Gossip

In Washington, D.C., The Washington Post reports:

  • Theresa Bollech found out by chance that a neighbor had purchased a tax-sale certificate on her family’s home in the Chevy Chase neighborhood in the District and was quietly planning to foreclose in a matter of weeks.

  • The Bollechs weren’t deadbeats. But they were at odds with the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue over their homestead exemption.

  • They say they never received notification last year that the city had placed a lien on their property and sold it to the neighbor in July at a tax-sale auction. In that, their experience was typical of a system in which the District sells tax-sale certificates — liens — on properties owing as little as $500 in back taxes or utility bills to speculators and financial institutions that are not required to notify property owners until they begin foreclosure proceedings, according to attorneys working with a consortium called the Alliance to Help Homeowners Maintain Equity.
  • But all parties agree on one critical aspect of the system — the notice property owners receive immediately after the tax-sale auction: none. The city passes that responsibility to purchasers, who are required to notify property owners only when they file to foreclose, a motion that can’t be legally pursued until six months after a sale.
  • Theresa Bollech said she and her husband didn’t know that the city had sold a tax certificate on their home in the 5700 block of 27th Street NW last July to a neighbor because they never received notice before or after the sale.

  • What’s more, she said, no one from the District said a word to them about the sale during a hearing in September with the director of the OTR’s homestead unit over the root cause of their delinquency — the disputed homestead exemption, which significantly reduces assessments for residents who claim a D.C. property as their primary home. (The unit ultimately ruled in the Bollechs’ favor.)

  • They wouldn’t learn that a neighbor had purchased a tax certificate on their home for months. But it became the subject of gossip in their neighborhood, and a neighbor tipped them off just weeks before the neighbor who purchased the certificate could have initiated foreclosure proceedings.

  • There’s no way to describe what it feels like to think you’re going to lose your home,” said Bollech, sitting at the dining room table that now doubles as a repository for hundreds of tax documents. “How could they do this to us? How could they not say something?”

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