Elderly Couple Could Lose Home Over $1.63 Tax Bill

In 1996 a property tax bill for $1.63 was mailed to Kermit and Dolores Atwood. The bill never reached its destination, according to the Times-Picayune. Now, 11 years later, the Atwoods are in danger of losing their home.

The Atwoods’ nightmare began when they learned in 2000 that their four-bedroom, two-bath home had been sold in 1997 through a tax sale for the $1.63 in unpaid taxes, plus 10 cents interest and $125 in costs associated with the sale.

“We found out about it seven days after the three-year redemption period ended,” during which delinquent taxpayers can reclaim their property, Atwood said. She then complained to the sheriff’s and assessor’s offices that she never received the bill and knew nothing about it.

The house, which the couple has owned mortgage-free since 1968, previously was totally state homestead exempt, meaning there was no tax bill, Atwood said. The couple’s mailing address during that time changed from a rural route and mailbox number to 4122 Dauphine St. because of the implementation of the parish’s 911 emergency phone system. The tax bill mailed to the rural route address was returned as undeliverable to the Sheriff’s Office which, after advertisements of delinquent taxes in the parish’s legal journal, put the property on the auction block.

“The Sheriff’s Office could have easily found us,” Atwood said. “We’re in the phone book. We didn’t go anywhere … And we never thought about telling the assessor’s office about our address change because we’ve never had to pay property taxes before.”

The couple got the state tax commission to nullify the sale and they thought everything was alright. It wasn’t. In 2002, they tried to sell their home and found that there was a “notice of pending litigation” on the property. The people who bought the house in the tax sale are suing to get the Atwoods out of it.

It gets worse. When hurricane Katrina hit, it toppled trees into the Atwood’s home. Since they don’t have a clear title on their house, they couldn’t qualify for a mortgage to fix the damage. They don’t have insurance. The Atwoods now live in a FEMA trailer while they battle it out in court. What terrible luck.

Elderly couple’s lives in limbo over unpaid $1.63 tax bill [Times Picayune]
(Photo:Scott Threkeld)

Comments

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  1. Toof_75_75 says:

    “What terrible luck.”

    Seriously…that sucks!

  2. forever_knight says:

    serves them right for being old and getting comfortable! i mean, not wearing a diaper 24/7 because of the potential of having uncontrollable diarrhea! i mean, sucks.

  3. Youthier says:

    What is UP with that Jamie Land company?

  4. ThyGuy says:

    I find very unfair that someone can swoop in under the radar and pay for my taxes, and then demand I pay them twice the amount they paid. This should be made illegal, I’ll pay my own taxes when I’m damn ready, thanks.

  5. adrock75 says:

    I’d like to publicly “out” the person that bought the house and is trying to force them out, that’s ridiculous.

  6. Moosehawk says:

    Wow that’s is terrible. All that over $1.63? I don’t even know what to say.

  7. nightshadowon says:

    O…M…G…! If that story is true as stated (always 2 sides), then there is a gross misconduct of justice. The amount of time and effort spent trying to collect that small amount of money has grossly outweighed the amount of money spent to try and collect and now trying to ruin a couple’s life.

  8. DeeJayQueue says:

    Jamie Land is a douchebag.

  9. Doc Benway says:

    @forever_knight: Dude you are a dick. Karmic justice would put you in that diaper and homeless when you hit their age.

  10. Doc Benway says:

    @adrock75: Totally. Who are these cut-throat heartless assholes.

  11. Fry says:

    In Canada, if you owe or are owed less than $2 to/from the government, there is no payment or refund and is waived completely. I guess the US doesn’t have a rule like this, does it?

  12. bambino says:

    @Doc Benway: I believe he was joking. Sarcasm meter!

  13. enm4r says:

    They don’t have insurance.

    Having insurance has nothing to do with luck.

    I agree though, what an unfortunate incident. Mostly on the sheriff’s end, that’s just ridiculous. How many sets of eyes did this case pass without a single person picking up a phone book and forwarding/calling the right people to solve the problem. That’s the unfortunate part.

  14. banned says:

    ” ‘We didn’t have insurance,’ Atwood said “

    Just lost 1/2 my sympathy. You live in a house below sea leave without insurance!?

    This is just wrong however. In Canada, if I owe money for taxes, they would apply it at income tax time, and if I didn’t pay taxes, then they would begin other measures. They couldn’t just add the $1.63 property tax to their income tax? weak.

  15. Youthier says:

    @missbrooke06: I didn’t mean to submit that because I wanted to reread the article but I still stick by that. Why are they even wasting time suing the Atwoods for a couple thousand dollars when it’s costing them so much? Just drop them and continue pursuing the Tax Commission.

  16. chotzki says:

    James Land Company
    Curt James, Broker/Owner
    P. O. Box 1167
    Saratoga, Wyoming 82331
    Phone: 307.326.3104 or Cell Phone: 307-399-8644

  17. Kurtz says:

    @rocnrule: Slidell isn’t below sea level. But that still doesn’t excuse them not having insurance.

    The $1.63 can’t be applied to their income tax because that’s paid to the state, whereas property tax is paid to the parish. They’re completely different taxing entities. So in Canada the federal government can collect money owed in property taxes on behalf of the provinces? How does that work?

  18. The Walking Eye says:

    @rocnrule: They couldn’t have insurance because they didn’t have clear title on the house. That was out of their control.

    “Look, I don’t blame her for being mad about it,” Lindsay said. “But when you get down to it, it was her who didn’t pay her taxes.”

    What an asshole. They weren’t properly notified of the taxes, and weren’t even aware they owed until after the reclaim period.

    IANAL, but it seems to me that since they were not properly notified that the clock never started for them. Therefore, Jamie Land suing because of the Tax Commission doesn’t float. And shouldn’t he be suing the Tax Commission or the state rather than the people who have a legitimate claim to the property, anyway?

  19. The Walking Eye says:

    @The Walking Eye: I may have misinterpreted the insurance thing. Apologies to rocnrule if I did.

  20. North of 49 says:

    I don’t think they could get insurance without clear title.

  21. banned says:

    @The Walking Eye:
    One of us has misread the article. It does not mention the title issue until after the insurance statement, when referring to getting a mortgage. It simply states, and I quote again, “We didn’t have insurance”, not we couldn’t get it, or use it. Just seems she’s adding that junk for more attention, y’kno’ I’m a Katrina victim kinda crap.

  22. banned says:

    @Kurtz:
    We pay federal and provincial taxes on the same forms. I guess the feds collect on behalf of the provinces, however maybe I’m wrong in that property taxes may be paid to the city, I don’t pay them so I can’t say for sure. Either way, they won’t just take a house over that small amount.

  23. Doc Benway says:

    @bambino: Not very funny. I have elderly parents and scumbags are constantly trying to find a new ways to scam them. And to make light of it is callous. I think it takes a certain kind of degenerate scumbag to even dream up of ways to bully, rob, and scam the elderly and sarcasm isn’t a productive response to it.

  24. Kurtz says:

    @rocnrule: The section in the article pertaining to title and insurance is confusingly written. It essentially says that they couldn’t sell their house in 2002 becuase they didn’t hold clear title. It implies that they couldn’t get insurance for the same reason. Without clear title they can’t get Road Home or SBA loans specifically set up for Katrina victims. It’s not “I’m a Katrina victim kinda crap”, as you so eloquently put it.

  25. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    James A Lindsay of Bush, LA – (985) 871-0311 or (985) 898-2121.

    I believe all this fuckrag is owed is $126.73. And that would be from the guvmint who took it in the first place.

    Once he is paid he needs to run along and die.
    Who thinks they can buy a house in 1997 for $126.73?

    But in typical Consumerist commenting fashion, BLAME THE VICTIMS THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER CAUSE I’M SO SMART AND WITTY LOOK AT MY POST.

  26. RebekahSue says:

    Because

    In 2002, they tried to sell their home and found that there was a “notice of pending litigation” on the property.

    that notice is still on the title, they can’t get insurance. it’s not because of the back taxes,
    but because of the Notice on the title.

    The whole thing is bull. Is there any valid reason that the property went from tax-free to $1.63,
    plus 75 times $1.63 in fees??

  27. banned says:

    @Kurtz:
    Maybe so but unfortunatley the insurance issue has absolutely no relevance to the fact the government took her house over $1.63. Its extra, uneeded info used to pull people’s heartstrings. If Katrina never happened, guess what, she’d still be out of a house.

  28. Doc Benway says:

    @doctor_cos: Amen!

  29. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Am I the only one who’s confused here that they weren’t aware their house was sold 7 yrs ago? Where is the current “owner” of the house now? This totally does not make sense.

    A public auction for a house normally takes place AT the house – am I right? Where *were* these people this whole time? How do you NOT know that you no longer own your own house?!

    Someone please explain to me!!

  30. camille_javal says:

    @ Pinkbunnyslippers – a public auction doesn’t necessarily take place at the house. I recall reading a case similar to this in my Property course last semester (I’ve only had a year of law school, so there are huge gaps in my knowledge, of course) – much of Property law is *completely* fucked up, and, yes, it’s possible for you to find out that your land years after the fact.

    @TheWalkingEye – “advertisements of deliquent taxes in the parish’s legal journal” = notice. Unfortunately (and this much I know from Property and Civil Procedure), “notice” doesn’t necessarily mean *good* notice.

    @ Doc Benway – (not sure why I’m bothering with this, but) I believe the joke was not making light of this situation, but of the fact that there’s been a lot of the sort of Consumerist commenting that Doctor_Cos mocks in his comment. Which, oh -

    @ Doctor_Cos – awesome.

  31. camille_javal says:

    @camille_javal: arrrrgh! “that your land has been sold years after the fact” – while you live on it – stupid editing blegh.

  32. Gloria says:

    @Doc Benway: I’m quite sure the original commentator was making fun of the very callous people you’re criticizing — comparable to people blaming a woman for not preparing for every possible illness she might suffer 24/7, see?

  33. consumerist11211 says:

    The wyoming information for jamie land co is incorrect…this is the correct info:

    Jamie Land Co can be contacted at:

    President: Lindsay, James A II

    81116 Highway 1083

    Bush, LA 70431-4223

    (985) 898-2121 or
    (985) 871-0311

    No web site that I can find but I am gonna call later…BY THE WAY…this information is available in public phone records so please do not delete :-)

  34. humphrmi says:

    The situations under which personal property can be confiscated has reached unreasonable levels. Between sheriffs who can confiscate for stupid tax bills that could be resolved easily to the Supreme Court ruling that your land can be condemned, confiscated, and turned over to developers for profit ventures, we have lost our sense of the founding father’s ideals about land ownership.

  35. Doc Benway says:

    @Gloria: That very well may be the case. However, that is not how it came across. The meaning of any communication is the response you get from it.

  36. not_seth_brundle says:

    @pinkbunnyslippers: No, the auction usually takes place on the courthouse steps. And if it’s a developer that bought the property, I think it’s feasible that the Atwoods didn’t find out about the sale for years. In that case, I would think the Atwoods would have some kind of laches or estoppel defense.

  37. consumerist11211 says:

    just found out that the company who purchased the property is owned by James Lindsay as well. He sold the property to himself than sat and waited the 3 year waiting period to make sure they didnt pay it (because they didnt know about it) then moved in…what a slimeball.

  38. Ponygirl says:

    @The Walking Eye:

    That is how I read it. They couldn’t get insurance becaus eof the dispute of ownership.

  39. Kurtz says:

    @rocnrule: You need to look at the big picture. The insurance issue couldn’t be more relevant. This poor couple got their house taken from them because the lazy parish assessor didn’t follow up. Then they couldn’t sell it because they no longer held clear title. Then they couldn’t get insurance for the same reason. Then Katrina came and damaged the house, and now they can’t get a Road Home or SBA loan to fix it. If they held clear title, they could have qualified for insurance and disaster recovery loans. See how the pieces fit together? What do you have against Katrina victims anyway?

  40. joeblevins says:

    Why are they waiting until now to resolve this?

  41. banned says:

    @Kurtz:
    Nope, still don’t see it. House was sold in 2002, years before katrina. Sure it added more complications, but it doesn’t change the story. Katrina did not sell her house, the government did. BTW, I have nothing against the Katrina victims, other than the few, like this, who play it as if they have some extra right in society that we all don’t get. As a CSR for a cell company, I used to get all kinds of people calling, trying to get credits for no reason, other than being a victim. It worked for a few months, as we tried to help, but over a year later, some still kept trying.
    The government essentially stole the house, and a hurricane adds nothing to the story.

  42. Caswell says:

    The underlying cause of all of this? Property tax. Our right to personal property has been completely eroded by ad valorem taxation, where the government can confiscate your home simply because they present you with a bill.

  43. kbarrett says:

    They have an alloidally owned homestead property.

    The greedheads who bought the title via a tax auction are SOL … there is no title to attach here.

    Alloidal property cannot be grabbed without the current owners signing a quitclaim. Period.

    The owners have, however, discovered the flipside of alloidal property ownership … you can’t mortgage it, because the bank cannot foreclose on it … they foreclose on the fee-simple title. People who have had homesteads in the familly for decades also run into this … no loan until the property is titled. And when it gets titled, they have to start paying property tax.

    Unless they want to head-aches involved in accepting a title ( including these jerks taking it from them for less than $150 ), they should just save their pennies until they can afford a rebuild, or do it themselves.

  44. kbarrett says:

    The first thing they need to do is find out who added a fee-simple title to the land without their permission. And then have it deleted by the county clerk.

  45. umonster says:

    There was a movie with this very same scenario as the plot catalyst (minus the hurricane) called “House of Sand and Fog,” with Ben Kingsley. It seemed like a completely absurd premise. Guess I was completely wrong.

  46. AT203 says:

    Cross-referencing the name in the Time-Picayune article (James A. Lindsay II) with the Louisiana Secretary of State database gives the following information:


    President:
    JAMES A. LINDSAY, II
    81116 HIGHWAY 1083
    BUSH, LA 70431

    The full article paints a more nuanced picture of events, and although Mr. Lindsay doesn’t come off well, the bulk of the blame seems to like with the tax officials and sheriff’s not being diligent in trying to contact the homeowners regarding their tax bill.

  47. LionelEHutz says:

    I blame Clinton.

  48. Kurtz says:

    @rocnrule: Assuming they get the house back, they’ll be at the bottom of a long list of applicants for Road Home and SBA loans. They wouldn’t need the loans if not for the fact that the house WAS DAMAGED BY HURRICANE KATRINA.

  49. vdragonmpc says:

    Its too bad this isnt set in the not to recent past. A good tar and feather party for this douche would go a long way for justice. And I mean the skin peeling burn his face off kind of tar. It is sickening how many people rip off families and steal identities and homes.

    1.36$ ??? How can the COUNTY justify seizing a home for that?

  50. camille_javal says:

    @rocnrule: I’m not entirely sure why you’re getting so hung up on this. The story reads, “Atwood said that because the couple didn’t have a clear title to their property, they couldn’t sell their house in 2002. When Katrina hit, the stormed toppled trees onto the home. ‘We didn’t have insurance,’ Atwood said. ‘Since we didn’t have clear title, we couldn’t qualify for Road Home or a mortgage to fix the house.’”

    This doesn’t sound at all like people trying to weasel something for nothing. If you’re going to get so worked up, direct it at the Times-Picayune, who likely included the detail for its heartstring-tugging effects. It’s doing what many such articles do, the “You think that’s bad? That’s just the half of it!” trick. It makes up half the local news broadcasts I see.

    The sale *did* make a bad situation worse. It didn’t cause Katrina, but had they had clear title, they would have had a right to take certain actions towards repair. It’s a Venn diagram of sucking.

  51. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Um, doesn’t someone actually have to go TO the residence and say “Ma’am, you have an unpaid tax bill and we can’t reach you buy mail? Shouldn’t that be a requirement of a “reasonable” attempt to contact somebody? (You know, like..send a live human out to their house and actually knock on the door?)

  52. humphrmi says:

    @dwayne_dibbly: In the old days, it would be inconceivable for property to be siezed without doing this (go out on knock on the door). Then some lazy assed sheriff decided to see what happened if he just procesed the paperwork without stopping by the house, and nobody complained. Then some other lazy assed sheriffs said “well Buford’s just been doing paperwork, not visiting each house” and they started doing it too. We accept this, and then it becomes accepted practice.

  53. cashmerewhore says:

    If the notice of back taxes was RETURNED to the auditor, somebody in the office should have done research to obtain a valid address. I work for a state billing agency, we search all sorts of public records to locate debtors before turning their accounts over to the attorney general for hardcore collections and wage garnishments.

    That said, we still would have writen off a bill for $1.63.

  54. pay your taxes and this won’t happen to you

  55. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    @humphrmi: No kidding, and I think it’s criminal that they’re allowed to seize property like that.

    @pfblueprint: Oh yeah…Damn you, filthy stinking elderly tax evaders for defrauding the county out of $1.63 because they never sent the bill to the right address…you deserve to get your property auctioned off without being notified! (<—-that’s sarcasm, son)

  56. Ola says:

    So, the company that’s suing is out about oh, $126.63? This is the definition of “sleazebag businessman.” Sue the agency that didn’t notify them properly, and stop harassing old folks.

    Someone in the area should picket their business.

  57. locode21 says:

    [blog.nola.com]

    Nice update to the story at the link above. The case is over and done with and they own the home free and clear.

  58. sonichghog says:

    The tax officers screwed this up royally or worse.

    When we supposidely missed our (per-capita) tax one year, I got constant calls from a collection agancy until we got it straighted out. We actualy did not owe it to them, we moved and the money went to the previous town.

    Why this elderly couple was not properly notified makes this case stink. Does the tax office there have a link to this land company?

  59. RaulLopez says:

    I had this happen to my wife and I this past year – we didn’t receive our parish (we’re in LA as well) tax notice because some f**ker was stealing mail from our mailbox in December when it was mailed (wholely different issue). We found out our $90,000 home was sold in a tax auction for $300 to someone that lived in town.

    We were lucky enough to get a notice from that person saying we could buy it back from them for twice what they paid to buy it ($600). So, we said F that and went to the Sheriff’s office, paid the back taxes, and they cut that person a refund check and title cancellation on the spot and printed us a new title for our house.

    People that buy homes in tax auctions are not required to notify the current owner, they just have to wait 3 years and then it’s legally theirs. If this person had not been greedy and tried to double their money, we would have never found out about it and they would have taken possession of our home 3 years from now.

    B*tches.

    It really ticks us off now because almost every night we see ads for tax auction buying systems, and how you can buy prime real estate for pennies on the dollar. It’s actually supposed to get worse as more and more homeowners are unable to pay their mortgages when the ARM rates reset later this year.