Tax Bureau's Job to Make a Reasonable Effort to Identify Owners

In Husak v. Fayette County Tax Claim Bureau, 61 A.3d 302 (Pa Commw.) the trial court was correct in setting aside the tax sale. In this case, the Plaintiffs' property was foreclosed in February 2006; Fannie Mae purchased the property at a sheriff's sale and recorded the sheriff's deed. However, the plaintiffs', while still residing on the property, repurchased it from Fannie Mae. At the time of repurchase, Fannie Mae executed a quitclaim deed. A quit claim deed is when the grantor transfers all of his/her interest to the grantee. Any defects associated with the property, such as taxes, now become the grantee's problem. However, the Plaintiffs' never recorded the deed because the Plaintiffs' counsel wanted a notarized deed. Frannie Mae did not send a notarized deed to the Plaintiffs until March 2011, at which time the deed was promptly recorded. 

During the approximate five years that Fannie Mae neglected to provide the plaintiffs with a notarized deed, the Defendants sent tax notices to Fannie Mae. However, these taxes were not paid for in 2008, 2009, and 2010. All tax notices were sent to Fannie Mae and returned with a receipt from one "J.Pierce." As a result of failing to pay taxes, the Defendant recorded a deed for the subject property to Purchaser in November 2010. The Plaintiffs filed a petition to set aside this tax sale.
The court held that the Defendant's must employ common sense when determining the person's responsible for the taxes. Although the Plaintiffs' didn't technically own the property because a deed wasn't filed, the Defendant is still required to seek out the bona fide owners. Here, the court was not persuaded by the Defendant's argument that the Defendant provided notice. Instead, the court questioned why the Defendant never inquired who "J. Pierce" was and if he even worked for Fannie Mae. A signature on a receipt must belong to someone authorized by owner to accept this certified mail. The Plaintiffs never provided Fannie Mae, such authorization. Further, a red-flag should have been raised when on the Record of Deeds it states Fannie Mae as the owner of the property, yet the property had a tended field of corn and crops. Since the Plaintiffs' openly possessed the property and the Defendants did not conduct their due diligence of identifying the true owner, the tax sale was properly set aside.

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