Detroit plans to sue banks, companies for unpaid taxes
Detroit — The city is threatening to file nearly 600 lawsuits against banks and other for-profit companies to recoup more than $12 million in unpaid property taxes between 2010-12, officials said.
The city on Wednesday said it sent demand letters this week to banks, investment companies and others to recoup the property tax money owed. If those who receive the letters fail to settle the debts, Detroit intends to file lawsuits against them before the end of the month, mainly in 36th District Court.
Detroit is seeking to recoup close to $20,000 per lawsuit and about $8,000 per parcel for 1,543 parcels, both residential and commercial. The city Wednesday declined to identify any of the companies targeted.
“For too long, there are those who chose not to pay what they owed in taxes, leaving everyone else to pay the price,” said David Szymanski, Detroit’s treasurer and deputy chief financial officer, in a statement Wednesday. “We are working to improve city services for our residents, and to do that — whether it’s better police and fire protection, streetlights or better schools for our children — we need everyone who does business in this city to pay their fair share.”
Szymanski said the statute of limitations is nearing for collection on the 2010 taxes. The city, he said, intends to take the unresolved tax cases to court by Sept. 1.
The properties, he said, were likely all foreclosed on and offered at auction in 2013. Officials did not recognize the revenue at the time of the auction.
“Had we collected these revenues in some fashion, we wouldn’t be pursuing this cause of action now,” he said.
There had been discussions in the past about pursing the unpaid taxes, but Szymanski, who joined the Duggan administration in February, said prior administrations did not pursue it. Szymanski said he’s pleased it has become a priority.
“The amount (owed) is certainly not a surprise,” he said. “The evaluation of the viability of such a lawsuit is what caused pause in the past. We’re confident that we’ll be successful in relation to collection of these taxes in most of the cases.”
Officials said the city will only be going after for-profit banks and companies. It will not pursue individuals who own fewer than three properties and are not associated with a limited liability corporation or company.
“We are not talking about the family that has fallen on tough times, those struggling to decide whether to feed their children or pay their taxes,” Szymanski said. “We went to great lengths to ensure that we were going after only those who bought property as investments, not as a place to live. This is about those who tried to make money without paying what they owed. We are standing up for our property owners who paid their taxes and played by the rules.”
The city sent out the letters on Tuesday and had not received any responses by Wednesday afternoon, Szymanski said.
The city will also be trying to recoup taxes owed to Wayne County, Wayne County Community College District, Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency, Detroit Public Schools and others.
This is the first round of an ongoing effort by the city to recover what it is owed, with the city planning to go after delinquent taxes for other years as well, officials said.
Under Michigan law, a city can sue a property owner over delinquent taxes, regardless of whether the property has gone through foreclosure or auction and has been sold.
“The message here should be clear: If you’re going to do business in Detroit, you have to pay your share, just like everybody else,” Szymanski said.
Persons or entities who receive a demand letter from the City of Detroit are encouraged to call (844) 871-3126 to settle their accounts.