Experienced tax collectors and treasurers know that mortgage holders and unassessed owners of record have the right to receive copies of certain notices during the tax lien foreclosure process. But what are these entities’ precise rights, and how can towns and cities address the statutory requirements without spending tons of time doing title searches?
A tax collector is not required to send mortgage holders or unassessed owners a copy of the initial 30-day notice. However, 30-A M.R.S.A. § 942 does require that a copy of the lien certificate be sent to such entities at the time it is recorded. Failure to do so gives those entities an additional three months to redeem the property beyond the date they received actual notice that the tax lien certificate was recorded. Mortgage holders must also receive a copy of the 30-45 day notice of impending foreclosure under 30-A M.R.S.A. § 943. Failure to send this notice gives the mortgage holder an extra 30 days beyond the date the notice is actually provided. Although the statute does not state that unassessed owners must receive a copy of this notice, it is good practice to send one.
A municipality cannot know for sure who is entitled to notice unless a title search is performed on the exact date the notice is being sent out. For municipalities with many delinquent taxpayers, it would be impractical to do a title update on each of the properties for which a tax lien certificate will be recorded. After all, most of these taxes are usually paid well before the foreclosure date. However, a town’s efforts to sell tax-acquired property can become subject to legal challenge if it is found after foreclosure that a bank or unassessed owner was not notified. This is particularly true if the bank finds out about the foreclosure after the town sells the property!
It is always safest to check the Registry before sending out any tax lien notices. However, if this is not practical, we recommend that the Treasurer set a reminder to check the Registry around four months prior to the foreclosure date. This will allow time to send out copies of the lien certificates so that any extension will fall within the redemption period, rather than extend it. It will also help secure the foreclosure process against legal challenge.