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]