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

If you default on property taxes in Wisconsin, you'll eventually lose your home to the county.

In Wisconsin, you could lose your home to the county if you don’t pay your property taxes. The county will then sell the home to a new owner. You'll get notice along the way, and an opportunity to pay off the delinquent amounts (plus interest and penalties) in order to keep your home, as well as the chance to buy your home back from the county.

What Happens if You Don’t Pay Property Taxes in Wisconsin

When you don’t pay your property taxes in Wisconsin, the county will get a “tax certificate.” The county treasurer issues the tax certificate, which includes all parcels that have unpaid taxes, to the county on September 1st  of each year (Wis. Stat. § 74.57). (Learn about your  options if you can't pay the property taxes on your home.)

Notice of the Tax Certificate

The county treasurer will mail you a notice within 90 days after issuing the tax certificate (Wis. Stat. § 74.59).

How the County Obtains Title to Your Home

If you don’t pay off the delinquent amounts during the redemption period (see Your Right to Redeem, below), the county can get title (ownership) of your home by using one of the following processes (Wis. Stat. § 74.57).

Recording a tax deed.  The county can submit an application to the county clerk for a tax deed after mailing you a notice. The county clerk will then issue a deed to the county, and the county will record the deed (Wis. Stat. § § 75.12, 75.14).

There are two procedures the county may choose from in order to foreclose on your home:

Foreclosing the tax certificate by a special procedure called an “in rem” foreclosure.  The county may file a petition with the court, along with a list of all tax-delinquent properties that the county is foreclosing. You’ll receive notice of the action, and you may file an answer, if you choose to do so. The county must also publish notice in a newspaper as part of the process. If the county proves it case, the court will issue a judgment of foreclosure and you'll lose ownership of the home (Wis. Stat. § 75.521).

Foreclosing the tax certificate in the same way that a mortgage lender would foreclose.  The county may instead choose to foreclose the tax certificate using the same process as a mortgage foreclosure (Wis. Stat. § 75.19). (You can find more detailed articles on various aspects of Wisconsin mortgage foreclosure law in Nolo’s  Wisconsin Foreclosure Law Center.)

Your Right to Redeem the Home

In Wisconsin, you typically get two years to pay off all taxes, penalties, interest, and other costs before the county can start the process to obtain title to your home. This is called a redemption period. (The redemption period may be limited to one year under certain circumstances.)

Additional time to redeem.  Depending on which process the county uses to get title to your home, you’ll probably get some additional time to pay off the debt ("redeem") after the redemption period expires. (Learn more in  Getting Your Home Back After a Property Tax Sale in Wisconsin.)

What Happens After the County Gets Title to the Home

After the county obtains ownership of your property, it will sell the home to a new owner. Under Wisconsin law, the county can sell it back to you, if you want to repurchase the home (Wis. Stat. § 75.35).

However, you’ll probably have to pay the fair market value of the home, or more, since you may have to compete with other buyers. In most cases, it would be cheaper to pay off the delinquent amount before the redemption period expires rather than to repurchase the home after the county takes ownership.

Where to Find Wisconsin’s Tax Foreclosure Laws

If you want to look up Wisconsin’s tax statutes, the citations are: Wisconsin Statutes § § 74.01 through 74.87 and § § 75.001 through 75.69.

To find the Wisconsin Statutes, go to the Wisconsin State Legislature’s website at  https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov. (If you need help finding the statutes, see Nolo’s  Legal Research FAQs & Basic Info  area.)

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