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.
When you don't pay your property taxes in Illinois, the county collector can apply to the court for a judgment against the property for the taxes and costs, as well as an order of sale. If you don't get caught up on what you owe, the court will issue a judgment, and then the county collector will hold a sale (an "annual tax sale") to sell the delinquent tax debt. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-190).
The purchaser at the sale doesn't buy the title to the home. Instead, the buyer gets a certificate of purchase, which represents a lien on the property. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-250). And, under Illinois law, you typically get two years and six months after the sale to redeem the property, although the time frame might be different depending on your particular circumstances. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-350). But if you don't redeem the home after the sale within the allotted time, the purchaser can petition the court for a tax deed to your home.
In Illinois, if the property has a dwelling of six or fewer units, the redemption period is two years and six months. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-350).
If the property is abandoned, the purchaser can ask the court to reduce the redemption period to two years after the sale date. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-350).
The purchaser from the tax sale can choose to extend the redemption period up to three years after the sale. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-385). If the period of redemption is extended, you must redeem on or before the extended redemption date. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-350).
To redeem the home, you'll have to pay various amounts, including:
If the property doesn't sell at the public sale, it might be forfeited to the state. When a property has been forfeited for delinquent taxes, a person who wants to purchase the property can make an application to the county clerk. The county clerk must then promptly send notice by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, to the party in whose name the general taxes were last assessed or paid. The notice will say that an application has been made to purchase the property for forfeited taxes and that the property will be sold unless redeemed within 30 days of the mailing of the notice. So, for 30 days after the mailing, the property may be redeemed. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-405).
Even though you'll get a redemption period after an Illinois 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, find out if you meet the criteria for a property tax exemption or try to reduce the amount of taxes that you must pay by challenging the taxable value of your home (if you think the valuation is too high).
If you want more information about property tax and redemption laws in Illinois, 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.