Letter: County treasurers help fight foreclosure
Re: “Supreme Court should protect against surprise foreclosures,” Nov. 22: Helping families and property owners avoid tax foreclosure is a primary objective for county treasurers across the state.
We believe that tax foreclosure is a tragedy, so we take extensive measures to help property owners avoid it whenever possible. Recent statistics from the Michigan Department of Treasury show that out of 138,661 Michigan properties scheduled to foreclose in 2019, 128,790 of them were avoided (more than 92%), largely through the efforts of county treasurers.
We hate foreclosing property and work hard finding innovative ways to help people avoid it. In the process, we've become Michigan's largest and most knowledgeable body of foreclosure prevention experts.
This opinion piece missed crucial details about tax foreclosure law.
Michigan’s General Property Tax Act requires treasurers to foreclose properties that are three years tax delinquent. State law, enacted in 1999, dictates how foreclosure operates, including the use of funds from property tax auctions. It is the constitutional responsibility of treasurers to facilitate the law. But the way a tax foreclosure proceeds matters a lot to us.
Do treasurers foreclose properties for trivial amounts of delinquent taxes and fees? No, as shown by the statistics above. Do we tell property owners about the fees and interest owed on the property that is under threat of foreclosure? Absolutely. More than six times by state law with most counties making 10 to 12 attempts, including a personal visit to the property.
If legal notice is not adequately made to the property owner and all parties of interest in the property, the foreclosure must be withheld from the court's order of foreclose. Does it matter if someone accidentally pays the wrong taxes to the wrong place? Yes, and treasurers work closely with locals to find a feasible way for the taxpayer to get caught up. Do we foreclose on inherited property in probate? No. It is withheld from the court’s judgment of foreclosure.
County treasurers do not heartlessly foreclose on property when it can be avoided. We provide extensions for those who have lost work, become ill or are disabled. We work with nonprofit agencies, which help taxpayers and refer property owners to many other outside resources.
When all else fails, and there is no way to avoid the court’s judgment of foreclosure, by law we must foreclose the property. We do not foreclose on trivial amounts. The difficulties in the recent cases cited in this opinion are extremely infrequent, uncommon, or have extenuating circumstances. Still, county treasurers understand the limitations of the law.
We welcome the opportunity to work with the Legislature to improve property tax laws and protect the rights of taxpayers. We need to make sure, however, that timely taxpayers are not burdened with the costs of those who could not or would not pay property taxes.
Socializing the loss on tax foreclosures while privatizing the gain is a bad idea for Michigan.
Jenny Beemer-Fritzinger, Clare County treasurer; president, Michigan Association of County Treasurers
Bob Robinson, Eaton County treasurer; second vice president and communications chair, Michigan Association of County Treasurers.