Mayor Roxann Wedegartner Issues Statement on Protecting Equity for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure
GREENFIELD – In response to the recent Supreme Court ruling in Tyler v. Hennepin County, Mayor Roxann Wedegartner has released a statement outlining the terms and conditions under which the City of Greenfield may seek to take an individual's property under what's known as a tax title taking.
The statement offers assurance to property owners that tax title taking or foreclosing on an owner's real property by the city is only used as a last resort. It further explains the lengthy process that the city follows when it is necessary to seek a foreclosure while also attempting to work with property owners to set up payment plans.
"It is rare that the city carries out a tax sale. Rather, we try hard to assist the homeowner in paying their back taxes to not foreclose on the property. It's even rarer that the city keeps the equity funds that may be involved in the sale. We are allowed under the law to utilize the sale proceeds to cover legal costs and other expenses associated with a foreclosure process, and we will do that," said Mayor Wedegartner.
Mayor Wedegartner also urges citizens to contact the members of their state legislative delegation to urge swift passage of H.2937 regarding tax deeds and protecting home equity for people facing foreclosure.
"When the bill is passed, the city will take whatever steps it needs to, if it needs to, to follow the law,” Wedegartner added. “Currently, there is no legal path for the city to pay back any equity retained by the city from foreclosures that happened in the past."
There is widespread interest in our community about ensuring that our residents who are facing foreclosure are able to retain any equity gained in their personal real estate following a tax title sale by the City of Greenfield.
I want to assure everyone that tax title taking or foreclosing on residents’ real property by the city is a rare occasion and only used as a last resort. Nevertheless, tax payments are the lifeblood of our city and in fairness to all who pay taxes, we must seek to get real property back on the tax rolls if the owner has fallen seriously, and sometimes irreparably, behind in payments and do whatever Massachusetts General Law allows us to do to recoup the taxes. Presently, there is no legal mechanism for paying owners back for any equity the city may have retained in the past after all legal fees and expenses have been paid.
To serve both the interests of the city and the property owner, our Treasurer/Collector’s office works diligently with homeowners who have fallen on hard times and seek some relief from their tax payments. Payment plans are frequently set up and are generally successful in helping the homeowner retain ownership of their property while the City recoups the back taxes.
Our legislative delegation, Senator Jo Comerford, Representative Natalie Blais, and Representative Susannah Whipps, support legislation, H2937, offered in this 193rd Legislative Session that provides property taxpayers with an equitable process for resolving tax delinquency. I, too, continue to support this legislation. In November 2022, I sent a letter of support for this House legislation under a different bill number, H3053, which protects homeowner equity. Currently, that bill is in the Joint Committee on Revenue; a hearing on the bill was held on June 22, 2023. When that legislation passes, the city will follow whatever directives it provides for handling tax title sales and protecting owners’ equity.
The City of Greenfield recognizes that housing is a right, not a privilege. Every citizen’s financial situation is different, and sometimes property owners fall on difficult financial times. As mayor, I believe it is important to make the path out of this difficult situation easy to understand, accessible, legally viable and that the process maintains the property owner’s dignity.
To that end, I outline the following steps the city shall take, as a matter of policy, when homeowners are late paying their tax bills.
• For property owners who fall more than 30 days behind in their tax payments, the City of Greenfield shall send the owner a demand for payment to the address on file, if the city, under the authority of the Treasurer/Collector, decides to enforce a lien or legal claim to the property on behalf of the city. Placing a lien on the property is a relatively lengthy process. To further allow the property owner time to respond to the demand, the city shall send a letter to the property owner 120 days after the demand letter is sent and allow for another 120 days before advertising the lien.
• If there is no response to the demand letter, then the city may put a lien on the property, which includes advertising it in the newspaper for another 14 days. Then the city shall record the lien in the Registry of Deeds which can take up to 60 days after advertising the lien.
• Once a lien is placed on the property, the city shall offer a payment plan to property owners. Payment plan setup does not happen automatically; a property owner in that situation must set up the payment plan in writing with the Treasurer Collector’s office.
• A payment agreement with the city includes an agreement not to move forward to file a foreclosure action. If one has already been filed, the city shall agree not to ask for judgment as long as the monthly payments are being made as agreed. If there is a breach of the agreement, the city shall be released and can move forward with a foreclosure procedure.
• The City of Greenfield shall publish an annual report prepared by the Treasurer/Collector’s office showing all tax title activity in the city by street address, all proceeds from tax title sales and the net equity revenue collected by sale that is in excess of tax debt and all collection costs.
• The City of Greenfield shall, by means of the Open Government section on the city website, state any expenses paid towards tax title.
Citizens interested in furthering tax title reform at the state level should contact their legislative delegation and encourage swift passage of H.2937 in the current session.
Other resources available to better understand the tax title-taking and sale process can be found in the links below:
• Tax Lien Foreclosure Information and Steps: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/tax-lien-foreclosure-informational-outline
• Greenfield Treasurer/Collector FAQs: https://greenfield-ma.gov/departments/treasurer_collector/treasurer_collector_faq.php
• Information About Massachusetts Law on Property Taxes: several resources: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/massachusetts-law-about-property-taxes