State lawmakers receive updates about delinquent property tax sale process

by Matt Young

West Virginia Press News Sharing

The Joint Standing Committee on Government Operations met, on Monday, June 13, during the second day of the June Interim Legislative Session.

Christal Perry, deputy director of land with the W.Va. State Auditor’s office, delivered a presentation on the delinquent property sales process. Perry began by expressing her excitement at the recent passing of SB 552, “relating to the sales tax process; reducing the rate of interest on delinquent property taxes; (and) modifying the method by which notice is provided regarding the payment of property taxes.”

“What we wanted to talk to you about today is why we needed to see change with the tax-sale system,” Perry said, before explaining how the previous system had been “exceptionally convoluted.”

“We had a lot of out-of-state speculators coming in, and they knew how this tax-sale process worked,” Perry continued. “They would purchase these properties for pennies on the dollar. And once these properties go (tax) delinquent, any liens on the property are no longer valid. So if the cities had a lien for demolition or refuse fees, there was no way to collect those. These speculators had no interest in investing in the cities – they were just there to collect the interest.”

Under SB 552, the interest rate for delinquent taxes on properties certified to the State Auditor have been reduced, and certain delinquent taxpayers can qualify to satisfy their outstanding tax-debt through incremental payments. It also “addresses the right to set aside a tax deed improperly obtained, or a tax deed obtained without sufficient notice.”

The committee then spent several moments discussing the need for timely and appropriate notification of property owners regarding delinquent tax-status and impending tax-sales, with Del. Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, requesting clarification as to the process.

“We wouldn’t want people’s property confiscated without following some procedures that are relatively litigious,” Fleischauer said, before inquiring as to what happens when a notification-letter is returned undelivered.

“The sheriff will not send a process server out,” Russell Rollison, also from the State Auditor’s office, replied. “It’s the purchaser of the property at our tax sale that does, if a letter is returned. We have no choice in that matter. There has to be further diligent efforts. Process serving is one method – publication as a last resort – if the attorney will make a stipulation that they’ve exerted all possible references to locate the property owners.”