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

If you default on property taxes in South Carolina, you may lose your home.

In South Carolina, if you become delinquent in paying your property taxes, the late amounts become a lien on your home. The tax collector can then sell your home to satisfy the lien. When this happens, you are allotted some time in which to get caught up -- but if you fail to do so, you’ll eventually lose ownership of your home to the person (or entity) that bought it at the sale.

Read on to learn more about delinquent tax sales in South Carolina and how you can avoid losing your home to one.

South Carolina Property Tax Sales

In South Carolina, the property taxes that you owe (including delinquent taxes, assessments, penalties, and costs) become a lien on your home. If you don’t pay them off, the person officially in charge of collecting delinquent taxes (most likely the tax collector or county treasurer) can sell your home at a public auction (S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-50). (If you are struggling to pay your property taxes, learn about your options to avoid a tax sale.)

How Tax Sales Work in South Carolina

At the auction, the winning bidder will be the person (or entity) that offers an amount sufficient to cover at least the amount of the delinquent taxes, assessments, penalties, and costs (S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-50).

The winning bidder (the purchaser) does not immediately get title to your home. Instead, he or she gets a receipt after the sale (S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-60). (If no one bids on your home at the sale, the Forfeited Land Commission will be the winning bidder, unless the property is contaminated and the Commission chooses not to bid; see S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-55.)

If you don’t get paid up on the back taxes (plus some other amounts), the purchaser can obtain title to your home after a certain amount of time.

Receiving Notice of the Tax Sale

You might not actually learn about an upcoming delinquent tax sale for your home unless you diligently read your local newspaper. This is because South Carolina law only requires notice of the sale to be published in a local newspaper, once a week for three consecutive weeks (S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-40). It will probably be buried in fine print somewhere!

You won’t get a mailed notice of the sale. You will, however, receive notice in the mail about the delinquency before the publication about the sale takes place (S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-40).

Your Redemption Period After the Tax Sale

Following the tax sale, you get 12 months to pay off the delinquent taxes (and various other sums), which will prevent the purchaser from taking title to your home (S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-90). This is called “redeeming” the home. (Learn more in Getting Your Home Back After a Property Tax Sale in South Carolina.)

If you don’t redeem the home, then the purchaser gets a tax deed to the property (S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-90). This means he or she becomes the new owner of your home.

How to Find South Carolina’s Tax Sale Statutes

To locate South Carolina’s tax sale laws, go to Title 12, Chapter 51 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. You can find the Code on the South Carolina State Legislature’s website at www.scstatehouse.gov. Click on “Code of Laws.” (If you need help finding the statutes, see Nolo’s Legal Research FAQs & Basic Info area.)

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