1994 Tax Billing Error Forces Woman Into 5-Year Legal Battle To Save Her House

Back in 1994, a Georgia woman received two county tax bills in the mail — one addressed to her, and a second addressed to a man with the same, incredibly common last name, but whom she’d never heard of and whose address was invalid. She paid off the former immediately and ignored the latter. Little did she know that, 13 years later, this goof by the county would land her in court trying to save her house from being taken away from her.

See, even though that bill was not hers, the county decided it was. And without telling her, it sold the debt to a third-party collections agency, which then auctioned off the lien in 2002.

Meanwhile, the woman was blissfully unaware that all this had happened.

Then in late 2007, the company that had purchased the lien at auction sued the woman for back rent — on her own house… which she owned outright by this point.

The company that initially purchased this lien before eventually auctioning it off tells the Atlanta Journal Constitution that it’s all her fault for not paying a tax bill addressed to someone else who happens to have the same, remarkably popular last name of “James.”

“Why should we have any sympathy for this woman?” a lawyer for the company asks the AJC. “When someone doesn’t pay their taxes, who has to make up for that? We do.”

Good point. If this had been a tax the woman actually owed. Which she didn’t. So it’s a bad point. A very bad point.

Well, after several years of legal wrangling and a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision that went in the woman’s favor, the company that claims it owns the property finally decided to just give up that claim.

“We’re not saying we didn’t have the right to do what we were doing,” an attorney for the company explains. “We just voluntarily relinquished all our rights to the property to put an end to this, which, frankly, is what we’ve been trying to do for four years.”

The woman tells the AJC that she wasn’t surprised by the decision: “They knew in their heart they didn’t own that land.”

Even so, the 76-year-old grandmother has not dropped her counter-suit, which alleges trespass and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Woman wins fight to keep her home [AJC.com]