People who own real property must pay property taxes. The government uses the money these taxes generate to pay for schools, public services, libraries, roads, parks, and the like. Typically, the tax amount is based on a property's assessed value.
When homeowners don't pay their property taxes, the overdue amount becomes a lien on the property. A lien effectively makes the property act as collateral for the debt. All states have laws that allow the local government to sell a home through a tax sale process to collect delinquent taxes.
So, if you don't pay your real property taxes in South Dakota, the county treasurer can sell the tax lien that exists on your home. You then get time (a few years) to pay off the overdue amounts and "redeem" the property. If you don't redeem, you'll eventually lose ownership of your home.
Again, if 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 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.
South Dakota is generally considered a tax lien state.
And sometimes, a tax foreclosure process is used, or the taxing authority simply executes its lien by taking title to the home.
In South Dakota, the county may sell the tax lien at a public auction to a third party if the county allows this type of sale. (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-23-28.1.)
At the sale, the lien goes to the person who bids the full amount of the delinquent taxes, interest, and costs and bids the lowest rate of interest per year. (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-23-8.)
The winning bidder from the sale then gets a certificate of sale (a tax certificate), subject to the right of redemption (see below). (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-23-8.) If no one bids the amount due, the county gets the certificate. (S.D. Codified Laws §§ 10-23-24, 10-23-25.) The county can later sell the certificate to a private party. (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-23-28.)
If you don't get current on the delinquent amounts, the winning bidder (the purchaser) or the county may eventually take legal action to get ownership of your home.
At least 14 days before the sale, the county treasurer must send you a notice by first class mail or electronic means. (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-23-2.1.)
Notice is also published in a newspaper or if the county doesn't have a newspaper, posted at the courthouse. (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-23-2.)
After the tax certificate sale, you get three years, called a "redemption period," during which you can pay off the tax debt, plus various other amounts. Redeeming the property prevents the purchaser or county from getting ownership of your home. (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-25-1.)
After the redemption period expires, the purchaser or county can begin the proceedings to get a tax deed (title) to your home. (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-25-1.)
To get the tax deed, the person or entity that bought the certificate at the sale (or the county) must personally serve you with a written notice of their intent to get a tax deed and giving you an additional 60 days to redeem. (S.D. Codified Laws §§ 10-25-2, 10-25-5.)
The additional redemption period expires 60 days from completed service, which happens when an affidavit of service is filed. (S.D. Codified Laws §§ 10-25-2, 10-25-8.) Immediately after the 60 days expires, the county treasurer issues and delivers the deed to the purchaser, who is then the property's new owner. (S.D. Codified Laws §§ 10-25-8, 10-25-11.)
You can redeem at any time up until the county issues the tax deed. (S.D. Codified Laws §§ 10-24-1, 10-24-5.) If you don't redeem before this happens, you'll lose ownership of your home permanently.
To redeem your home, you'll have to pay the county treasurer:
If you have a mortgage on your home, the loan servicer might collect money from you as part of the monthly payment to pay the property taxes. The servicer then pays the taxes on your behalf through an escrow account.
But if the property taxes aren't collected and paid through this kind of account, you must pay them directly.
If your loan isn't escrowed and you don't pay the property taxes, the loan servicer might pay any delinquent taxes and then bill you for them. Here's why: Property tax liens almost always have priority over other liens, including mortgage liens and deed of trust liens. (For purposes of this discussion, the terms "mortgage" and "deed of trust" are used interchangeably.)
Because a property tax lien has priority, a completed tax sale process wipes out any mortgages. So, the loan servicer will usually advance money to pay delinquent property taxes to prevent this sale from happening. The servicer will then demand reimbursement from you, the borrower.
The terms of most mortgage contracts require the borrower to stay current on the property taxes. If you don't reimburse the servicer for the tax amount that it paid, you'll be in default under the mortgage's terms.
The servicer can then foreclose on the home in the same manner as if you had fallen behind in monthly payments.
After demanding repayment of the amount it paid for the taxes, penalties, and interest (assuming you repay this debt), your servicer will probably set up an escrow account for the loan.
Each month, you'll have to pay approximately one-twelfth of the estimated annual cost of property taxes—and perhaps other expenses, like insurance—along with your regular monthly payment of principal and interest. This money goes into the escrow account.
The loan servicer then pays the cost of the taxes and other escrow items on your behalf through the escrow account.
Many mortgages have a clause that allows the lender to establish an escrow account basically at any time it chooses. The servicer establishes and manages the account on the lender's behalf.
To find out if and when the lender can set up an escrow account for your loan, read your mortgage contract and any other relevant documentation you've signed, like an escrow waiver.
The downside to having an escrow account is that you'll have to make a bigger monthly payment to the servicer. On the positive side, having an escrow account saves you from having to come up with a large amount of money when tax bills, and possibly other bills, are due.
If you're having trouble paying your property taxes, you might be able to reduce your tax bill or get extra time to pay.
Talk to a foreclosure lawyer, tax lawyer, or real estate lawyer if you're facing a tax sale in South Dakota and have questions about the process or need help redeeming your property,
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.