Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article highlighting some concerns that Legal Aid and other legal advocates recently raised regarding the District’s current real property tax sale system. Under the current system, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue sells tax-sale certificates on homes owing as little as $500 in back-taxes or utility bills. Speculators or financial institutions purchase such certificates at government auctions, and if an affected property owner is unable to redeem the home following the tax sale, he/she loses not only the home itself, but also all of the accumulated equity.
Last month, the coalition of legal services homeowner advocates, and law firms that includes Legal Aid – known as the Alliance To Help Owners Maintain Equity, or “AT HOME” – issued a letter to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and D.C. Council member Jack Evans arguing that the tax sale system is inequitable and particularly harmful to elderly and economically disadvantaged homeowners. Among other things, coalition attorneys contend that the home values are often exponentially greater than the delinquent taxes; that the cost to homeowners to redeem their properties includes attorney’s fees often exceeding the amount of the delinquent taxes; that homeowners may lose their most valuable asset and with it all of their accrued equity; that some tax foreclosure sales are due to errors at the Office of Tax and Revenue; and that the system for providing notice to homeowners is largely inadequate.
As noted in the article, AT HOME is working to reform the current system to provide better notice and protections to District homeowners at risk of losing their homes in tax foreclosure sales.