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Responsibility for Properties Subject to Tax Sales

On Behalf of | Mar 16, 2018 | Firm News, Taxes

If your neighbor fails to pay the taxes on his house, is he absolved of any further obligation to maintain it?

Logically, he should be responsible as long as he holds title. However, the law says otherwise because of a 16-year-old Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision. But that rule may soon change.

In 2002, the Commonwealth Court decided in Commonwealth v. Sprock that a County is responsible for the maintenance of properties it lists for tax sale but which are not sold and remain “in trust.” The court reached this result even though the delinquent taxpayer still held title to the property.

It is counter-intuitive that  a person could hold title to property and be absolved of a duty of maintenance merely because the County’s Tax Claim Bureau was attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to sell the property to pay the outstanding tax obligation.

That result may soon change–legislatively.

On March 12, the House of Representatives unanimously approved HB 1814, introduced by Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry), which would amend the Real Estate Tax Sale Law (RETSL) to clarify that the owner of property in the delinquent tax sale process remains responsible for the maintenance of that property, regardless of the property’s status in the process.

HB 1814 now goes to the Senate; similar legislation, SB 851, introduced by Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill), was previously approved by that chamber in January.

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