Douglas County set to sell tax foreclosed properties, six years after the delinquent owners last paid

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

While the Douglas County government tends to give local property owners a few years to pay back taxes, it could take five years — or even more — before it sells those properties to recoup lost tax revenue.

Douglas County will soon offer a tax foreclosure sale on properties that have not paid their taxes. But the properties that will be up for sale include four parcels of land that have not paid county taxes since 2013, about six years ago.

Jeff Heiman, a local attorney who processes the tax foreclosure lawsuits for the county, said the process to sell those properties took longer than he expected.

“Frankly, I hoped we would be further along on (the sale),” Heiman said. “But we’re getting close.”

However, the county taking five years to sell delinquent properties is not uncommon.

Douglas County’s last two tax foreclosure sales — which were held in March 2018 and January 2016 — were also conducted about five or six years after property owners last paid taxes. Those sales included properties that were delinquent since 2012 and 2011, respectively, said Stacy Kurtz, director of taxation and accounting for the county.

The five-year span occurs for a couple of reasons, Heiman said.

While some properties, such as abandoned buildings, can be sold by the county after they are delinquent for two years, Heiman said that is not the case for all properties. Kansas statute allows some properties, such as homes, to be sold only after a three-year period has passed.

To make up for the time difference among properties, Heiman said the county waits for a three-year period on all properties “to be safe.”

Additionally, the county’s clock on delinquent properties doesn’t begin ticking until about a year has passed without the owner paying taxes. That means the taxes on the 2013 properties weren’t initially considered delinquent until midway through 2014 and they weren’t eligible for the foreclosure sale until 2017. So the county doesn’t begin the process of selling delinquent properties until about four years have passed since the owner last paid taxes.

While the process takes time, Heiman said it’s not a bad thing. He said the list of parcels that could be up for sale generally starts with a lot of properties, but the county sends out final notices before filing a lawsuit in hopes that some owners will finally pay up.

“Obviously we don’t want to foreclose on these if we don’t have to,” he said. “We do that to hopefully whittle down the list and give people as much opportunity to get their taxes paid so their properties don’t get included in the lawsuit.”

But if property owners miss that last chance, the county will file a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court to get approval from a judge to move forward with the sale. The pace of that process is then in the hands of the local legal system.

For the 2013 properties, the county filed its lawsuit in June 2018. It took more than a year before a judge gave the final approval for the sale to move forward — Judge Kay Huff approved the location of the sale on Sept. 17 of this year, according to court records.

Heiman said the lawsuit for the 2013 properties took longer than he expected because the county had problems finding all of the property owners involved. Part of the legal process involves sending official notices to the owners that the properties are being foreclosed on, and the judge can only allow the suit to move forward once all of the owners have been notified.

“We had some unique service issues with this particular lawsuit,” Heiman said. “We had some taxpayers who were hard to track down.”

What’s more, the slowdown in the court process for that lawsuit is also pushing back the county’s process of setting up its next one, Heiman said.

The county has a “rolling list” of possible lawsuits for the tax foreclosure sales, Heiman said. The next group of properties currently includes 14 parcels that haven’t paid taxes since 2014, according to Douglas County documents. But Heiman said he won’t file the lawsuit for those properties until the current tax foreclosure sale is complete.

That means the lawsuit won’t be filed until late 2019 or early 2020, which is either five or six years after the last taxes were paid on those properties. But Heiman said that lawsuit is just waiting to be filed and he hopes it will go through the legal process faster.

“Some years take longer than others,” Heiman said. “There are various things that slow things down sometimes.”

The tax foreclosure sale including the 2013 parcels will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 25 in the County Commission chamber in the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. The delinquent parcels will be auctioned off to the highest bidder for cash in hand.

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