Tag: tax sale

Does a Foreclosure Sale Determine Fair Market Value in Georgia?

The answer is a resounding yes according to an interesting case that came out recently. SeeDekalb County Board Of Tax Assessors v. Astor Atl, LLC, A19A0516 (April 1, 2019). In that case, the Georgia Court of Appeals rejected DeKalb County’s argument that it could assess property taxes in an amount higher than the price paid for the same property at a foreclosure sale.

Dekalb County argued that a foreclosure sale does not qualify under as an arm’s length, bona fide sale, and that it had appraised the property in conformity with its rules using the sales comparison approach.

In deciding the case, the Georgia Court of Appeals referenced O.C.G.A. § 48-5-2(3), which provides a limitation on the maximum allowable fair market value. Under that statute, “the transaction amount of the most recent arm’s length, bona fide sale in any year shall be the maximum allowable fair market value for the next taxable year.”

The decision concluded by holding that foreclosure sales can be arm’s length, bona fide sales. Moreover, the fact that the sale may not bring in the true market value of the property does not require a different rule; the fact that the sale results in a financial loss is not relevant.

The court noted that foreclosure sales are distinct from tax sales. While foreclosures are considered arm’s length, bona fide sales, tax sales are considered “forced sales” because owner retains a right of redemption, so the tax deed purchaser does not obtain proper title until the redemption period has run.

While this isn’t super helpful in the current market with surging property values, it would definitely help investors should the real estate market turn south down the road. Something to keep in mind.

Please call us at 404-382-9994 for real estate related questions.

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.

Can a tax commissioner apply excess funds to post-tax sale property taxes?

Iglesia Del Dios Vivo Columna Y Apoyo De La Verdad La Luz Del Mundo, Inc. v. Downing, 321 Ga. App. 778 (2013) addressed this issue, and the answer, quite simply, is NO. (Bonus points for being able to say the plaintiff’s name in that case three times fast.)

The guiding statute is O.C.G.A. § 48-4-5, which provides that any excess funds existing “after paying taxes, costs, and all expenses of a sale made by the tax commissioner” shall be distributed “to the owner or owners as their interests appear in the order of priority in which their interests exist.”

So, while a tax commissioner is authorized to apply excess funds to satisfy outstanding property taxes owed by the delinquent taxpayer that accrued before the tax sale, it can’t do so after the tax sale. This reasoning for this is that the tax deed purchaser, not the delinquent taxpayer, is liable for post-tax sale property taxes.

What about a situation in which post-tax sale property taxes accrue before the tax deed purchaser has barred the right of redemption? In this situation, the delinquent taxpayer still has possession and the tax deed purchaser doesn’t have full title. Is the delinquent taxpayer jointly liable with the tax deed purchaser? According to the Downing case, the answer is no.  Only the tax deed purchaser is liable for post-tax sale property taxes; this is regardless of whether the right to redeem has been barred.

Who Gets Excess Tax Sale Funds in Georgia?

Revisiting a previous post, under Georgia law, a tax commissioner holds excess funds generated by a tax sale in a fiduciary capacity, and the disbursement of those funds is governed by OCGA § 48-4-5. But, after a tax sale, if there are any excess funds after paying taxes, costs, and all expenses of a sale, who gets these funds? The answer, generally, is that distribution of excess tax funds is based on the right to the funds at the time of the tax sale.

If there are excess tax funds, the officer selling the property shall give written notice of the 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. Such notice shall be sent by first-class mail within 30 days after the tax sale. The notice shall contain a description of the land sold, the date sold, the name and address of the tax sale purchaser, the total sale price, and the amount of excess funds collected and held by the tax commissioner, tax collector, sheriff, or other officer. The notice shall state that the excess funds are available for distribution to the owner or owners as their interests appear in the order of priority in which their interests exist.

If there is a dispute regarding who is entitled to the excess tax funds, an interpleader is filed and the excess funds are 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.

Some issues that come up in regard to distribution of excess tax funds is whether a “super-lien” obtained via a redemption gives the redeeming party first priority on the excess funds. The answer is no because a super-lien places a lien on the property but not on the excess tax sale funds.

Another issue is when additional taxes come due after the tax sale—is the tax commissioner allowed to use the excess funds for taxes due after the tax sale? The answer is no because the tax deed purchaser is the party responsible for paying property taxes after the tax sale. The remedy for the tax purchaser is to add taxes paid to the redemption price.

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.