What Happens If I Don't Pay Property Taxes in Massachusetts?

If you don’t pay your property taxes in Massachusetts, you might eventually lose ownership of your home.

Homeowners in Massachusetts who fail to make timely payments of property taxes could lose their home after a tax sale or a tax taking. In most cases though, you’ll get some time after the sale or taking to get current on the overdue amounts before losing ownership of the property.

Keep reading to find out how tax sales and tax takings work in Massachusetts, what sort of notice you’ll get before a tax sale or taking, how long you get to pay off the taxes following the auction or taking, and more.

What Is a Property Tax Lien?

People who own real property have to pay property taxes. The government uses that tax money to pay for schools, public services, libraries, roads, parks, and the like. The tax amount is generally based on the assessed property value.

But when a homeowner doesn’t pay the property taxes, the overdue amount becomes a lien on the home. A lien effectively makes the property act as collateral for the debt.

How Tax Sales and Tax Takings Work In Massachusetts

Getting behind in paying your real property taxes in Massachusetts can lead to a tax sale, where the collector will sell your home. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 43). In some circumstances, the city or town may “take” the property rather than holding a sale. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 53).

Massachusetts Tax Sales

Before a tax sale, the collector must publish notice of the sale in a newspaper. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 40). The collector must also post the notice in two or more public places 14 days before the sale. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 42).

At the sale, the property is sold for the owed amount of taxes, interest, and charges. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 43). After the sale, the purchaser gets a deed to the property, subject to the right of redemption (see below). (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 45, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 64).

Massachusetts Tax Takings

Before a taking, the collector must serve you a notice or publish it, and post the notice in two or more public places. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 53). The city or town then gets title to the property, subject to your right of redemption. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 64).

The Purchaser or City Must Foreclose Your Right of Redemption to Get Your Home in Massachusetts

To get free and clear ownership of your home, the buyer who purchased it at the tax sale (or the city or town, if it obtained your home through a taking) must foreclose your right of redemption. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 64).

How Long You Get to Redeem the Home in Massachusetts

Under Massachusetts law, the purchaser who bought the home at the tax sale (or the city or town) generally must wait six months following the sale or taking before starting a foreclosure to eliminate your right of redemption. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 65).

To eliminate the right of redemption, the purchaser, city, or town can file a petition (a lawsuit) with the Massachusetts land court. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 65). In most cases, you can redeem your home up until the purchaser, city, or town files its petition for foreclosure or the date set by the land court if you make an offer to redeem in an answer to the petition. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, §§ 62, 68). (Learn more about the right of redemption after a Massachusetts tax sale or taking in Getting Your Home Back After a Property Tax Sale in Massachusetts.)

Getting Help From a Local Massachusetts Foreclosure Attorney

If you’re facing a tax sale or tax foreclosure in Massachusetts and have questions about the process or how to redeem your property, consider talking to a foreclosure lawyer, a real estate lawyer, or a tax lawyer with expertise in tax sales.

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