Tag: tax deed

Judicial In Rem Tax Sales

Recently, we have seen more judicial tax sales in Georgia. This type of sale is much different than a non-judicial tax sale. OCGA § 48-4-75. Both the procedures and the deadlines differ.

When a taxpayer fails to property taxes, a county may file a judicial-in-rem tax sale. OCGA § 48-4-78. When the county employs this type of tax sale, it files a “Petition” in the superior court. The Petition is against the property itself and anyone with an interest in the property, including the owner.

Once the county files the Petition, the county gives notice to the interested parties. OCGA § 48-4-78. The county posts the property with copies of the summons and Petition, notice to interested parties, and notice of hearing. The county also sends the documents by regular and certified mail to all interested parties. Lastly, the county publishes a legal notice in the county newspaper alerting the public. The notice runs for two weeks).

Following notice, the court holds a hearing. Any interested party has the right to be heard and to contest the allegations in the Petition at the hearing. If the superior court determines that the information in the Petition is accurate and that the county gave proper notice, the court will order the county to sell the property at an auction. OCGA § 48-4-79.

The county then advertises the sale of the property in the county’s legal newspaper for four weeks. The advertisement will show the owner’s name, a description of the property to be sold, and the amount of the tax due OCGA §§ 9-13-140-142.

Before judicial tax sale auction, an interested party may redeem the property by paying the redemption amount to the county tax commissioner. If an interested party pays the redemption amount, the county dismisses the Petition. OCGA § 48-4-80.

One of the main differences between judicial and non-judicial tax sales is that a judicial tax sale allows only 60 days to redeem (buy back the property). In a non-judicial tax sale, the owner has at least one year to redeem. OCGA § 48-4-81.

The other major difference is judicial tax sales vest title absolutely into the purchaser. In theory, this eliminates the need for post-sale barment procedures and quiet title actions. There is little case law to provide guidance, but we expect the courts to consider these issues in the future.

Tax Deed Redemption: Tricks of the Trade

A new Georgia appellate case, Moxie Capital v. Delmont 21 (2021), has been released that every tax deed purchaser, investor, and property owner should know about. The case involves how to redeem a property following a tax sale.

OCGA § 48-4-40 says the property owner or an interest holder in the property may redeem a property following a tax sale. Redemption must occur within a twelve-month window and after a notice of right to redeem has been provided. OCGA § 48-4-42 states how much a redeeming party must pay to redeem. Importantly, the funds required to redeem “shall be paid in lawful money of the United States.”

In Moxie Capital, an investor attempted to redeem a property. For various reasons, the attempted redemption occurred on the last day of the redemption period. The investor contacted the tax deed holder for a payoff. There were conflicting versions of what happened from there. The investor said the tax deed holder did not cooperate; while the tax deed holder argued he had no obligation to cooperate.

What the parties don’t dispute is that the investor timely delivered a personal check to the tax deed holder. The investor claimed that certified funds were not available because the banks had closed by the time he found out the details of where to deliver the redemption amount. On the next day, the tax deed holder returned the personal check to the investor. And claimed that the investor’s right to redeem had expired.

Naturally, this went to court. While somewhat complicated, ultimately, the investor lost. And the tax deed purchaser got the property. The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that to redeem, funds must be in the form of cash or certified check. The Court cited OCGA § 48-4-42, which says funds must be “paid in lawful money of the United States.” Although no Georgia court has clearly defined “lawful money,” the Georgia Court of Appeals reasoned that a personal check is a promise to pay. Thus, the Court of Appeals did not consider the investor’s personal check to be a payment.

The Court of Appeals also suggested that a tax deed purchaser has no obligation to act in “good faith” when responding to a party trying to redeem.

Moxie Capital is consistent with other Georgia cases that apply redemption statutes strictly. Some would say harshly. Whether you agree or disagree with the outcome will depend on which side of the ledger you’re on.

Regardless of if you are a tax deed purchaser or a homeowner, we will be glad to represent you to get you through the process safely.

Excess tax sale funds for judgment holders

While we have discussed excess tax sale cases before, recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed who may claim excess tax sale funds. In that case, the Court held that judgment holder was not an “interested” party and therefore not entitled to tax sale funds following a Fulton County tax sale.

Here, the claimant held a judgment (the ultimate litigant was a successor assignee of the judgment) against a lender who held a mortgage against the property. The judgment holder argued that following the tax sale, the excess tax sale funds became personal property belonging to the mortgage holder—and therefore (somehow) the mortgage holder is entitled to a lien against such personal property (i.e, the tax sale proceeds).

In analyzing these claims, the Court looked to O.C.G.A. § 48-4-5(a), which states:

[i]f there are any excess funds . . . the officer selling the property shall give written notice of such excess funds to the record owner of the property at the time of the tax sale and to the record owner of each security deed affecting the property and to all other parties having any recorded equity interest or claim in such property at the time of the tax sale.

The subsection that follows provides that “[s]uch excess funds shall be distributed by the superior court to the intended parties, including the owner, as their interests appear and in the order of priority in which their interests exist.” O.C.G.A. § 48-4-5(b).

Ultimately, this turned out to be an easy decision because the claimant simply did not have any interest in the property by virtue of holding a judgment against a party that may have had an interest. Specifically, because the judgment was against a corporate entity, and not the property that had been sold, and because the judgment lien was against a predecessor in interest to a grantee of a security deed, the claimant was not an “interested party” under OCGA § 48-4-5 and could not receive excess funds under the statute.

The Actual Tax Sale in Georgia

As a general rule, tax sales are held on the first Tuesday of the month. However, not every county has a tax sale every month. Generally, the tax sales are conducted between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm  on the steps of the county courthouse. If the first Tuesday of the month falls on a legal holiday, the sale is held the next day, Wednesday.

The opening bid for a particular property is the amount of tax due, plus penalties, interest, fi. fa. cost, levy cost, administrative levy fee, certified mail cost, advertising cost, and tax deed recording fees. The property is sold to the highest bidder.

Immediately following the conclusion of the tax sale all purchasers must pay in full the amount bid at the auction. Payment must be in the form of cash, certified check, or cashier’s check. Normally, the purchaser to sign a statement attesting to the fact that certain property was purchased for a certain price. After all payments are processed, the count will provide a Tax Deed and the Real Estate Transfer Tax form.

According to O.C.G.A. § 9-13-170, any person who becomes the purchaser of any real or personal property at any sale made at public outcry who fails or refuses to comply with the terms of the sale when requested to do so, shall be liable for the amount of the purchase money. It shall be the county’s option either to proceed against the purchaser for the full amount of the purchase money or to resell the real or personal property and then proceed against the first purchaser for any deficiency arising from the sale.

Investa Services of GA, LLC: Tax Sale Case

Anyone who deals with excess tax sale funds or tax deeds in Georgia knows that Investa and/or affiliated entities play a significant role with regard to tax sales. Plaintiffs filed a class action against, among others, Investa. In this lawsuit, Investa was accused of improperly levying on tax executions for delinquent property taxes. The initial tax assessments were later reduced via a property tax appeal.

The trial court dismissed the lawsuit and Investa appealed. See B.C. Grand, LLC v. Investa Services of GA, LLC, A19A1297 (GA Ct of App, October 29, 2019). On appeal, the court ruled in favor of Investa et al., finding that B.C. Grand “failed to allege that the [Tax] Commissioner cancelled the tax executions or that they are void as a matter of law based on the post-issuance reduction in the tax assessment.” Because B.C. Grand failed to pay the taxes at issue while pursuing its appeal of the assessment. Instead, it waited to receive a refund (which it did receive), the full amounts owed remained valid. B.C. Grand also failed to plead the executions were void as a matter of law. So Investa was authorized to levy the executions at the full purchase price amount. Chalk one up for Investa.