Don’t pay taxes and we’ll steal your property. Unless it costs us money.
According to a Keene Sentinel article published on June 10th, New Hampshire municipalities won’t steal your property to send to auction for back real estate taxes if it might be an environmental disaster. Of course, they say they don’t WANT to steal anyone’s property, but they still take plenty:
Despite a struggling economy, several Cheshire County communities have remained consistent in the number of properties they’ve taken for unpaid taxes over the past five years.
Part of that has to do with cities and towns only wanting to take properties as a last resort, according to several local officials.In Dublin, Hinsdale, Jaffrey, Keene and Peterborough, the number of properties taken for unpaid taxes from 2008-12 was under a dozen each.
Members of the Keene City Council signed off on taking one property each for the years 2008, 2010 and 2012, according to records from the city tax collector’s office. The amount of local taxes due on those properties totaled $13,794.70, $11,705.46 and $7,130.83, respectively, for those years.
City officials deeded three properties with a combined $55,532.26 in back taxes in 2009, according to tax collector records. Two properties with a total of $7,583.45 owed in taxes were taken in 2011.
“We do everything we can to avoid it,” Ward 5 City Councilor Philip M. Jones said. “We want people to keep their properties so they can be kept on the tax rolls.”
Deeding properties is also a labor-intensive process, and one of the hardest votes the City Council takes, he said.
“There is emotion involved in people’s properties,” he said.
According to state law, a city or town can’t take a property for unpaid taxes until two years after a tax collector puts a lien on the property. Taxes are still be due on the property at the time it’s deeded, the law says.
“These are our neighbors and community members, and we don’t want to take their properties if it can be helped,” Michael J. Darcy, chairman of the Hinsdale Board of Selectmen, said.
Town officials try to set up arrangements in which the property owners can catch up on their taxes, he said.
“However, if we don’t hear from somebody, or if that person can’t or won’t work with officials on an arrangement, we really don’t have much of a choice,” he said.
After a property is taken, it’s often sold at auction, he said.
While Hinsdale town officials deeded four properties with back taxes totaling $10,841.79 in 2008, no properties were taken for unpaid taxes from 2009-2011, according to tax collector records.
Selectmen are in the process of deeding properties for 2012, and don’t have a final number as to how many will be taken, Darcy said.
Besides the human element, the condition of some of the properties makes local governments hesitant to take on ownership of them.
Charles F. Champagne, chairman of the Dublin Board of Selectmen, said when the board considers taking a property for unpaid taxes, one of the first things it orders is an environmental assessment, he said.
“We wouldn’t take it unless we knew what we were dealing with,” he said.
Even then, if the property was contaminated, selectmen would refuse the deed, he said.
While Dublin town officials took no properties for unpaid taxes in 2008 and 2009, three properties were deeded in 2010, according to information from the tax collector’s office. The total due on those properties was $21,292.52.
In 2011, two properties were taken for unpaid taxes, in which a total of $27,940.72 was owed, and one was deeded in 2012, in which $9,066.88 was owed.
In a sampling of other towns in the region, Jaffrey and Peterborough officials each deeded three properties from 2008-12, and Alstead selectmen didn’t take any properties for unpaid taxes.
One town that saw a significant drop in the number of properties its board of selectmen deeded from 2008-12 was Winchester.
In 2008 and 2009, Winchester town officials took a total of 28 properties — 14 each year — for a combined $104,426.81 in unpaid taxes, according to statistics from the town tax collector’s office.
However, that number was cut in half in 2010, when seven properties were taken for a total of $34,830.31 in unpaid taxes.
Tax deeds were issued for three properties in 2011 and one property in 2012.
“The board of selectmen has been taking a proactive approach and working with struggling property owners to try to come to a mutual understanding of how repayment can be made,” Winchester Tax Collector James M. Tetreault said.
Besides the town taking ownership of fewer properties, the approach has an added benefit for his office, he said.
“It gives us an opportunity to really work with people and get to know our customers better,” he said. “We don’t want their properties.”
Here’s the NH RSA on the procedure for issuing a Tax Deed, which clearly lists the right of refusal to take ownership of a property with liabilities. Sometimes it just costs more money to steal than it’s worth.