Tag: tax deed

Tax Deed Services Offered by Gomez & Golomb (Including Costs)

We offer two services related to tax deeds: (1) barring the right of redemption and (2) quiet title.

(1) Barring right to redeem. In Georgia, you are entitled to bar the right to redeem any time after one year has passed from the tax sale. Barment notices need to be sent to the owner of the property at the time of the tax sale and to any other party that holds an interest in the property. To identify who needs to get notice, we need to do a title examination. Below are our fees. 

Attorney’s fees are a flat fee of $1,000 plus an additional $600 for expenses. Expenses include title search, publication, and sheriff’s service. We don’t know for sure how much expenses are going to be, but the average is around $600. Sometimes expenses are a little more than $600, sometimes a little less. If less than $600, we’ll refund you the difference; if more than $600, we’ll bill you for the difference.

 The only exception to the $1,000 flat fee for attorney’s fees quoted above is if the owner of the property at the time of the tax sale was deceased; if so, then there is quite a bit more work involved and we’d need to discuss the particulars of your situation.

(2) Quiet Title Against All the World. This is done after the barment is complete in order to obtain marketable title. A quiet title involves filing a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the county where the property is located. On these, we charge attorney’s fees on an hourly basis. Our hourly fee is $300 per hour and we ask for a $1,500 retainer. This covers five hours of attorney time. Normally, the attorney’s fees are about between $1,500 and $2,500, but because it is a lawsuit, we can’t quote an exact amount. In a quiet title, the court will appoint a special master: a special master is a local attorney who reviews the case and gives a recommendation to the court regarding title. The special master will cost an additional $1,500-2,500 (this amount is approximate). Court costs are an additional $500 (filing fee is approximately $250 and service on each defendant is $50).

(3) Adverse Possession: If you have adversely possessed the property for more than four years, you don’t have to do the first step (barment). Adverse possession means you have openly and continuously possessed the property (i.e, you or a tenant were actually in the property) and no one who owned an interest in the property objected.

Another Georgia Excess Tax Sale Funds Case

Republic Title Co. v. Freeport Title & Guar., Inc., A19A0274 (May. 29, 2019) concerns entitlement to excess funds remaining following a tax sale pursuant to OCGA § 48-3-3. We’ve discussed this in previous blogs. There isn’t much new here but the case does reinforce some tax deed principles of interest. In this case, the property owner at the time of the tax sale sought to collect excess tax sale proceeds following the tax sale. Also following the tax sale, a security deed holder on the property similarly sought the excess tax funds.

The owner filed a lawsuit seeking the excess tax funds, and, in the same lawsuit, sought to quiet the security deed holder’s lien as a cloud on title. The argument was the loan had matured for more than seven years and therefore wasn’t enforceable at the time of the tax sale. In Georgia, under O.C.G.A. § 44-14-80, title to real property conveyed to secure a debt or debts revert to the grantor the expiration of seven years from the maturity of the debt or debts or the maturity of the last installment thereof as stated or fixed in the record of the conveyance (this is the general rule).

Following the recommendation issued by a special master appointed in the case, the trial court ruled in favor of the owner; awarding the owner the excess tax funds and quieting title against the security deed holder. The Georgia Court of Appeals agreed. The Georgia Court of Appeals rejected the security deed holder’s argument that the special master didn’t have authority to issue a ruling on excess funds. And the security deed holder’s argument that the property owner lacked standing to bring a quiet title was likewise disregarded. Although the quiet title was filed by the owner after the tax sale, it was filed within the time period in which the owner had a right to redeem the property. Thus, the owner’s right to redeem was enough to give the owner standing to quiet title against the security deed holder.

If you have any questions regarding tax deeds, please call us at 404-382-9994.

Georgia tax deeds: What if the delinquent taxpayer is deceased?

When a property owner dies, often taxes go unpaid, and the property gets transferred at a tax sale. This typically happens when a property owner dies without close family or when the decedent’s family thinks it’s too much hassle taking over the property (maybe the property is in bad shape or there is little equity).

As every good tax deed purchaser knows, 366 days after the tax sale, notices to terminate the right to redeem can be sent out. But who do you send these to when the main person entitled to redeem, the homeowner, is dead.

O.C.G.A § 48-4-45 answers this question and instructs that “heirs of any deceased owner of any land entitled to notice pursuant to this Code section shall be served by the sheriff or notified as provided in this article.” Ok. So if the former owner is deceased, you are required to serve his or her heirs. Seems simple enough, but how do you determine who the heirs are?

In our office, we start by getting the death certificate of the deceased individual. This tells us where the decencent was living and (normally) provides information regarding at least one family member. We then contact family members to determine the heirs. As you can imagine, family members aren’t thrilled to talk to an attorney’s office who’s trying to “take property away from” a loved one recently passed. However, after explaining the situation, we usually get the family members to help us.

We also check the probate courts to see if the dead person has an estate and had a will. If so, we get the probate paperwork. If the person died intestate (without a will), then we follow Georgia statutory intestate rules to determine the heirs, and try to get “affidavits of descent” from family members. These affidavits help establish who the decedent was married to, the identity of the children, and so forth.

This can be a lot of work. In one case, we had an elderly decedent who died without a will, wasn’t married, and had had nine children. Several of those children had passed, meaning several of the grandchildren were heirs. We ended up having to locate and serve approximately 19 heirs spread all over the country.

If you need to send out notices of foreclosure of right to redeem in Georgia, and are facing a similar situation, we’ll be happy to discuss your situation and answer any questions. Please call us at 404-382-9994.

The Insurability of Tax Deed Titles

If you’ve purchased a tax deed in Georgia, what do you need to do to obtain ownership of the property? That’s a question we get frequently. First and foremost, following a tax sale, you need to bar the right of redemption of the owner who didn’t pay taxes and any party who holds an interest in the property. This has been covered in other blogs on this website. But what about after you’ve barred the right to redeem, are you able to put up for sale sign and sell the property?

Generally, if there’s a non-judicial tax sale on the property within the past 20 years, the answer is no. In other words, most title insurance companies won’t title insure such properties. So what to do. There are generally three ways to obtain full title or what is known as “marketable title.”

The first way is to adversely possess the property for more than four years. This means taking full possession of the property in a manner that is (i) hostile (against the right of the true owner and without permission); (ii) actual (exercising control over the property); (iii) exclusive; (iv) open and notorious (using the property as the real owner would, without hiding occupancy); and (v) continuous.

The second way is to get a quitclaim deed from the of the owner who didn’t pay taxes and any party who holds an interest in the property.

The third way is to file a quiet title action in the Superior Court in which the property is located. In such a lawsuit the owner who didn’t pay taxes and any party who holds an interest in the property are named and given an opportunity to object.

Please call with any questions regarding tax deeds or any of the above methods of obtaining marketable title once a barment notices have been completed.

Service by Publication in a Quiet Title or Tax Deed Barment

In both a tax deed barment and the subsequent quiet title, a critical part of the procedure is serving all parties with an interest in the subject property. This includes lien holders, heirs, and anyone else with a claim against the property.

Often in these situations, especially when the property is distressed or abandoned, parties connected with the property may be hard to find. The best example is the delinquent taxpayer. That party has not paid taxes for one or more years, and, many times, has abandoned possession. If the delinquent taxpayer is gone and hasn’t left a forwarding address, that party may be anywhere.

What must be done in these situations? A reasonable and diligent search must be conducted to find and serve each party that has an interest. In a barment, this requires personal service for parties residing in the county of the tax sale or certified mail for parties residing outside the county. In a quiet title, personal service is required.

What if personal service or certified mail is unsuccessful? For example, you get back the certified letter stating it is undeliverable. In those situations, you’re entitled to serve by publication. This usually means advertising notice of the barment or lawsuit in the official county newspaper for four consecutive weeks.

Sound simple . . . usually it is  straightforward, but there are times when things don’t work out as expected. In a recent case, Dukes v. Munoz et al., A18A0572 (decided June 15, 2018), a tax deed holder, unable to serve the delinquent taxpayer, hired an investigator. The investigator came back saying the delinquent taxpayer could not be found after reasonable search. Relying on the investigator’s testimony, the tax deed holder barred the taxpayer’s right of redemption and filed a successful quiet title action.

Happy tax deed holder and end of story . . . not so much. Turns out that the delinquent taxpayer was a Georgia state legislator, who found out about the barment and quiet title. The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that because a Google search would have provided the address for the delinquent taxpayer, the tax deed holder had not exercised proper diligence in locating the delinquent taxpayer. Therefore, service by publication was improper and the barment and quiet title were voided; the tax deed holder was forced to incur the expense of the barment and quiet title.

The takeaway is that it’s not sufficient to use the last known address of party if that address appears invalid. The best approach, in our opinion, is to spend a little extra money to make sure parties with an interest are served and given a proper opportunity to object.