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

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

In Montana, the county treasurer can sell what’s called a “tax lien certificate” to a third party if you don’t pay your property taxes. If this happens, you might eventually lose ownership of your home unless you pay the overdue amounts by a particular deadline. Read on to find out how the tax lien sale process works in Montana, what type of notice is required before the sale, and how you can save your home after the sale takes place.

Property Tax Lien Sales in Montana

When you get behind in paying your real property taxes in Montana, the delinquent taxes, penalties, interest, and costs become a lien on your home. A lien is a claim against your property to ensure you’ll pay the debt. The county treasurer can then sell that lien (not the property itself) to a third party. (If you are struggling to pay your property taxes, learn about your options to avoid a tax sale.)

Notice You’ll Get Before the Tax Lien Sale

Montana law provides that the county treasurer must provide notice of the sale.

Notice is by publication or posting. The treasurer must publish a notice of sale in a newspaper once a week for three weeks before the sale. If there is no published newspaper in your county, the treasurer must post the notice in three public places (Mont. Code Ann. § 15-17-122).

How the Tax Lien Sale Works

The treasurer will sell the lien and the purchaser will receive a tax lien certificate (Mont. Code Ann. § 15-17-212). If no one is willing to purchase the lien for at least the amount of the delinquent taxes, including penalties, interest, and costs, the county is considered to be the purchaser (Mont. Code Ann. § 15-17-214).

If you don’t pay off the lien (by getting current on the delinquent amounts), the purchaser or county can eventually get title to your property and become the new owner of your home.

How to Stop the Purchaser or County From Getting Your Home

In Montana, you can prevent the purchaser (or the county) from getting ownership of your home by paying the owed taxes, interest, and other charges. This is called redeeming the home. (Learn more in Getting Your Home Back After a Property Tax Sale in Montana.)

How long you get to redeem. In most cases, you can redeem up until the later of:

  • three years after the sale (the “redemption period”) or
  • 60 days after the purchaser (or county) gives you notice about your right to redeem (Mont. Code Ann. § 15-18-111).

Notice about your right to redeem. The purchaser (or county clerk if the county got the certificate at the sale) must send you a notice by certified mail letting you know that if you don’t redeem, you’ll lose the home. The notice must be sent not more than 60 days prior to and not more than 60 days following the expiration of the redemption period (Mont. Code Ann. § 15-18-212).

Finding Montana’s Tax Certificate Laws

To review the statutes covering tax certificate sales in Montana, go to Title 15, Chapters 17 and 18, § § 15-17-121 through 15-17-326 and 15-18-111 through 15-18-218. You can find a link to the Montana Code on the Montana Legislature’s website at http://leg.mt.gov/css/default.asp. (For help in finding the statutes, see Nolo’s Legal Research FAQs & Basic Info area.)

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