Watch Out Norcross–Your City Could Sell Your House

Last night, while I was working hard breaking in our couches and keeping the TV screen from burning in, I stumbled upon one of those fun local news stories. Apparently the City of Norcross, Georgia decided it’d be a good idea to sell a woman’s condo for her without letting her know. At least not until after the fact.

Maybe it’s one of those “Southern humor” things that doesn’t translate out West.

According to the article, Xui Lui purchased a condo (in cash) back in 2011. In that first year, her property taxes were underpaid by $94.85. The rest of her property tax bills were paid in full every year since then, so it sounds like one of those honest mistakes, like when your text box and number box amounts aren’t the same on a check.

Check Writing

I’ve seen that quite a bit. Also, screw checks.

Last week, though, that $94.85 underpayment led the City of Norcross to go a bit out of control. Ms. Lui received a notice informing her that her condo had been sold at auction due to her outstanding tax bill, and that she had to vacate the premises by November 25.

How does it go from a mere $94.85 tax bill all the way to the city throwing all your stuff out the second floor window like a spouse catching their cheating partner? Several years of the city sending your tax bill to the wrong address.

Yeah. They had a bad address on file. The notices were all returned to city hall.

Now, this is one of those stories that should reasonably be resolved without conflict. It sounds like the city has acknowledged their error, and it should be fixed up before Ms. Lui and her four year old daughter are tossed out on the street. Though when your City Manager tells the local news that they “will try to work something out,”(emphasis mine) it doesn’t instill a huge amount of confidence.

I do have a few questions, though. First, how did they send her a notice that her condo had been sold when they couldn’t properly send her the tax bill? Is this the case of a bad printer, bad database, or strangely vindictive postal worker? Second, if the notices were returned to city hall, why didn’t anyone check them? Does the City of Norcross ignore all its mail, or just the ones returned to sender? How many “return to senders” does a city have to get before it realizes they have the wrong address?

Then, finally, the most disturbing part of the story is the whole “seizing property” aspect. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against taxes (not least of all because it keeps me employed), and I understand that the city needs to have recourse for serial tax avoiders. But my memory of the Revolutionary War doesn’t include it being fought over “Life, Liberty, Property”¬†until that property has a lien so minuscule that it could be chalked up to a rounding error as easily as an actual payment deficit. Maybe I need to read more John Locke.

 

Photo by David Goehring