In Washington, if you fall three or more years behind in paying your real property taxes, the county can foreclose and you could eventually lose your home to a tax sale. You'll get some notice before this happens and the chance to get caught up on the delinquent amounts (plus interest and costs) so that you can keep your home. However, if you let the foreclosure go through all the way to sale, you’ll lose your home permanently.
In Washington, the county can start a foreclosure when you fall three years behind on your property taxes. The foreclosure begins when one year's taxes are three years past due, not when there are three years of unpaid taxes. For example, if you didn’t pay your 2012 property taxes, then you’ll face a foreclosure in 2015 -- even if you paid the taxes in 2013 and 2014. (Learn about your options if you can't pay the property taxes on your home.)
Once your property taxes are three years overdue, the county treasurer will issue a certificate of delinquency, which is filed with the court clerk (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.050). This starts the foreclosure process.
The county will serve you (in person or by publication in a newspaper and by mail) notice of the court action and a summons. You get 30 days to respond to the foreclosure action or pay the past-due amounts to stop the foreclosure (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.050).
The notice is also posted publicly for ten days (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.080).
You can pay the overdue amounts (including taxes, interest, and costs) and stop the foreclosure at any time before the close of business the day before the sale (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.050). This is called “curing the default.”
If you don't get caught up, the court will issue a foreclosure judgment and then the county treasurer will sell your home at a public auction to the highest bidder. The minimum bid must be the owed amount of taxes, interest, and costs. The county treasurer then issues a tax deed, which gives title to your home to the winning bidder (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.080).
Some states give homeowners a period of time after a tax sale to get the home back by reimbursing the high bidder for the purchase price that he or she paid at the tax sale. This is called a “redemption” period.
In Washington, there is generally no post-sale redemption period for the homeowner. However, if a minor or a person who is declared legally incompetent loses his or her home to a tax sale, then that person can redeem within three years after the sale date (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.070). (Learn more in Getting Your Home Back After a Property Tax Sale in Washington.)
If you want to read Washington’s tax foreclosure statutes, the citations are: Washington Revised Code § § 84.64.005 through 84.64.215
To find the Revised Code of Washington, go to the Washington State Legislature’s website at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw. (If you need help finding the statutes, see Nolo’s Legal Research FAQs & Basic Info area.)