Tax Title Procedure
The City’s Assessing Department (Assessing) identifies taxable parcels and owners of property in New Bedford from the land records maintained at the Bristol County Southern District Registry of Deeds (Registry) and from communications from taxpayers. Cities and towns assess the owner of record as of January 1, for the following fiscal year, which begins six months later on July 1. Assessing coordinates the tax rates with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and also reviews applications for property tax abatements.
Assessing transmits ownership information to the Collector -Treasurer (C/T) and C/T mails out quarterly property tax bills on the last week of June and the last week of December. Payments are due August 1, November 1, February 1, and May1. Amounts not paid during the fiscal year accrue interest at 14%. Any taxes that remain unpaid at the end of the fiscal year (June 30) are certified to a tax title account and the interest rate increases to 16%, according to state law.
C/T then issues a tax taking, also known as a tax lien, on the property and records the tax taking at the Registry. The tax taking is a claim of legal ownership by the City, which provides the taxpayer the right to redeem. After a six-month waiting period, if the tax is still not paid, the City Tax Title Department files a complaint in the Land Court to foreclose the rights of redemption. The City adds Registry of Deeds filing fees, Court complaint fees and attorney fees to the tax title account.
Upon filing, the Land Court mails a preliminary notice by regular mail to the party named on the petition, the owner of record according to Assessing records. The purpose of the preliminary notice is to allow the taxpayer to pay the delinquent account prior to more formal and costly court proceedings. If the taxpayer pays the tax title account, the City withdraws the complaint from the Land Court. Otherwise, the Court assigns a title examiner to perform a title exam on the property by reviewing records at the Registry of Deeds to identify all persons with an interest in the property such as owners and mortgage lenders. Title examiners may also research probate and bankruptcy court records.
The Court then mails a citation or notice of the foreclosure proceedings to all interested persons identified in the title report. In certain cases if notification by certified mail is unsuccessful, the Court may authorize notification by deputy sheriff or by publication in a local newspaper.
The citation or notice will state a return day, which is the deadline to file an Answer in Court. Filing an Answer is an important step that will protect the taxpayer. An Answer is a simple one page form, available at the Land Court or in the City Tax Title office, in which the property owner, mortgage holder or other party of interest asserts a right to redeem the property. By filing an Answer, the taxpayer guarantees that he or she will be notified of all future Land Court proceedings. A person who ignores the notice and fails to file an Answer can be defaulted and waives his or her right to contest the foreclosure and to receive future notice from the Court. If all parties who are entitled to notice are notified and fail to file Answers, the Court may enter a General Default and then issue a foreclosure judgement without a hearing. At any time in the process, the taxpayer can pay the delinquent tax balance. The tax title balance does not include the current year’s property taxes.
If one or more parties of interest file Answers, a hearing will be scheduled and a request for a Finding will be made. A Finding is a ruling by the Court that a certain sum of money is due and sets a timeframe with an expiration date in which to pay the balance of the tax title account, this is usually 60 days, but the Court has discretion to designate more or less time. The City cannot proceed with the case until the Finding period has expired. Failure of parties of interest who have been notified of a Finding hearing to appear at the hearing may result in a default from the case and Judgement may enter against them.
If the Finding has expired and the Tax Title account balance has not been paid in full, the City may request a hearing before the Land Court for the allowance of a motion for judgement of foreclosure against the parties who have filed Answers. A hearing on a motion for judgement is the final step in contested cases. Parties will have the opportunity to present their case before the Land Court Recorder, who will decide whether to allow the motion for judgement. As with uncontested cases, if the Court issues a Judgement, the City becomes the owner of the property and the taxpayer loses all rights in the property. State law allows a taxpayer a limited period of time after a Foreclosure Judgement to ask the Court to vacate the Judgement. Payment of the tax title account in full is required before the City assents to vacating Judgement. The City of New Bedford Treasurer’s Office manages foreclosed property for the City.
Taxpayers may request payment plans from the City to pay off tax title accounts. Payment plans allow a taxpayer to pay 25% of the outstanding balance down and pay equal payments over three year period if the property is residential and a two year period if it is commercial property, beginning 30 days after the agreement is signed. Depending upon how long the property has been in tax title, some payment plans may include forgiveness of up to 40% of the accrued interest. Payment plans also require taxpayers to file an Answer, assent to a Finding, and pay current year taxes when billed. Payment plans are not authorized to redeem a property after the Court enters a Judgement.