Pro Bono News

Legal Aid of Nebraska Challenges Law That Lets Investors Take Property Over Unpaid Taxes (NE)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Legal Aid of Nebraska Challenges Law That Lets Investors Take Property Over Unpaid Taxes

"LINCOLN — After neglecting to pay a $588 tax bill, a Scottsbluff couple now stand to lose their $60,000 home — because of a state law that allows others to obtain properties by paying off someone else’s tax debts.

Now Legal Aid of Nebraska is challenging the constitutionality of the tax lien law, which has already attracted the attention of the Nebraska Legislature.

The homeowners, Kevin and Terry Fair, didn’t realize they were at risk of losing their home until last year, three years after an Omaha-based company that looks for delinquent properties paid the initial tax debt of $588.21.

By then, their tax debt and associated fees had escalated to nearly $6,000, which was financially out of reach for an elderly couple living on a single income and dealing with the wife’s multiple sclerosis, according to their attorney, Mike Meister of Scottsbluff.

“People need to pay their taxes, but we believe the process allowing the county to take the property of one person and transfer it to someone else that stands to make a substantial profit is unjust,” Meister said. “We believe it’s both wrong and unconstitutional to let the county and investor seize over $50,000 in equity — 10 times what is now owed in taxes — and kick the Fairs out in the process.”

A lawyer with Omaha-based Continental Resources, meanwhile, said her firm followed all current laws regarding notice to the property owners and had paid the taxes on the Fairs’ home for four years.

“During this time period, these homeowners have never reached out to us to attempt to address this matter,” said company attorney Deana Walocha.

The state law concerning tax liens was the subject of a series of World-Herald stories last year. The newspaper detailed the case of an infirm 94-year-old widow living in a nursing home who lost a farm worth $1.1 million for failing to pay a $50,000 tax lien..."

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