I wish to add some local insight to the Associated Press article published July 10, under the title Homeowners falling victim to tax liens.
It is important to note that while this article may describe the process in some states, it does not apply in Idaho relative to county-billed property taxes.
Idaho is a Tax Deed state. As political subdivisions of the state of Idaho governed by Idaho statutes, the counties in Idaho do not sell tax lien certificates. In order for an individual to actually lose their home for non-payment of property taxes in Idaho, they would have to fail to pay their property taxes for more than three years and fail to take advantage of the various avenues of property tax relief available.
Property tax relief options include:
1. The Idaho State Property Tax Reduction Program (a.k.a. Circuit Breaker) and Idaho State Property Tax Deferral Program. For individuals who own and occupy a home in Idaho, had a qualifying income in the prior year and are 65 or older, widowed, or disabled, etc., the state may pay up to $1,320 of annual property taxes. The applicant must annually submit an application to the assessor of the county in which the property is located no later than April 15. The tax deferral eventually has to be repaid.
2. The Hardship tax cancellation. Individuals whose property taxes are seriously delinquent and who either did not qualify for the circuit breaker program or did not apply in a timely fashion may appeal to the board of county commissioners for a cancellation of taxes. In Ada County, the applicant must fully complete an application that details the circumstances of the financial hardship to be submitted to the board through the Indigent Services department.
3. Payment options. Making partial payments of any amount, at any time, on delinquent property taxes is an option. If you are experiencing a short-term financial hardship, this option may help you weather the storm until your financial situation improves.
The article also stated that governments are selling tax liens to make ends meet. This is not the case in Idaho. It is important to note that Idaho statute requires that excess proceeds from the sale of tax deed property must be distributed to the property owner of record or to parties holding secured legal interest in the property. The tax deed process serves only to recover the amount owed, together with costs of collection not to pad the pockets of the taxing authority.
Idaho counties have strict notification requirements under Idaho statute before a tax deed is issued. An extensive search for owners and parties in interest is completed. Up to five standard notices sent out annually to the delinquent property owner and as the tax deed deadline looms, up to six specialized warning notices are sent to the owner and parties in interest. The pending issuance of tax deed is advertised in the local newspaper.
The worst thing a homeowner can do is to ignore the tax bills and notices, hoping we will get tired and go away. We cant go away. A property tax lien is an automatic, first-priority lien, and Idaho law prescribes the process we must follow in pursuing collection of delinquencies.
With the various avenues for property tax relief and the time allowed for payment, no one should ever lose their primary home due to inability to pay property taxes in Idaho. Be proactive in working with your county officials to take advantage of property tax relief options.
Vicky McIntyre is Ada County treasurer and ex-officio tax collector.