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 keep up with the property taxes on your Florida home, you could eventually lose your home to a tax sale.
In Florida, the tax collector will initially sell the tax lien in a tax lien sale. Then, if you don't pay off the lien, the collector can sell the tax delinquent property in a tax deed sale. Fortunately, the process will take some time, and along the way, you'll get several notices and opportunities to get current.
And after a sale happens, you might be able to get it back by quickly paying off the delinquent taxes, plus interest, costs, and perhaps other charges.
People who own real property have to pay property taxes. The government uses the money that 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.
If you have a mortgage on your home, the loan servicer might collect money from you as part of the monthly mortgage payment to later pay the property taxes. The servicer pays the taxes on the homeowner's behalf through an escrow account.
But if the taxes aren't collected and paid through this kind of account, the homeowner must pay them directly.
Taxes are due and payable on November 1 of each year or as soon after that as the tax collector receives the certified tax roll. Taxes are delinquent on the later of April 1 following the year in which they're assessed or 60 days after the mailing of the original tax notice, whichever is later. (Fla. Stat. § 197.333).
Again, if you don't pay your property taxes in Florida, the delinquent amount becomes a lien on your home. (Fla. Stat. § 197.122). Once there's a tax lien on your home, the tax collector may sell that lien at an auction. This auction is called a "tax lien sale."
Then, if you don't pay off the lien, the tax collector may eventually sell the home at what is called a "tax deed sale."
In Florida, the tax collector must send you a notice by mail or electronically (if you've agreed to receive notice this way) by April 30 if your payment hasn't been received. The notice will include a description of the property and a statement that a tax certificate may be sold if the taxes aren't paid. (Fla. Stat. § 197.343).
The tax collector must also publish notice. (Fla. Stat. § 197.402).
Typically, tax lien sales are by auction over the internet.
After the sale, the person who bought the lien receives a certificate (sometimes called a "tax lien certificate") and, along with it, the right to collect the tax debt from you, plus interest.
The winning bidder at the tax lien sale will be the person who pays the taxes, interest, and costs and charges the lowest interest rate on the debt, not in excess of the maximum rate of interest allowed by law. (Fla. Stat. § 197.432).
But if you owe less than $250 in delinquent taxes and your home has been granted a homestead exemption, the lien can't be sold at a public auction. Instead, the tax collector will issue the certificate to the county. (Fla. Stat. § 197.432).
Two years after April 1 of the year that the collector issues the certificate, but no later than seven years, the purchaser who bought the lien can apply for a tax deed from the tax collector. (Fla. Stat. §§ 197.502, 197.482). This application initiates the tax deed sale process.
At least 20 days before the tax deed sale, the collector must send you a notice by certified mail. Also, the county sheriff must personally serve you, the legal titleholder, notice 20 days before the sale or post the notice in a conspicuous place on the property if personal service isn't possible. (Fla. Stat. § 197.522).
Notice must also be published in a newspaper or, if no newspaper is available, posted publicly. (Fla. Stat. § 197.512).
The clerk of the circuit court conducts the tax deed sale, which is also a public auction, to sell the property to the highest bidder. The tax certificate holder (the person who bought the lien) will likely bid the amount of the debt owed to that person rather than cash. So, if no one else bids on the property, the tax certificate holder gets the home. (Fla. Stat. § 197.542).
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, like Florida, the redemption period occurs before a tax deed sale. And you'll have a short amount of time after the tax deed sale to redeem.
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.
Under Florida law, you get at least two years after the tax lien sale to redeem the property before it's sold at a tax deed sale. That's because the lien purchaser must wait two years from April 1 of the year that the tax certificate is issued before submitting an application for a tax deed to the tax collector. (Fla. Stat. § 197.502). The application triggers a tax deed sale.
And if seven years pass after the date of the tax certificate's issuance, but the purchaser doesn't submit an application for a tax deed, and no other administrative or legal proceeding, including a bankruptcy, is on record, the tax certificate expires and becomes null and void. (Fla. Stat. § 197.482).
So long as the purchaser applies for a tax deed before the certificate expires, the clerk of the circuit court will hold a tax deed sale. The home is sold at a public auction to the highest bidder. (Fla. Stat. § 197.502).
You can redeem after a tax sale, but you'll have to act fast. You can redeem up until:
If you plan on redeeming the property, it's a good idea to pay off the tax debt well before the sale happens.
To redeem the property, you'll have to pay the face amount of the tax certificate, along with interest and costs. (Fla. Stat. § 197.472).
You might also have to pay a mandatory minimum charge of 5% if the lien purchaser bid less than 5% interest on the debt when buying the lien. But if the purchaser bid an interest rate of 0% when buying the lien, then you don't have to pay this charge. (Fla. Stat. § 197.472).
Even though you'll get some time to redeem your Florida home before losing it to a tax deed sale, in most cases, it's better to take action earlier to try to make your taxes more affordable. For instance, before you fall behind in your taxes, you could:
If you're already facing a property tax lien sale or tax deed sale in Florida and have questions or need help redeeming your property, consider talking to a foreclosure lawyer, tax lawyer, or real estate lawyer.