There is an article in today’s online Washington Post that is truly disturbing and should be a wake-up call for all property owners. The article is entitled, “Homes for the taking: Mystery company buys tax liens, “like a machine.” The article then describes a company, that is phantom like—with no traceable place of business, that is buying up tax liens all across the country, then adding thousands in legal and other fees, and then, if the homeowners do not pay the exorbitant fees, the company, called Aeon, then sells these homes making thousands in profits. Of course, lawyers are right smack dab in the middle of this greed machine.
The entire process leading to thousands of veterans, and poor African Americans losing their homes, begins with some type of tax bill from a local authority that does not get paid. There have been a few stories of other than tax bills, such as unpaid utility bills that became liens on homes, leading to the same type of scenario where corporations bid on these unpaid tax liens then make out like bandits. The Post story focused on D. C., Maryland, and Ohio where hundreds of homeowners have lost homes worth as much as $190,000 for unpaid tax liens as small as $50. Apparent Aeon has money to spend for its investors who engage in online bidding wars all across the country to make sure they win the bid for the delinquent tax liens. Then after they win the bid, they proceed to add on thousands in legal fees and other outrageous charges, with lawyers charging $450 an hour for doing almost nothing. Delinquent tax liens for $100 have turned into bills from Aeon of upwards of $5000 sent to the homeowner to redeem the property. The property owner has six months to pay up or face foreclosure. When the homeowners do not pay the padded amounts added to the original bill, Aeon has foreclosed selling the property for huge amounts of money. One veteran did not pay a $110 tax lien because he had dementia and was in and out of a hospital, but lost him paid for home to Aeon that then sold it at a foreclosure for $170,000.
All across the country this new “tax lien machine” is on the move. Texas is high on the list of tax lien sales. Years ago, individuals would watch to see when someone’s property would go on the “delinquent tax sale” list, and later the auction block. These individuals would then show up and bid on the property, paying the delinquent tax lien, plus any administrative fees added. The person who won the bid could then either sell the property back to the owner, making a profit, especially if any improvements had been made to the property. If the property owner did not redeem the property within the period allowed, the tax lien purchaser simply kept the property, including all the equity that had built up in the property. Small tax lien purchasers are now being squeezed out of the bidding game by big corporations that do not identify who they are but have plenty of cash on hand to outbid anyone, often rigging the bidding, especially online bidding. The end result is yet another story of “American Greed.”
Some of these tax liens stories are truly heartbreaking. Thousands of poor people, who have lived in their homes for 30 or 40 years have been met by a knock on the door and a sheriff with an eviction notice. What happens next is that all the person’s belongs are set outside and the property locked. The “tax lien” investor then takes control and either sells the property or simply leaves it abandoned if they cannot sell it. Thousands of properties have been left vacant and allowed to further deteriorate because no one bought. And the prior owners are left homeless and destitute having lost thousands in home equity—all behind delinquent taxes.
What the Post writers report from those on the front lines of trying to stop this massive theft of property is that homeowners should never ignore their delinquent property taxes. Even if the owner cannot pay the entire tax bill, contact the local taxing authorities and enter into some type of payment plan. Pay something—never ignore unpaid taxes hoping to catch up later. What starts out as a $100 tax lien can quickly double or triple by the time penalties and interest are tacked on. If you have elderly relatives or loved ones, inquire about unpaid taxes and offer to help out in some way with arranging a payment plan. It is beyond shameful that greedy corporations are now stealing family and potential generational wealth right from under the noses of thousands of those who can least afford it. Be proactive, watch out for delinquent taxes and pay them. Don’t lose your property to yet another rip-off greedy, American corporation.
Copyright 2013 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.