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

You might eventually lose your home if your property taxes in Massachusetts are delinquent.

By , Attorney · University of Denver Sturm College of Law

If you're a homeowner in Massachusetts and you fail to make timely payments of property taxes, you could lose your home after:

  • a tax sale or
  • a tax taking.

However, in most cases, you'll get some time after the sale or taking to get current on the overdue amounts before losing ownership of the property.

How Do Property Taxes Work?

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.

When homeowners don't pay their property taxes, the overdue amount becomes a lien on the property. A lien is a claim against your property to ensure you'll pay the debt. It 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.

What Are the Consequences of Not Being Able to Pay Taxes 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 at auction. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 43). But in some circumstances, the city or town may "take" the property rather than holding a sale. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 53).

Tax Sales in Massachusetts

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 (or the smallest undivided part of the land which a purchaser is willing to take for the amount of taxes, interest, and charges due) 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).

Tax Takings in Massachusetts

Before a taking, the collector must give you a 14-day advance notice by serving it on you or publishing it and must 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).

Can I Get My Home Back After a Massachusetts Tax Sale or Taking?

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 got your home through a taking) must foreclose your right of redemption. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 64).

What Is the Right of Redemption?

Many states allow delinquent taxpayers to pay off the amounts owed and keep the home. This process is called "redeeming" the property.

In many states, the homeowner can redeem the home after a tax sale by paying the buyer from the tax sale the amount paid (or by paying the taxes owed), plus interest, within a limited amount of time. Exactly how long the redemption period lasts varies from state to state, but usually, the homeowner gets at least a year from the sale to redeem the property.

In other states, though, the redemption period happens before the sale.

What Is the Redemption Period in Massachusetts After a Tax Sale or Taking?

In Massachusetts, most people get a six-month redemption period after the sale or the taking to pay off the tax debt and keep the home. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 65).

After the redemption period expires, the purchaser (or city or town) can file a petition with the land court to foreclose the right to redeem. Once the foreclosure is complete, the purchaser gets ownership of the property.

No Redemption Period in Some Cases

In some cases, the foreclosure process can begin sooner. A city or town may begin foreclosure proceedings immediately if:

  • the home is abandoned (that is, you've permanently moved out, and the property meets certain requirements under Massachusetts law), or
  • the redemption amount exceeds the property's assessed value. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 65).

Also, a petition for the foreclosure of all rights of redemption may be filed at any time following the consent in writing of the record owner. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 65).

When Your Right to Redeem Expires in Massachusetts

Under the Massachusetts statutes, you can redeem your home up until:

  • the purchaser, city, or town files the 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).

If you miss the deadline to file an answer to the petition, the court might let you redeem up until it enters a judgment foreclosing your right of redemption. If you want to redeem your home after the foreclosure starts, your best bet is to get an attorney's help.

How Much You'll Have to Pay to Redeem Your Massachusetts Property

To redeem the property, you generally must pay the original amount due, plus interest at 16% and all charges. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 62). But if the foreclosure has already started and the court permits you to redeem, you must also pay court costs and attorneys' fees. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 68).

Vacating a Foreclosure Judgment

You can file a petition asking the court to vacate its judgment within one year (or 90 days if the property was abandoned or the redemption amount exceeded the parcel's assessed value). (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 69A). But judgments are rarely vacated, and few arguments exist for vacating a judgment. If you want information about vacating a judgment, talk to an attorney.

What Happens to My Mortgage in a Tax Sale or Taking?

Because a property tax lien has priority, mortgages (and deeds of trust) get wiped out if you lose your home through a tax sale process. So, If your loan isn't escrowed and you fail to pay the property taxes like you're supposed to, the loan servicer will usually advance money to pay delinquent property taxes to prevent a tax sale from happening.

Most mortgages have a clause allowing the lender to add the amount it paid to bring the taxes current to your loan balance. You'll then have to make repayment arrangements with the servicer or potentially face a foreclosure.

Getting Help

If you're already facing a property tax sale or taking in Massachusetts and have questions (or need help redeeming your property), consider talking to a foreclosure, tax, or real estate lawyer.

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