UMass Law Professor Ralph Clifford was quoted in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly on the imbalances of justice in property tax law. Three years ago, Clifford published an op-ed piece in MLW sounding the alarm on the injustice many homeowners face whose overdue utility bills and other taxes lead to home foreclosures. Properties are being taken by municipalities and sold to third parties, leaving the foreclosed-on homeowner with a significant loss in equity.
In Professor Clifford’s published article, “Massachusetts Has a Problem: The Unconstitutionality of the Tax Deed,” he explores the failure of the tax deed procedure and the due process to taxpayers. Clifford studied a random sample of tax lien foreclosure cases in the Massachusetts Land Court. The study found that the municipalities prevailed in 15.79% of the foreclosure cases. In those cases, the homeowners’ combined outstanding tax liabilities were $1,352,000, while the combined assessed value of the properties foreclosed upon was $57,953,000, over $56 million more than the outstanding tax liabilities.
Fast forward, the issue is gaining momentum and attention in courts. Following a case of two brothers facing to lose their childhood home over $4,000 in past-due taxes, Clifford was quoted by MLW discussing that he is glad to see that individual property owners are taking the initiative to fight back. “The process is just facially invalid. You can’t take property and then have the trial. It doesn’t work that way” said Clifford. The vicious cycle of towns needing the money and homeowners’ inability to pay their dues is causing a need for significant change in property tax law, especially when municipalities are making a profit off the situation, leaving homeowners in a serious predicament.