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

If you default on property taxes in Pennsylvania, you could eventually lose your home.

When you become delinquent on your Pennsylvania property taxes, the result might be that you lose your home to an upset tax sale or a judicial tax sale. Read on to learn the basics about these types of tax sales, find out the type of notice you’ll receive before a tax sale, and so on.

How Property Tax Sales in Pennsylvania Work

Property tax sales in Pennsylvania are generally governed by the state’s Real Estate Tax Sale Law.

Under this law, if you get behind in your property taxes, your home is first put up for sale at an upset tax sale. If the property doesn’t sell, the home is then sold at a judicial tax sale. (Tax sales in Pennsylvania are complicated. You should speak with a licensed Pennsylvania attorney to get details about how the process works in your county.)

Upset Tax Sales in Pennsylvania

At an upset tax sale, a tax-delinquent home is sold subject to existing liens such as mortgages, judgments, and other liens (72 P.S. § 5860.609). (Learn about different types of property liens.)

The minimum bid at the sale is the amount of:

  • the delinquent taxes
  • the current year taxes that are due
  • interest
  • municipal claims, and
  • costs (72 P.S. § 5860.605).

Notice before an upset tax sale. At least 30 days before the sale, the tax claim bureau must mail you a notice by certified mail. If it doesn't get a return receipt, the bureau must mail another notice by first-class mail, at least ten days before the sale (72 P.S. § 5860.602).

Tax bureau must take reasonable steps to provide you with notice. The bureau must make reasonable efforts to locate you and provide notice if the mailed notification is either returned without the required signature or other circumstances raise doubt about whether you have received notice of the sale (72 P.S. § 5860.607a).

Personal service required for owner-occupied homes. If the home is owner occupied, the bureau must give you written notice of the sale by personal service at least ten days before the sale (72 P.S. § 5860.601).

Notice by publication and posting. The bureau must advertise a notice of the pending sale in a newspaper at least 30 days prior to the scheduled sale. The notice must also be posted on the property at least ten days before the sale (72 P.S. § 5860.602).

How to stop the sale. You can stop the sale by:

  • paying the total amounts due (including taxes, charges, and interest) or
  • entering into an agreement to make payments in four equal installments. The first installment is due at the time of the agreement and the remaining three payments must be paid within one year of the agreement date (72 P.S. § 5860.603).

Judicial Tax Sales in Pennsylvania

If the home does not sell at the upset tax sale, the bureau may sell the property at a private sale or petition the court (that is, file a lawsuit) for an order to sell the home at what’s called a judicial tax sale (72 P.S. § § 5860.605, 5860.610).

What happens to liens in a judicial tax sale. Unlike with an upset tax sale, homes that are sold at a Pennsylvania judicial tax sale are sold free and clear of liens (72 P.S. § 5860.612).

How judicial tax sales work. After the tax claim bureau files its petition, the court will set a date for the judicial tax sale (72 P.S. § 5860.612). (Both upset tax sales and judicial tax sales are conducted as auctions.)

Notice by publication. If the bureau files its petition three months or more after the scheduled upset sale date, then the sale must be advertised in a newspaper at least 30 days prior to the sale (72 P.S. § 5860.612). (If the petition is filed within three months of the scheduled upset sale date, the sale is not advertised in a newspaper.)

Repository of Unsold Properties

If the home does not sell at the judicial tax sale, it goes into the repository of unsold properties (72 P.S. § 5860.626). The bureau may then, with the written consent of all the taxing districts where the property is located, sell the home without further court approval or publication in a newspaper (72 P.S. § 5860.627).

The property is then conveyed to the purchaser free and clear of liens (72 P.S. § 5860.627).

Redeeming the Home

Some states allow homeowners to get their home back after a tax sale, which is called "redeeming" the home.

In Pennsylvania, you might get the chance to redeem after the tax sale. (The issue of whether or not you get to redeem your home after a tax sale in Pennsylvania is complicated. Learn more in Getting Your Home Back After a Property Tax Sale in Pennsylvania.)

How to Find Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Tax Sale Law

To find the Real Estate Tax Sale Law that governs your unpaid tax situation, go to the Pennsylvania Statutes (72 P.S. § § 5860.101 through 5860.803). If you’re having trouble finding the statutes, see Nolo’s Legal Research FAQs & Basic Info area.

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