What Happens If You Don't Pay Property Taxes on Your Home?

What happens if you don’t pay property taxes? You might lose your home. Here’s how.

By , Attorney

People who own real estate must pay property taxes. These taxes fund services the government provides, like schools, libraries, roads, parks, and the like. The amount of tax due is usually based on the home's assessed value.

But what happens if you don't pay your property taxes? First, the delinquent amount becomes a lien on the home. Then, if you don't pay off the debt, the taxing authority could sell your home, possibly through a tax foreclosure process. Or the taxing authority might sell the tax lien that it holds, and the purchaser might be able to foreclose or use other procedures to get a deed to the property.

Each state has a different tax sale process.

The Taxing Authority Might Hold a Tax Sale

Once a property tax lien is on a home, the taxing authority, such as the county, might eventually hold a tax sale. Generally, the two basic types of tax sales are "tax deed sales" and "tax lien certificate sales."

What Is a Tax Deed Sale?

In a tax deed sale, the taxing authority sells the home outright. The buyer gets a deed (title) to the property.

But the purchaser might not get the deed to the property right away. Sometimes, a redemption period must expire before the buyer gets the deed.

What Is a Tax Lien Certificate Sale?

In a tax lien certificate sale, the taxing authority sells the tax lien. The purchaser gets the right to collect the debt, penalties, and interest.

If the homeowner doesn't pay the delinquent amounts by a particular deadline, the lien purchaser can typically foreclose or follow other procedures to convert the certificate to a deed. By going through a state-specific process, the person or entity that bought the tax lien can get ownership of the property.

Other Tax Sale Procedures

In some jurisdictions, though, a sale isn't held. Instead, the taxing authority simply executes its lien by taking title to the home. State law then generally provides a procedure for the taxing authority to dispose of the property, usually by selling it.

In other jurisdictions, the taxing authority uses a foreclosure process before holding a sale.

Your Right to Redeem the Home Before or After a Tax Sale

In many states, the homeowner can "redeem" the home after a tax sale. "Redeeming" means reimbursing the buyer the amount they paid at the sale (or paying the taxes owed), plus interest and costs, within a limited time, to reclaim the property.

Exactly how long the redemption period lasts varies from state to state. But usually, the homeowner gets at least a year after a tax sale to redeem the property.

In some states, though, the redemption period happens before the sale.

When Your Mortgage Lender Might Foreclose Because of Unpaid Property Taxes

If you have a mortgage on your home, your loan servicer (on behalf of the lender) might collect property taxes as part of the mortgage payment and pay the taxes on your behalf through an escrow account.

But if the taxes aren't collected and paid through escrow, you must pay them directly.

The Servicer Might Pay Any Delinquent Taxes If You Don't

If your loan isn't escrowed and you don't pay the property taxes, the loan servicer might pay any delinquent taxes and then bill you for them. Here's why: 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" mean the same thing.)

Because a property tax lien has priority, a tax sale wipes out any mortgages. So, the loan servicer will usually advance money to pay delinquent property taxes to prevent this kind of sale from happening. The servicer will then demand reimbursement from you, the borrower.

If You Don't Reimburse the Servicer, You Might Lose Your Home to a Regular Foreclosure

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 mortgage's terms.

The servicer can then 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, your servicer will probably set up an escrow account for the loan (assuming you pay the servicer for the taxes it paid).

How Much You'll Have to Pay for Escrow Items

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 regular monthly payment of principal and interest. This money goes into the escrow account.

The servicer will then pay the property taxes and any other escrow items when they come due.

What Gives the Servicer the Right to Set Up an Escrow Account?

Many mortgages have a clause allowing the lender to establish an escrow account basically at any time. The servicer establishes and manages the account on the lender's behalf.

To find out if and when the lender can set up an escrow account for your loan, read your mortgage contract and any other relevant documentation you've signed, like an escrow waiver.

Pros and Cons of Having an Escrow Account

The downside to having an escrow account is that you'll have to make a bigger monthly payment to the servicer. 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 possibly others, 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.

Talk to a local real estate attorney or tax attorney to find out more about how tax sales work in your state and the right of redemption. Consider talking to a foreclosure attorney if you're facing a foreclosure and want to learn about options for your particular circumstances.

Tax Sale Information By State

The chart below covers which process is used most often in a particular state. Sometimes, the redemption period is extended for minors, incapacitated persons, or military servicemembers, or reduced or eliminated if the property is abandoned. The chart doesn't include this information. Click on the link for your state to get details about the process where you live.

State

Most Common Procedure

Redemption Period

Alabama

Tax lien sale

Generally, if the state buys the lien, you may redeem at any time before the title passes out of the state or, if someone else buys the lien, within three years from the sale date. (Ala. Code § 40-10-120.)

Alaska

Tax foreclosure

One year. (Alaska Stat. § 29.45.400.) The right of redemption expires 30 days after the date of the first redemption period expiration notice. (Alaska Stat. § 29.45.440.)

Arizona

Tax lien sale

Three-year redemption period after the sale. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 42-18152.)

Arkansas

Tax forfeiture

You can redeem the home before certification to the Commissioner of State Lands and at any time up until the sale. Also, within ten days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays) after the sale. (Ark. Code § 26-37-202.)

California

Tax sale

You get five years after you fall behind in taxes to get current on the delinquent amounts. After five years, if you don't redeem, the tax collector can sell your home. (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 3691.)

Colorado

Tax lien sale

Three-year redemption period after a tax lien sale. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-11-120). Also, you can redeem at any time before the execution of a treasurer's deed giving the purchaser, or the county, title to your home. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 39-12-103.)

Connecticut

Tax sale or tax foreclosure

Usually six months after a tax sale, but the time frame can vary depending on the circumstances. (Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 12-157). In a tax foreclosure, the court sets the time limit for redemption. (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 12-181.)

Delaware

Tax sale

60 days after the sale. (Del. Code Ann. tit. 9 § 8729.)

District of Columbia

Tax sale

Following the sale, the purchaser must wait six months before it takes steps to foreclose your right to redeem. After foreclosing your right of redemption, the purchaser will own your home. You can redeem at any time up until the foreclosure is final. (D.C. Code § 47-1360, § 47-1370.)

Florida

Tax lien sale and then tax deed sale if you don't pay

Any time before the county issues the tax deed to the new owner, but not if the court clerk has already received full payment for the deed. (Fla. Stat. § 197.472).

Georgia

Tax sale

12-month redemption period after the sale. (Ga. Code Ann. § 48-4-40).

Hawaii

Once the lien has been in existence for three years, the tax collector can sell the home at a public auction

One year after the sale. But if the deed isn't recorded within 60 days after the sale, then the redemption period is one year from the recording date. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 231-67.)

Idaho

County gets title through a tax deed process, then holds sale

Three years after taxes become delinquent. (Idaho Code Ann. § 63-1005.) And 14 months after issuance of tax deed to county, unless county commissioners have extinguished right of redemption by entering into a contract of sale or the property has been transferred by county deed. (Idaho Code Ann. § 31-808.)

Illinois

Tax sale (annual)

Typically, two years and six months after the sale, although the time frame might be different depending on the circumstances. (35 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 200/21-350.)

Indiana

Tax sale

Generally, one year after the sale to pay the redemption amount and reclaim the home following the sale. (Ind. Code § 6-1.1-25-4). Sometimes, 120 days. (Ind. Code § 6-1.1-24-9, § 6-1.1-25-4).

Iowa

Tax sale

In most cases, the redemption period is one year and nine months after the sale. (Iowa Code Ann. § 447.9.) After the redemption period expires, another 90 days after purchaser mails a notice about the right to redeem expiring. (Iowa Code Ann. § 447.9, § 447.12.)

Kansas

Tax sale then foreclosure

One to three years after the county acquires it at a tax sale, depending on the circumstances. Also, you can redeem until the day before the public sale in the foreclosure process. (Kansas Stat. Ann. § 79-2803.)

Kentucky

Tax foreclosure by collector or tax lien sale and foreclosure

Foreclosure by collector: Right to redeem at any time before the foreclosure sale takes place. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 91.4884, 91.511). Also, 60 days after the sale if the purchase price is less than the home's assessed value. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 91.4884, 91.511). Tax lien sale and foreclosure: The purchaser can't start a lawsuit to foreclose until one year after the date the taxes became delinquent. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134.546.) Also, an additional redemption period if the property is sold for less than the assessed value. If the property sold for less than two-thirds of its appraised value at the sale, the additional redemption period is six months. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 134.546, 426.530.) If the state, county, or taxing district forecloses the lien, the property may be redeemed at any time before the master commissioner gives a deed to the purchaser. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134.549.)

Louisiana

Tax sale

Generally, three years after the date the tax sale certificate was recorded. (La. Const. Art. VII, § 25.) But under some circumstances, the redemption period is shorter.

Maine

Tax sale

Two years after the tax sale. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 36 § 1078.)

Maryland

Tax sale (purchaser gets tax lien certificate)

Property can be redeemed at any time before right of redemption is foreclosed. (Md. Code Ann., Tax-Prop. § 14-827.)

Massachusetts

Tax sale or tax taking

To get free and clear ownership of your home, the buyer who purchased it at the tax sale (or the city or town, if it got your home through a taking) must foreclose your right of redemption. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 64.) The purchaser who bought the home at the tax sale or the city or town generally must wait six months following the sale or taking before starting a foreclosure to eliminate your right of redemption. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 60, § 65.)

Michigan

Tax forfeiture and foreclosure process

Unless all unpaid delinquent taxes, interest, penalties, and fees are paid on or before the March 31 immediately succeeding the entry of a judgment foreclosing the property or, in a contested case, within 21 days of the entry of a judgment foreclosing the property, the title to the property goes to the foreclosing governmental entity. So, March 31st in the third year of the delinquency is generally the last day you get to redeem the home. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 211.78g.) But if you contest the foreclosure by filing a written objection with the court, your deadline to redeem is within 21 days after the court enters the foreclosure judgment. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 211.78k.)

Minnesota

Tax judgment sale

Typically, three years from the time of the tax judgment sale. (Minn. Stat. § 281.17.)

Mississippi

Tax certificate sale

Most homeowners get two years after the sale to redeem the home. (Miss. Code Ann. § 27-45-3, § 21-33-61.)

Missouri

Tax sale

Within one year after the sale and up until the deed is issued, if it was sold at a first or second offering. Ninety days if the property was sold at a third offering. (Mo. Ann. Stat. § 140.340, § 140.250). No redemption period if someone purchases the home in a fourth or subsequent sale. (Mo. Ann. Stat. § 140.250).

Montana

Tax lien sale

Following the tax lien sale, you must redeem by, generally, the first working day in August, three years after the attachment of the tax lien or the first working day in August, two years after the attachment of the tax lien if the property is an undeveloped lot upon which special improvement district assessments or rural special improvement district assessments are delinquent. (Mont. Code Ann. § 15-18-111.)

Nebraska

Tax sale (purchaser gets tax lien certificate)

At least three years after the sale. (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 77-1837, 77-1902.)

Nevada

Tax sale

Two-year redemption period happens before the county gets title and can sell home at a tax sale. (Nev. Rev. Stat. §§ 361.5648, 361.570.)

New Hampshire

Tax sale or alternate procedure

Two years after a tax sale (N.H. Restat. Ann. §§ 80:32, 80:38.) For alternate procedure, if the taxes remain unpaid for two years from the execution of the tax lien, the tax collector deeds the property to the municipality. (N.H. Restat. Ann. § 80:76.)

New Jersey

Tax sale

Usually at least two years after the sale, if someone bought the certificate, or six months after the sale if the municipality got the certificate of sale. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 54:5-86.) After the redemption period expires, the purchaser or municipality can begin a foreclosure by filing a complaint (a lawsuit) with the Superior Court. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 54:5-86.) The court will eventually enter a judgment, which eliminates the right to redeem. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 54:5-86, § 54:5-87).

New Mexico

Tax sale

Three years after the first delinquent date shown on the tax delinquency list, the Taxation and Revenue Department will schedule a sale to sell your home to pay off the tax debt. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 7-38-67.) No redemption period after the tax sale.

New York

Tax foreclosure

Generally, the redemption period expires two years after the lien date. But local law may provide a longer redemption period. (N.Y. Real Prop. Tax Law § 1110.)

North Carolina

Tax foreclosure (mortgage-type foreclosure or in rem foreclosure)

In a mortgage-type tax foreclosure, you may redeem before the court confirms the sale. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 105-374.) After an in rem foreclosure, You can stop the foreclosure by paying off the debt before the upset-bid period ends. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-339.57). North Carolina law says that payment in full of the judgment together with interest and costs cancels the judgment. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 105-375.)

North Dakota

Tax lien foreclosure and tax deed process: Right to redeem at any time between the tax lien foreclosure notice and October 1. (N.D. Cent. Code § 57-28-05.) If you don't redeem by October 1, the county auditor issues a deed to county, which then sells the property. (N.D. Cent. Code § 57-28-09). Possibility of repurchasing the home after the tax lien foreclosure but before sale.

Ohio

Tax lien sale or tax lien foreclosure

Tax lien sale: At least one year. (Ohio Rev. Code § 5721.38). Once the one-year redemption period expires, the tax-lien purchaser can foreclose. Redemption allowed up until the court confirms the foreclosure sale. (Ohio Rev. Code § 5721.38.) Tax lien foreclosure: Any time before the court confirms the sale. (Ohio Rev. Code § 5721.25.)

Oklahoma

Tax sale

If you don't pay your property taxes for three or more years, the county treasurer can sell your home to satisfy the unpaid debt. (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 68 § 3105, § 3125.) Redemption must happen before the county treasurer executes the deed to the new owner. (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 68 § 3113.)

Oregon

Tax foreclosure

Two years after the foreclosure judgment. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 312.120, § 312.200.) Shortened redemption period in cases of waste or abandonment. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 312.122.)

Pennsylvania

Tax sale

Pennsylvania's Real Estate Tax Sale Law generally says that you can't redeem your home after a sale. (72 P.S. § 5860.501.) But you might be able to redeem in some circumstances. Some counties permit redemption.

Rhode Island

Tax sale: Purchaser must wait one year after the sale before starting the foreclosure to eliminate right of redemption. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-9-25.) So, the redemption period generally lasts at least one year after the sale. Right to redeem lasts up until the purchaser files the petition for foreclosure. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-9-21.) To redeem after that, you must go through the court that is handling the foreclosure. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-9-29).

South Carolina

Tax sale

Twelve months. (S.C. Code Ann. § 12-51-90.)

South Dakota

Tax lien sale: Three years after tax certificate sale. (S.D. Codified Laws § 10-25-1.) After redemption period expires, to get the tax deed, the person or entity that bought the certificate at the sale (or the county) must personally serve a written notice of the intent to get a tax deed and giving an additional 60 days to redeem. (S.D. Codified Laws §§ 10-25-2, 10-25-5.)

Tennessee

Tax lawsuit and then sale

Redemption period of one year begins when the court enters an order confirming the sale. The redemption period may be reduced in some circumstances. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-2701.)

Texas

Tax foreclosure

In most cases, two years after the date the deed from the foreclosure sale is filed in the county records. (Tex. Tax Code § 34.21.)

Utah

Tax sale after taxes are four years delinquent

No post-sale redemption period. (Utah Code Ann. §§ 59-2-1346, 59-2-1351.1.)

Vermont

Tax deed sale, purchaser gets a deed after the redemption period expires

One year after the sale. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 32 § 5260.)

Virginia

Tax foreclosure

No redemption period after a sale resulting from a tax foreclosure. The redemption period happens before the sale. Typically, redemption must happen by 5:00 on the day prior to the auction. (Va. Code Ann. § 58.1-3965). Check with the county treasurer to find out the exact deadline.

Washington

Tax foreclosure

Usually, no right to redeem after the sale resulting from the tax foreclosure. Redemption allowed at any time before the close of business the day before the sale date. (Wash. Rev. Code § 84.64.070.)

West Virginia

Tax lien sale

Redemption allowed at any time before the tax deed is issued. (W. Va. Code § 11A-3-23.) People generally get around 18 months to redeem after the sale, but the redemption period might be different.

Wisconsin

Tax certificate to county and deed process

Most people get a two-year redemption period before the county can start the process to get title to the property. (Wis. Stat. § 74.57.) One year in some circumstances. Exactly when the right to redeem ends depends on which process the county uses to get title to the home following the redemption period.

Wyoming

Tax lien sale: Four-year redemption period after tax lien sale. (Wyo. Stat. § 39-13-108.)

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