County seizes man's home because he owed $8.41 in property tax

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/12/12/county-seizes-mans-home-beca.html

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$8.41. Wow. When did they repeal the 8th Amendment?

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Hopefully people in Michigan are doing their morning exercise routines.

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Its the wild west in Oakland County. I purchased my home here for $3,000 cash during the housing crash. While I was working with the various banks who owned it, and the over $100,000 mortgage on it, three houses in the neighborhood were demolished for delinquent property tax. No effort was made to sell them just plowed under. The homes in the neighborhood are now worth around $40,000.

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Do you want Killdozers? Because this is how you get Killdozers.

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It’s common and “legal”. A Michigan lawyer:

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Oakland County, what the hell is wrong with you?

I grew up there. When I go back for the occasional wedding or funeral (mostly funerals nowadays), I sometimes feel a tiny bit of nostalgia.

It never lasts long because of shit like this.

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Time to change the law.

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With stories like this you can understand why many Americans hate “socialism”. They figure the state will just get more power to abuse people.

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It would seem that a lot of county governments want to get in on corporate America’s nickel-and-diming scamfest, too.

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It’s not right to “seize [a] man’s home because he owed $8.41 in property tax.” Just so everyone knows where I stand.

There is one thing I would like to know, however. The Forbes article says that by the time the government auctioned off the house,

the debt had grown to $285 with penalties, interest, and fees
So my question is, how long was it since they first notified Mr. Rafaeli that he was short on his interest payment and the date they foreclosed? That information is missing from the article.

Government bureaucracies are usually pretty good at sending out bills and letting people know the consequences of not paying those bills.

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Local government is so very important. In Contra Costa County (East Bay SF), the county assessor was very aggressive about lowering assessed values of houses during the 2008 crash. The county supervisors hated him, but my property taxes went down almost 35% during that period and it was a big help. They bounced right back up (Prop 13 doesn’t prevent property from being reassessed back to market if the county has lowered the assessments and the market returns) in 12-13-14 etc. But it was a help for us and a BIG BIG help to a lot of people I know.

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Would you be surprised to learn that a centuries-old document, drafted in a hurry by a handful of wealthy dilettantes mostly in their 30s making serious compromises along the way, has serious structural and substantive problems? And that the subsequent 230 years of interpretations and reinterpretations by our small conclave of philosopher-kings has twisted and perverted the apparent text of all meaning? And would you be further surprised to learn that the amendment that allegedly protects against cruel punishments and excessive fines is meaningless in a country where you can be summarily choked to death on the street by police for selling single cigarettes?

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Here’s the real kicker:

With a normal property seizure for debt, they take the property, sell it at auction, settle the debt and costs, and anything left over is returned to the person who owned the property.

With this Michigan law, the counties get to keep the excess. This is a huge money maker for the counties. This is incentivized robbery just like police doing civil forfeiture.

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What I’ve observed over many years is that elections for local officials tend to have the worst turnout. When the current county sheriff was a candidate, a key point in his speeches was how much time that office spent on foreclosure and tax evictions. I was surprised to hear it, but there are a lot of seniors in PA who were hit by this even before the Great Recession.

PA is a big age-in-place state, too. House flippers and real estate speculators have been profiting, and the only thing keeping some in their homes when taxes keep increasing is services like Airbnb or sharing space with friends and family. I wouldn’t be surprised to see lobbyists attack any change in the laws that allow property to be seized in cases like this.

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Well, according to things found in the HN links and threads, there was a cavalcade of errors. Owner moved to Israel, had mail delivered to tenants who didn’t forward it, other means of contact failed. The whole process took (if I recall correctly) over a year.
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21464572
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21735328

This is, perhaps, why he is not disputing the seizure.

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Property owner: Let’s see what ALEXANDER HAMILTON has to say about this!
County: If you’re trying to make an argument for your Constitutional rights then hire a lawy–
Property owner: No, I mean here’s a ten dollar bill. You can keep the change.

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An official Oakland County threat of forfeiture notice was on display at the bottom of a locked file cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door reading ‘Beware of the Leopard’.

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That’s the Display Department.

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Agreeing with your premise that it was wrong for the county to seize a property over such a small debt, much less retain the excess upon sale, it still seems there are some weird gaps in the story, some of which @knappa filled in. I’m not sure how much it matters that this wasn’t actually the guys house but instead an investment property that he didn’t visit for over a year while the process ground away, but it seems to be a piece of the puzzle at least.

I’m not at all sure how the amount owed (along with penalties and interest) weren’t just tacked on to the next year’s bill, but who the hell knows how this county does things.

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