What Happens If I Don't Pay Property Taxes in Washington

If you fail to pay your property taxes in Washington, you could eventually lose your home in a tax foreclosure.

People who own real property must pay property taxes. The government uses the money that these taxes generate to pay for schools, public services, libraries, roads, parks, and the like. Typically, the tax amount is based on a property's assessed value. If you have a mortgage on your home, the loan servicer might collect money from you as part of the monthly mortgage payment to later pay the property taxes. The servicer pays the taxes on the homeowner's behalf through an escrow account. But if the taxes aren't collected and paid through this kind of account, the homeowner must pay them directly.

When homeowners don't pay their property taxes, the overdue amount becomes a lien on the property. A lien effectively makes the property act as collateral for the debt. All states have laws that allow the local government to sell a home through a tax sale process to collect delinquent taxes. Accordingly, in Washington, if your property tax payment is three or more years delinquent, you could potentially lose your home to a tax sale after a foreclosure process.

Fortunately, a tax sale usually only happens if you don't respond to notice from the tax collector about getting caught up. But if you let the tax sale go through, you'll most likely lose ownership of your property.

How Tax Foreclosures in Washington Work

In Washington, once your yearly taxes are three years delinquent, the county can start a foreclosure. (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.050).

After your property tax payment is 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 filing starts the foreclosure process.

Notice of the Foreclosure

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).

A notice of sale is also posted publicly for ten days. (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.080).

How to Stop a Tax Sale By Paying the Delinquent Amounts

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 § 84.64.070). Getting current on the delinquent amounts is called "redeeming the property" (see below).

Washington Tax Sale Procedures

If you don't cure the default, the court will issue a foreclosure judgment and 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).

Redeeming the Property After a Tax Sale

In many states, the homeowner can redeem the home after a tax sale by paying the buyer from the tax sale the amount paid (or by paying the taxes owed), plus interest, within a limited amount of time. Exactly how long the redemption period lasts varies from state to state, but usually, the homeowner gets at least a year from the sale to redeem the property.

In other states, the redemption period happens before the sale.

Usually, You Can't Get Your Home Back After a Washington Tax Foreclosure

In Washington, you can redeem the property at any time before the close of business the day before the sale date, by paying:

  • the delinquent amounts
  • interest at the statutory rate charged on late property taxes from the date of the certificate of delinquency until you redeem, and
  • all additional taxes, interest, and costs that have accrued. (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.070).

Under Washington law, however, most homeowners who lose their homes to tax sales don't get a post-sale redemption period. But if a minor or a person who is declared legally incompetent loses a home to a tax sale, then that person can redeem within three years after the sale date.

Does a Mortgage Survive a Tax Foreclosure in Washington?

Property tax liens almost always have priority over other liens, including mortgage liens and deed of trust liens. (For purposes of this discussion, the terms "mortgage" and "deed of trust" are used interchangeably.) Because a property tax lien has priority, if your home is sold through a tax foreclosure, the sale wipes out any mortgages. So, the loan servicer will usually advance money to pay delinquent property taxes to prevent this from happening. The servicer will then demand reimbursement from you (the borrower).

The terms of most mortgage contracts require the borrower to stay current on the property taxes. If you don't reimburse the servicer for the tax amount that it paid, you'll be in default under the terms of the mortgage, and the servicer can foreclose on the home in the same manner as if you had fallen behind in monthly payments.

Your Servicer Might Set Up an Escrow Account

After demanding repayment of the amount it paid for the taxes, penalties, plus interest (and assuming you repay this tax debt), your servicer will probably set up an escrow account for the loan. Each month, you'll have to pay approximately one-twelfth of the estimated annual cost of property taxes—and perhaps other expenses, like insurance—along with your usual monthly payment of principal and interest. This money goes into the escrow account. The loan servicer then pays the cost of the taxes and other escrow items on your behalf through the escrow account.

The downside to having an escrow account is that you'll have to make a bigger payment to the servicer each month. On the positive side, having an escrow account saves you from having to come up with a large amount of money when tax bills, and perhaps other bills, are due.

Getting Help

If you're having trouble paying your property taxes, you might be able to reduce your tax bill or get extra time to pay. If you're already facing a property tax foreclosure in Washington and have questions or need help redeeming your property, consider talking to a foreclosure lawyer, tax lawyer, or real estate lawyer.

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