A widow in Pennsylvania lost her home, worth nearly $300,000, for failure to pay $6.30 in late fees and interest from back taxes. According to Common Pleas Judge Gus Kwidis, Eileen Battisti was given plenty of notice to pay the fees. The judge also said she was given plenty of notice of the county tax claim bureau’s intention to sell her home at a tax auction if the fees were not paid.
Joe Asker, the county’s chief solicitor, said the judge did not have much choice because the tax claim bureau followed the proper protocol and could prove the Battisti had received the notices. Asker went on to say no one wants to see any homeowner lose their house to a tax sale but this case is no different from any other. It is unfortunate but the tax sale law is clear; if a person does not pay their taxes for a two-year period, the sale must proceed.
Battisti purchased the home in 1999 with her husband, Anthony, who is now deceased. After Anthony’s death she paid off the mortgage with benefits from his life insurance policy. Although her house was paid for she had a difficult time keeping up with her other bills due to other personal issues she was experiencing, included taking care of her daughter who had been seriously injured in a car accident.
Before Battisti lost her husband he was responsible for handling all of the finances for the family, including paperwork for the property taxes. After his death those responsibilities fell on her alone.
In March 2009 the Central Valley School District notified the county tax claim bureau that Battisti was behind on her property taxes, according to the court. She sent the bureau a check for $897.19 which is what she believed she owed. Although Battisti paid her bill in full, before it was received by the bureau another $6.30 was added in interest.
The tax bureau then sent another notice of the unpaid amount which included postage and costs totaling $28.25, according to the court filing. This notice was returned to the tax bureau marked unclaimed; apparently no further notices were sent to Battisti. The following year she was notified of unpaid taxes and again paid them in full. She never received information about the original $6.30 balance which was noted unpaid.
Askar said the widow could have paid the fees as late as the morning of the tax upset sale, but she did not show up. On September 12, 2011 her home was sold for less than half of its value to S. P. Lewis. Battisti still lives in the house but plans on appealing the sale to Commonwealth Court. If her appeals fail she would receive most of the sale monies.
The widow said she only found out about the sale of her home when Mr. Lewis, the new owner, contacted her a couple of weeks after he purchased her home. Battisti filed an objection within the designated time frame of 30-days in hopes of reversing the sale. She said the reason for her objection was that she had not been given the required notice of any outstanding debt nor pending sale. The court disagreed.
Two first-class letters were sent by the tax claim bureau and were not returned but the two certified letters were returned undeliverable. According to the law if a first-class letter is mailed but not returned it is considered received. Also, the deputies post a white letter-sized sheet of paper on her front door notifying her of the bureau’s intention to sell her property. This bright notice would have been visible when she pulled into her driveway or even drove past the house. Battisti testified previously that she and her adult son were living in the house during that time frame.
Battisti said she paid everything but did not know about the $6.30. For her house to be sold because of $6.30 is crazy, said the widowed woman. Askar said he does not thing the judge had any wiggle room to make any other decision. He also thinks the Commonwealth Court is going to affirm Judge Kwidis’ decision.
Eileen Battisti lost her Pennsylvania home, which is valued close to $300,000, for failure to pay $6.30 in late fees and interest from back taxes. According to Common Pleas Judge Gus Kwidis, the widow was given plenty of notice to pay the fees as well as the county tax claim bureau’s intention to sell her home at a tax auction if the fees were not paid.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)