Getting Your Home Back After a Property Tax Sale in California

If the county sells your home in California for failure to pay taxes, very rarely can you get it back.

If you lose your home to a property tax sale in California, you generally can’t get it back, except in certain limited circumstances where the county decides to rescind the sale. You do, however, get five years after you fall behind in taxes to pay off the delinquent amounts before the sale can take place.

Read on to learn more about paying the delinquent amounts to stop a tax sale, how much you’ll have to pay to stop the sale, and how you might be able to get your home back by getting the sale rescinded after it occurs.

How California Tax Sales Work

If you don’t pay your property taxes in California, the tax collector can sell your home, typically at a public auction. (To get details on the tax sale process in California, see  What Happens If I Don't Pay Property Taxes in California.)

You Can Only Redeem the Home Before the Tax Sale in California

In California, the tax collector cannot sell your home until five years after you fall behind in your tax payments (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 3691). You can pay off the delinquent amounts and save your home from a tax sale at any time during this five-year period, which is called a redemption period.

Your right to redeem expires at the close of business on the last business day prior to the sale date (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 3706).

When the Right to Redeem Revives

If your home doesn’t sell at the auction, or if the purchaser who bought it at the sale doesn’t follow through with the deal, your right to redeem revives (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 3693.1, 3707). This means you still have the right to redeem since your home wasn’t actually sold at the scheduled sale.

How Much it Will Cost to Redeem the Home

To redeem the home you’ll have to pay:

  • the total amount of all past-due taxes
  • delinquent penalties and costs
  • redemption penalties, and
  • certain fees, including a redemption fee (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § § 4102, 4112).

Challenging the Validity of the Sale to Get Your Home Back

After the sale takes place, you might be able to get your home back by convincing the board of supervisors (the body that supervises the operation of the county government) to rescind (invalidate) the sale. To do this, you must show that:

  • the sale was invalid for some reason (such as you paid the redemption amount, but the tax collector still sold the home to a new owner), or
  • there were irregularities in the sale (meaning, the procedures were not proper).

Getting your home back through this method is difficult and rarely happens.

How to Rescind the Sale

To convince the county to rescind the sale, you must file a petition with the board of supervisors within one year after the tax collector deeds the home to a new owner citing your reasons why you believe the sale should be rescinded (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 3725).

If the board agrees that your property should not have been sold, it can rescind the sale so long as:

  • the home has not been sold to a bona fide purchaser for value (that is, someone who purchases the home with no reason to believe that the property was subject to another party's claim) or subject to a bona fide encumbrance for value, and
  • the county legal advisor and the purchaser who bought it at the sale agree to the rescission (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 3731).

What happens if the purchaser won't agree to rescind the sale.  In cases where the purchaser won’t agree to the rescission, the board can still rescind the sale if both of the following conditions are met:

  • a hearing is scheduled before the board of supervisors, and
  • the purchaser gets notice about the hearing (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 3731).

You Can File a Lawsuit if the Board Won’t Rescind the Sale

If the board of supervisors decides not to rescind the sale, you can file a lawsuit in court contesting that decision, but you must file the suit within one year of the board’s decision (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § § 3725, 3731).

How to Avoid Losing Your Home to a Tax Sale

Since you don’t get the right to redeem the home after the sale and it is difficult to get your home back by convincing the county to rescind the sale, it is better to take action before you fall behind to make your taxes more affordable. For example, you could:

How to Find California’s Tax Sale Laws

To find the statutes governing sales of tax-delinquent homes in California, go to Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § § 3351 through 3972 and § § 4101 through 4379 of the  California Revenue and Taxation Code.

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