The Myth of Property OwnershipSubmitted by JBing on Wed, 06/09/2010 - 23:41
Woman Sees Her Home Confiscated Over a Water Bill
Vicki Valentine lost the two-story brick row home after the city sold her debt to investors through a contentious and byzantine legal process called a "tax sale."
June 6, 2010 | Alternet
One raw day in early February, Vicki Valentine stood by helplessly as real estate investors snatched her West Baltimore home over what began with an unpaid city water bill of $362.
Rather than collect the overdue money they are owed, many local governments are selling tax liens.
Buyers range from behemoths such as JPMorgan Chase & Co, and some regional banks and law firms, to small-fry investors lured by late-night television commercials promising quick riches. Investors generally bid in an auction for the right to collect delinquent taxes and other municipal debts on property owners, sometimes by paying only a few hundred dollars. When owners can’t pay, investors can pick up property at bargain prices.
City records show that one in five of these liens on properties is for unpaid taxes or other municipal bills amounting to $1,000 or less. If Baltimore’s 2009 tax sale is any indication, hundreds will stem from delinquent water bills; there were 666 such liens last year.