The mayor can sell your home at a public auction if you don't pay your property taxes in the District of Columbia. The winning bidder (the purchaser) gets a certificate of sale and can eventually get title to the property if you don't redeem it. To redeem your home, you must pay off the past-due amounts, plus various other expenses, within a limited amount of time.
When you don't pay your property taxes, the past-due amount becomes a lien on your home. Each state has a different tax sale process to collect delinquent taxes.
In some places, the taxing authority sells the home if the homeowner doesn't pay off the debt. But the purchaser might not get the deed to the property right away. Sometimes, a redemption period must expire before the buyer receives the deed.
In D.C., the mayor sells the home, and the buyer gets a certificate of sale, subject to the homeowner's right of redemption (see below). (D.C. Code § 47-1348.)
In other places, the taxing authority sells the tax lien, and the purchaser must foreclose or use different procedures to get a deed to the property.
And sometimes, a tax foreclosure process is used, or the taxing authority simply executes its lien by taking title to the home.
If you fail to pay the property taxes for your Washington, D.C. home, the delinquent amount automatically becomes a lien on the property as of the date the tax was due and unpaid. (D.C. Code § 47–1331.)
The mayor may then appoint an agency to conduct a tax sale, which will be a public auction, to sell the property. (D.C. Code § 47-1332, § 47-1346.) After winning the auction, the high bidder gets a certificate of sale. (D.C. Code § 47-1348.)
However, the certificate doesn't transfer the home's legal title or give the purchaser the right to enter the home. To get ownership of the home, the purchaser must foreclose the homeowner's right of redemption. (D.C. Code § 47-1348.)
After the mayor holds an auction to sell your home to the highest bidder, you'll get the opportunity to pay off the overdue taxes plus various other amounts. If you pay the delinquent amounts, you'll redeem the home and prevent the purchaser from getting legal title to the property.
But you'll lose your home if you don't redeem within the allotted time frame.
In D.C., you get at least six months to redeem the property by paying off the overdue taxes you owe after the sale.
The purchaser must wait six months after the sale before foreclosing your right to redeem. After foreclosing your right of redemption, the purchaser will own your home.
You can redeem at any time up until the foreclosure is final. (D.C. Code §§ 47-1360, 47-1370.)
But if you don't redeem your home before the foreclosure ends, the purchaser gets ownership of your property. (D.C. Code § 47-1382.)
To redeem your home, you'll have to pay:
Even though you get at least six months to redeem your home after a D.C. tax sale, in most cases, it is better to take action before you even become delinquent on your taxes.
For example, you could:
If you're facing a property tax sale in Washington, D.C., and have questions or need help redeeming your property, consider talking to a foreclosure lawyer, tax lawyer, or real estate lawyer.
To learn more about property taxes and other aspects of homeownership in general, get Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home by Ilona Bray, J.D., Attorney Ann O'Connell, and Marcia Stewart.