By John Stossel
Did you know that in some states, if you miss a tax payment, local politicians will take your house, sell it, and keep all the profits?
Tawanda Hall was behind on his taxes. She was on a payment plan but had missed $900. She didn’t expect Southfield, Michigan to take her entire house because of it. It was worth $286,000 more than she owed.
“I’m still in shock,” Tawanda Hall says in my new video. “They took my whole house, my whole family’s livelihood.”
John Bursch, a county attorney, says that while this practice may seem unfair (yes, it sure is), “it’s also unfair to force those who pay their taxes to subsidize those who don’t.”
“I pay taxes!” Hall responds. She works as a caregiver. “I lift people. I wash people. I work hard.”
When Hall found out she was going to lose her house, she tried to pay off the debt.
“I went to the mayor’s office, I went down to the city county building,” she said. “They didn’t want our money. They said no.”
They wanted his house.
Taking it should be illegal.
“I think it’s unconstitutional,” says Christina Martin, senior attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation. “The government cannot take more than it is owed.”
The Foundation is suing local governments in six states for this type of home theft.
Martin won a case in the Michigan Supreme Court. Oakland County had taken an entire house on an $8 debt.
Matthew Hodges, the county attorney, said: ‘There could be nothing fairer than letting owners know what’s going to happen, giving them time to act and then letting them make a informed choice.”
Martin’s response: “Do you think if he knew he owed $8 he would have paid it? Of course! He didn’t know and there was no proper incentive to let him know. .”
In fact, the city had better not let him know. Officials rarely tell people, “Pay! Or we’ll take you home! Cities that do so write notices in legalese: “a tax lien acquired under a certain levying instrument from the city’s tax collector…said levying instrument covers a certain parcel of land… “
Hall does not recall being given “anything other than ‘Get Out'”.
Despite the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision, a judge dismissed Hall’s case because the government itself did not make a profit. In his case, the city gave his house to a private company. This company, the Southfield Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, sold the house and kept the money.
The company says it uses city donations to maintain attractive and safe neighborhoods, protect and increase property values.
“The government shouldn’t be able to steal from its own people and then give them to its friends,” Martin said.
I’m surprised how common this type of government house theft is. If you’re behind on taxes, even just $10 behind, 11 states allow local governments to sell your home and keep all of its value.
In Massachusetts, a 66-year-old grandmother is “sleeping in her car right now,” Martin says. “The city took her property, turned around and sold it within days of evicting her.”
Although his debt was only $30,000, they sold his house for $242,000 and kept the difference.
The Pacific Legal Foundation got three states to stop engaging in this property equity theft. Good.
Eleven more to go.
John Stossel is the creator of Stossel TV and the author of “Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media”.