If you don’t keep up with the property taxes on your Florida home, you could eventually lose the property to a tax sale. Initially, the tax collector will sell the tax lien in a tax lien sale. Then, if you don't pay off the lien, the tax collector can sell your home 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 once you lose the home, you might be able to get it back by 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 property taxes generate to pay for things like schools, public services, libraries, roads, and parks. Typically, the tax amount is based on the assessed value of the property.
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. (Learn about your options to avoid a tax sale if you can’t keep up with the property taxes.)
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.”
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 if the taxes aren't paid, a tax certificate may be sold. (Fla. Stat. § 197.343). The tax collector must also publish notice in a newspaper. (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. (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 there is no newspaper 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 bid the amount of the debt owed to him or her, rather than cash. So, if no one else bids on the property, the tax certificate holder gets the home. (Fla. Stat. § 197.542).
After the tax lien sale, you get the chance to pay off the amounts owed and keep your home. This process is called “redeeming” the property.
In Florida, you can redeem the home at any time before the county issues the tax deed to the new owner, but not if the court clerk has already received full payment for the deed. (Fla. Stat. § 197.472). (Learn more in Getting Your Home Back After a Property Tax Sale in Florida.)
If you’re facing a property tax foreclosure in Florida—or you need help redeeming your property—consider talking to a foreclosure lawyer or a real estate lawyer.