UMass Law Professor Ralph Clifford was quoted in Commonwealth Magazine on municipalities foreclosing on homes with tax liens without proper due process. The article follows the story of a Massachusetts man who is fighting to save his home of decades from seizure for overdue taxes. The lien for an unpaid $3,056 property tax bill is what may end up costing the Massachusetts man his $254,000 home. The question at hand is: do towns give delinquent taxpayers enough notice before their property is foreclosed?
Professor Clifford is no stranger to the unconstitutionality of tax lien laws - in 2018 he published an article in the University of Massachusetts Law Review on the subject. Clifford explains in his article how towns do not provide due process to homeowners before the town tax collector seizes a property. Many homeowners who are affected by tax lien laws are elderly, who may own their home but miss tax payments for reasons ranging from ill health to financial struggles. Currently, there are bills pending before the Legislature that would modify the state’s tax lien law to give homeowners more transparent notifications of liens and more opportunity to fight off foreclosure, or at least receive a portion of the sale if the home is sold. Clifford estimates that each year in the state approximately $56 million is “unconstitutionally appropriated from taxpayers.”
Although Clifford clarifies that there is no problem with a municipality taking a property to recover unpaid taxes, there is a line drawn when a municipality sells a $200,000 house to cover a $3,000 debt, then keeps the change, which Clifford defines as “theft.” “We’re not talking about a little bit of ‘theft,’” Clifford said. “We’re talking $50 to $60 million every single year here. And that’s a pretty outrageous amount of money for the government to be appropriating.”