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

How tax sales and tax takings work in Massachusetts.

If you own property in Massachusetts and are behind on in paying your property tax bills, you could lose your home to a tax sale or a tax taking. If you don’t get caught up on the taxes (plus various other amounts) before the purchaser (or the city or town) forecloses your right to get the home back, you will lose ownership of your property.

Keep reading to find out how tax sales and tax takings work in Massachusetts, what sort of notice is required before a tax sale or taking, how long you get to pay off the taxes following the sale or taking before you lose title to your home, and more.

How Do 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). (If you are having trouble paying your property taxes, learn about your options to avoid a tax sale.)

How a tax sale works. At the sale, the smallest undivided part of your property or the whole parcel (if no person offers to take an undivided part) will be sold to a new owner (the purchaser) for the owed amount of taxes, interest, and charges (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 43). After the sale, the purchaser gets a deed to your property, subject to your right of redemption (see below) (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 45).

Instead of a sale, the city or town may "take" your property. In a taking, the city or town gives notice of the taking, which is then subject to your right of redemption (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 64).

How the Collector Provides Notice Prior to the Tax Sale or the Tax Taking

Before the sale or taking, the Massachusetts tax collector must provide the homeowner with notice.

Notice before a tax sale. Prior to 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).

Notice before a taking. Prior to a taking, the collector will send you a written notice, publish the notice, and post the notice in two or more public places (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 53).

The Purchaser or City Must Foreclose Your Right of Redemption

To get ownership of your home, the person (or entity) that 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).

What is a right of redemption? In certain states, homeowners who lose their property to a tax sale get a set period of time during which they can pay off the overdue taxes plus other various amounts, and thus retain the home following the sale. This is called the right of redemption.

The right of redemption 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). (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.)

How the purchaser (or the city or town) begins a foreclosure. To start an action to foreclose your right of redemption, the purchaser (or the city or town) must file a petition (a lawsuit) with the Massachusetts land court (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 65).

How to Find Massachusetts’ Tax Sale Laws

To find the statutes that cover tax sales in Massachusetts, go to Part I, Title IX, Chapter 60, § § 1 through 105 of the General Laws of Massachusetts. You can find a link to the statutes at https://malegislature.gov. (If you need help finding the statutes, see Nolo’s Legal Research FAQs & Basic Info area.)

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