King County helps homeowners and reduces property tax foreclosures

Numbers trending down last three years

  • Wednesday, October 30, 2019 4:10pm
  • News

King County has reduced the number of properties going to the annual tax foreclosure auction by one third compared with 2018, continuing a trend of reducing foreclosures.

• In 2019, 1,910 parcels were subject to foreclosure, with just 60 ending up in the annual tax foreclosure auction.

• In 2018, 2,310 parcels were subject to foreclosure, and 99 parcels went to the foreclosure auction.

• In 2017, 2,549 parcels were subject to foreclosure, and 137 parcels went to the foreclosure auction.

How does King County help people avoid foreclosure?

The King County Treasury Operations foreclosure prevention team connects at-risk property owners with alternatives that help keep them in their homes. For example, seniors and those with disabilities may qualify for exemption or deferral programs based on annual income. Others may be referred to Washington Homeownership Resource Center, Adult Protective Services, or other organizations for assistance.

“King County is leading the way with a fair and compassionate foreclosure prevention process,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “We are upholding state laws about timely payment of property taxes, while connecting our most vulnerable residents with assistance so they can stay in their homes.”

King County collects property taxes on behalf of the state, the county, cities, and taxing districts (such as school and fire districts) and distributes the revenue to these jurisdictions. Timely payment of taxes ensures these entities are adequately funded.

King County is mandated by state law to begin foreclosure action on properties that become three years delinquent on property taxes. Roughly 2,000 parcels fall behind on property taxes. The tax foreclosure process is initiated if taxpayers can’t pay the back taxes.

Through the work of the tax foreclosure team, King County successfully connects at-risk homeowners with alternatives that help keep people in their homes and their home off the auction block.

“The last thing we want to do is kick people out of their homes. The foreclosure prevention process is the right thing to do,” said Ana Schoenecker, Lead Property Administrator.

There are many reasons why property owners become delinquent in paying property taxes. Through the foreclosure process, treasury staff become aware of many unique circumstances such as:

• Low -income seniors who are eligible for a tax exemption or a deferral may not have signed up for these programs, which can greatly reduce their property taxes.

• Residents who are physically or mentally ill, disabled or have limited income, and may lack a clear understanding of money management or how to address the situation.

• There are many whose spouses have died and they have never managed finances before.

“We don’t want to take your home, but we are also required by law to collect taxes. There is assistance available, we just want the taxes paid,” said Schoenecker. “I make sure they understand that we’re here to help.”

Throughout the 18-month foreclosure process, most property owners are able to pay their past due taxes. Some can be legally removed from the process by filing for bankruptcy, tax deferral, or through a judicial action. At the end of the foreclosure process, remaining properties are sold at auction.

The tax foreclosure process mandated by state law is not connected to the mortgage foreclosure process which may be initiated by banks or financial institutions. There are situations involving tax foreclosures, however, where a bank or financial institution will step in to pay delinquent taxes on a property so that the property is not sold to others at a tax foreclosure auction.

“We reach out to them, we call them, we email them. We knock on doors, even after the required notification process. We provide information which helps homeowners make informed decisions rather than leave them feeling they have no other option,” said Schoenecker.

For more information, go to kingcounty.gov/propertytax.

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