If you fail to pay your property taxes, the past-due amount becomes a lien on your home. This type of lien almost always has priority over other liens, including mortgages. Generally, when taxes remain unpaid, the taxing authority will eventually sell the lien (and if you don't pay the past-due amount to the lien purchaser, that party can foreclose or use some other method to get title to the home), or sell the property itself in a tax sale. Though, in some places, a sale isn't held; instead, the taxing authority executes its lien by taking title to the home. State law then generally provides a procedure for the taxing authority to dispose of the property, usually by selling it. In other jurisdictions, the taxing authority uses a foreclosure process before holding a sale.
In Georgia, any overdue property taxes automatically become a lien on your home. If you don't pay the amount due, the sheriff will likely hold a nonjudicial tax sale (the most common type of tax sale in Georgia) and sell the home to a new owner.
Generally, people who lose their home to a tax sale in Georgia have two options to get the property back: Redeeming it or setting aside (overturning) the sale. So, you get the opportunity to pay off the overdue amounts, plus interest, and "redeem" the property within a specified period of time. But if you don't pay up, you'll lose your chance to keep your Georgia home unless you're able to invalidate the completed tax sale, which rarely happens.
In most states, delinquent taxpayers get some time during which they can redeem the home after a tax sale by paying the buyer the amount paid at the sale or paying the taxes owed, plus interest, penalties, and costs. In some states, the redemption period occurs before the sale. But if you don't redeem, the purchaser can get title to the home free and clear of any liens that existed before the sale.
Usually, the homeowner gets the right to live in the home during the redemption period. Exactly how long the redemption period lasts varies from state to state; one year to three years is typical. In some states, though, the time frame is much shorter.
After a nonjudicial tax sale in Georgia, you get a 12-month redemption period during which you may reimburse the purchaser for the amount paid at the sale, plus other amounts, and reclaim your home. (Ga. Code Ann. § 48-4-40).
The window to redeem might actually stay open longer, depending on when the tax-sale purchaser takes action to cut off your right of redemption. To get ownership of the home, the purchaser must wait for 12 months after the sale and then foreclose your right of redemption by giving you a written notice that the right to redeem will expire on a certain date. You can redeem up until the expiration date given in the notice, which is generally around 30 days after the notice. (Ga. Code Ann. § 48-4-46).
So, you get at least a year to redeem, perhaps a bit longer, depending on when the purchaser from the tax sale decides to take steps to terminate your right of redemption.
To redeem your home, you'll have to pay:
If you don't redeem until more than 30 days after the notice giving the redemption deadline, you also have to pay the sheriff's cost for serving you the notice and publishing the notice in a newspaper. (Ga. Code Ann. § 48-4-42, § 48-4-45). Georgia law requires the purchaser to provide the notice to the sheriff not less than 45 days before the date the right to redeem expires. Within 15 days, the sheriff must serve a copy of the notice to you. (Ga. Code Ann. § 48-4-46).
In some rare situations—like if the tax lien or tax sale process has defects, the taxes were paid or not owed, or excusable neglect—you might be able to invalidate a completed tax sale. The reasons that justify, as well as the procedures for, invalidating a tax sale are complicated. If you lose your home to a tax sale and want to learn more about setting the sale aside, talk with a qualified lawyer as soon as possible.
Even though you'll get a redemption period after a Georgia tax sale, in most cases, it's better to take action before you become delinquent on your taxes to make them more affordable. You could, for example:
If you want more information about property tax and redemption laws in Georgia, consider talking to a foreclosure lawyer, tax lawyer, or real estate lawyer who has experience with property tax issues. 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.