Lose a Home Over a $6 Tax Bill? Why It Could Happen to You

Not all is lost for a Pennsylvania woman who lost her $280,000 home over an unpaid $6 interest charge. A Beaver County appeals court has vacated a ruling in a case against homeowner Eileen Battisti, saying the trial court acted too hastily when it denied Battisti a proper hearing to prevent her home (pictured above) from being sold at auction two years ago.

"This was particularly inappropriate because the outstanding liability was small and the value of the home was far greater than the amount paid by (the) purchaser," Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote for the court.

No kidding. Battisti (pictured at left) owed just $6.30 in unpaid interest charges on a 2009 tax bill, which by 2011 had grown to $235 with interest. She claimed she didn't know about the past due charge until she was notified that her home was about to be auctioned off by the county. By then it was too late, and the house was sold for $116,000 to S.P. Lewis of Imperial.

With the court's ruling this week, she's lucky to have another shot at saving her home.

Unfortunately, cases like Battisti's are not uncommon, as state and municipal tax offices scramble to fill budget holes by aggressively pursuing unpaid property taxes -- even if it means auctioning off homes over a few bucks.

As a result, annual tax lien sales have topped $15 billion per year, according to a report released by the National Consumer Law Center last year.

For investors, tax lien sales are nothing less than a gold mine. Big purchasers -- for example, debt collectors or large retail banks - can snap up the properties at deeply discounted rates and then sell them at a ridiculous profit.

"Homeowners throughout the nation, particularly the elderly and people with cognitive challenges, have lost or stand to lose family homes along with long-term equity which may represent their sole savings and security for retirement," NCLC Attorney John Rao previously told BI.

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