Along with many people in our city, I was disturbed to read the series of stories in the Washington Post about seniors having their homes taken for small tax debts. I first learned of this type of problem about a year ago during an oversight hearing on another topic. I then worked with the AARP and others to introduce a comprehensive bill on the subject last October– the Residential Real Property Equity and Transparency Act of 2012. The bill proposes a number of substantive changes to the real property tax collection process, including additional transparency, expanded pre-sale and redemption notice requirements, and equitable limitations on tax sale purchaser expenses that homeowners must pay in order to redeem their homes.
Due to the ending of Council Period 19 in December, I re-introduced the real property bill in January. I also requested that the District’s chief financial officer constitute a residential real property task force, which has met twice this year and is scheduled to meet again this fall. Many of the recommendations of the task force have already been implemented, such as a recommendation for the District’s tax office to affirmatively notify senior citizens if they may be eligible for additional real property tax credits they are not currently receiving. Further, the CFO has ordered the cancellation of any tax sales from July of any home receiving the homestead tax deduction.
I also introduced emergency and permanent legislation on this topic, which will supplement the bill I introduced earlier this year in the following ways: First, it will put into law the freeze on any tax sale that has occurred of the home of a senior citizen, veteran or disabled individual, retroactively to July 2013. It will also establish a $2,000 threshold of taxes owed for any real property towards a tax sale. Furthermore, the bill will require the District to pay the owner of record prior to the tax sale any amount received by the District at the tax sale in excess of the amount of taxes due to the District. Finally, the bill will cap attorneys’ fees at $1,500.
These bills, along with the more comprehensive bill I introduced earlier in the year, will begin to make the changes we need to ensure that our government is able to perform its responsibility to collect taxes while putting additional safeguards in place for our most vulnerable residents.