Tax Foreclosures

The below information is reprinted by permission.  It is the exclusive copyrighted property of the Fulton County Daily Report, Incisive Media © 2008.  All rights reserved.

Local government runs on property taxes.  That’s why Georgia law imposes severe penalties for failing to pay them.  If left unresolved, a bad situation easily can become worse, forcing a homeowner in arrears to choose between paying a small fortune or losing the family homestead.

It doesn’t have to come to that.  And in fact, there are several opportunities throughout the property tax collection process that allow the homeowner to come current and avoid the worst.  We’ve designed our tax foreclosure listings to make sure homeowners don’t miss those opportunities.

We’re able to provide this service because the Daily Report is the official newspaper of the Fulton County courts.  Throughout the process in Fulton County, the law requires the various collection participants to publish several different forms of notice in the Daily Report.  Those notices form the basis for the listings on this web site.

How the Collection Process Works

Our tax foreclosure listings represent a compilation of information from the following types of public notices:

• Non-Judicial Tax Sale
• Redemption Rights Deadline
• Judicial Tax Hearing
• Judicial Tax Sale
• Quiet Title

More Than One Way to Collect

Your obligation to pay property taxes is backed by the property itself.  Fail to pay, and the county tax commissioner can sell the real estate to raise the amount due in back taxes.  It’s an awesome power, and it takes the form of a lien.

Think of a lien as a parking boot the county clamps on your property.  As with that more physical form of restraint, a lien against your property can stop you cold.  It can interfere with your ability to transfer the property or even to borrow against it.  If you do manage to sell the property, the lien sticks to it, interfering with the next owner’s title.

By law, the county tax commissioner automatically gains a lien against property the first day property taxes come due, Jan. 1 of each year.  Once the owner pays the taxes, the lien dissolves.

When the property taxes become past due, the tax collector can proceed in one of two ways - Non-Judicial Tax Sale, which doesn’t involve going to court, and Judicial Tax Sale, which must.  Both types of proceedings rely upon the sheriff to conduct the sale.  Each has its own purpose and its own advantages to the tax collector.  More important to the homeowner, each has its own set of procedures and its own types of public notice.

Non-Judicial Tax Sale

Non-judicial tax sale is the most common route for the tax commissioner to take.  After the payment deadline passes, and after providing the owner with written notice, the tax commissioner turns the matter over to the sheriff by issuing what’s called a tax fi. fa. or writ of execution.

Fi. fa. is the abbreviation of a Latin term meaning “cause it to be done,” and the writ, in this case, formally commands the sheriff to sell the property at auction to the highest bidder.  The sheriff has no choice in the matter.  The ensuing process is known as sheriff’s levy and sale.

As a first step, the sheriff must send out written notice and also publish a Notice of Sheriff’s Sale in the Daily Report.  Those notices, grouped under the heading Non-Judicial Tax Sales, are generally the first form of notice to hit the Daily Report and therefore usually represent the first alert appearing in the listings on this web site.

If you see a property in which you have an interest listed as the subject of a Non-Judicial Tax Sale, you need to contact the sheriff’s office and the county tax authorities.

If the notice lists a private investor, that means the county has transferred the tax lien on your property (explained below), and you should contact that party.


After meeting the law’s notification requirements, the sheriff auctions the property to the highest bidder on the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta at 136 Pryor St. S.W., the first Tuesday of the month.  The money raised goes toward the back taxes, and the bidder now takes ownership to the property.  The original homeowner still has a way to get the house back (explained below, under Redemption), but it’s now a matter between old owner and new; the county is out of the picture.

The Legacy of Lien Transfers

Until May 2002, Georgia law let the county turn matters over to the private sector even sooner.  Instead of pursuing the non-judicial sale procedures itself, the county could sell off its tax liens to private investors.  The investors paid off the back taxes and then handled the rest, including having the sheriff conduct a non-judicial sale.  Although the Georgia Legislature halted the practice during its 2002 session, enough transferred liens remain outstanding that homeowners need to know about them.

For one thing, a transferred tax lien can lie dormant for a few years and thus catch the homeowner unawares when the private investor finally decides to execute on it.  That’s because the purchaser of a tax lien does not have to demand a sheriff’s sale of the property right away.  Some transferees hold on to the lien without taking any action for a couple of years, thus allowing the interest and penalties—the value of their investment—to grow.  As the penalties compound, it becomes harder and harder to get one’s property out of hock.

Redemption: Rescuing Your Property

Once the property is sold on the courthouse steps, the former owner still has the chance to rescue the property through a process called redemption.  To regain good title to the property, the homeowner must reimburse the purchaser the amount paid at auction, plus penalties, interest and, sometimes, costs.

An owner has the opportunity to redeem as a matter of right for 12 months following the sale.  But the window to redeem actually may stay open longer, depending on when the tax-sale purchaser takes action to cut off the owner’s right of redemption.

That action is technically known as foreclosing the right to redeem.  The term “barment” has also come into parlance to describe the procedure for cutting off the owner’s right to redeem. By whatever name, it has the effect of giving the tax-sale purchaser title to the land (subject to other possible liens).

Twelve months after the sale, the purchaser can send out notice to the homeowner giving the person a deadline to pay up and reclaim the property or lose all rights to it.  The tax-sale purchaser gives notice by mail and also by publishing in the Daily Report a Notice to Foreclose the Right of Redemption, a form of public notice we group under the heading Redemption Rights Deadline.

If your property appears in the listings on this web site as subject to a Redemption Rights Deadline, you can rescue the property by contacting the purchaser and tendering the full redemption amount before the announced cutoff date.

Judicial Tax Sale

The second and less common means of property tax collection is judicial tax foreclosure sale.  When the tax authorities take that route, they have to wait a little longer to act, and they have to go to court, but it’s ultimately a more decisive process.  In general, the county avails itself of this process as a way to put abandoned and blighted property in better hands.

Twelve months after the property taxes first become due on Jan. 1, the tax collector can file a petition in Fulton County Superior Court to conduct a foreclosure sale on the property in arrears.

Note, the legal action is filed not against an individual, such as the owner of record, but against the land itself, a procedure in law known as an action “in rem.”

The first published notice announces a hearing in Superior Court on whether a tax foreclosure sale should be permitted.  Notice to the property owner of the county’s intent to foreclose on the land includes mailed notice and the publication of a Notice of Judicial In Rem Hearing, grouped in the Daily Report under the heading Judicial Tax Hearing.

If you see your property listed as subject to a Judicial Tax Hearing, you need to contact the county tax commissioner and attend the scheduled hearing in Superior Court, but consult a lawyer.

Once satisfied that the tax collector has met the law’s notice and other procedural requirements, a judge issues an order allowing a foreclosure sale of the property.

With that order in hand, the tax collector then must publish in the Daily Report a Notice of Judicial In Rem Foreclosure Sale, which we’ve organized under the heading Judicial Tax Sale.

If you see your property listed as subject to an impending Judicial Tax Sale, you need to contact the tax commissioner’s office and make arrangements to settle your tax delinquency and stop the sale.

The property owner has the right to redeem the property up to the moment of sale, which generally takes place the first Tuesday of the month following the published notice.

The law gives the owner one last chance at redemption.  For 60 days after the sale, the owner can pay the redemption amount, which now includes not just the back taxes and penalties but also the amount paid for the property at auction.  If the owner misses that opportunity, then title to the property passes to the purchaser at auction.

Quiet Title

Title to property bought at tax foreclosure sales, particularly non-judicial sales, is generally considered clouded.  That can cause complications when the new owner decides to sell or finance the property.  To fix that, most purchasers undertake Quiet Title proceedings, seeking a declaration that they own the real estate free and clear.  The process involves filing a petition with the Superior Court, mailing out notice, and publishing a Notice to Quiet Title in the Daily Report.

If you see your property listed as subject to Quiet Title proceedings, you may be able to file pleadings in Superior Court to intervene. Consult a lawyer.

Sources and Resources

Suffice it say, it’s a complicated sequence of events, and one that rapidly gets more expensive and harder to control as time passes.  For help and more information, here are some suggested Fulton County contact numbers:

• Tax Commissioner   (404) 730-6100
• Sheriff’s Property Tax Unit    (404) 893-0611
• Superior Court Clerk    (404) 730-5313
• Atlanta Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service    (404) 521-0777

Attribution

The Daily Report gratefully acknowledges the advice and insight of Emory University School of Law Professor Frank S. Alexander and his authoritative book on the subject, “Georgia Real Estate Finance and Foreclosure Law with Forms” (Harrison Co. 3d ed. 1999 & supp. 2001).

Words of Caution

Neither the Daily Report nor The Atlanta Voice is responsible for any errors or omissions in these listings.  For the complete and official notice of foreclosure, consult the printed Daily Report. Information in the official notices comes directly from the lenders with no independent verification.  These listings do not include any subsequent cancellations or subsequent corrections lenders may have made to their notices.

Just because a property is advertised for foreclosure does not necessarily mean it is in foreclosure or that the owner is in arrears. Some notices result from misunderstandings.  Oftentimes matters are worked out (or halted) well in advance of the auction date but after the notice has been submitted for publication.  Just because a property isn't listed here doesn't mean it's not in foreclosure.  Again, these listings are by no means the official notice.

The person listed as owner may not necessarily be the present title holder.  Mortgage value information merely reflects the amount of the original loan amount as listed in the foreclosure notice, not the balance due and not the value of the property.

Neither the Daily Report nor The Atlanta Voice is responsible for any investment decisions based on this information.  Neither do they make any representations regarding title or the existence of any liens or encumbrances.  Readers of these listings should do their own research and consult a real estate, legal or investment professional.