If you don’t keep up with the property taxes on your Florida home, you could lose your house. First, the tax collector will sell the tax lien in a tax lien sale. Then, if you don't pay the lien, the tax collector can sell your home in a tax deed sale. Along the way you'll get several notices. And once you lose the home, you may be able to get it back by paying off the delinquent 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 is a tax lien on your home, the tax collector may sell that lien at an auction. This 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.” (If you are struggling to pay your property taxes, learn about your options to avoid a tax sale.)
How tax lien sales work. The tax collector typically sells tax liens at auction over the Internet. After the tax lien sale, the person who bought the lien on your home receives a 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).
However, if you owe less than $250 in delinquent taxes and your home has been granted a homestead exemption, the lien cannot be sold at a public auction. Instead, the tax collector will issue the certificate to the county (Fla. Stat. § 197.432).
How tax deed sales work. 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 initiates the tax deed sale process.
The clerk of the circuit court then conducts a 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. This means that if no one else bids on the property, the tax certificate holder gets the home (Fla. Stat. § 197.542).
In Florida, you’ll receive one notice before the tax lien sale and two notices before the tax deed sale.
Notice before the tax lien sale. The tax collector must send you a notice by mail or electronically (if you’ve agreed to receive notice this way) prior to the tax lien sale (Fla. Stat. § 197.343). The tax collector must also publish notice in a newspaper (Fla. Stat. § 197.402).
Notice you’ll receive prior to the tax deed sale. At least 20 days before the tax deed sale, the collector must send you a notice by certified mail. In addition, the county sheriff must personally serve you 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).
After the tax lien sale, you get the chance to pay off the amounts owed and keep your home. This 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.)
To find the statutes covering tax collections, sales, and liens in Florida, go to the Florida Statutes § § 197.102 through 197.603. You can locate Florida’s laws on the Florida State Legislature’s website at www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes. (If you need help finding the statutes, see Nolo’s Legal Research FAQs & Basic Info area.)