UMass Law Professor Ralph Clifford was quoted in a Herald Courier article on homeowners whose overdue utility bills and other taxes lead to home foreclosures. The elderly and disabled are particularly at risk for tax lien foreclosure, when financial management becomes difficult due to cognitive disorders or dementia.
“It’s justifiable that the town takes the property for nonpayment of taxes, but it has to be done in a way that’s fair to the consumer,” Professor Clifford said, noting that smaller liens like water bills or other fees fall into a similar category as taxes. Professor Clifford also suggested that a judge, not a city tax agency, should determine whether houses should be foreclosed on. “If you have a property where $1,000 in taxes is owed, you don’t take a property that’s worth $200,000.”
Professor Clifford’s article, “Massachusetts Has a Problem: The Unconstitutionality of the Tax Deed,” explores the failure of the tax deed procedure and the due process to taxpayers. Professor 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.