Failing to pay local property taxes can result in serious consequences, including property liens and even foreclosure. An August 30, 2017 case before the Land Court involved a Massachusetts foreclosure action brought by the town of Charlemont against the defendants after they stopped paying real estate taxes in 1992. The defendants in the case argued that their property was actually located in the neighboring town of Hawley, although Hawley chose not to assess taxes against their property, believing it to be in Charlemont.
The defendants’ property was only conclusively located in the town of Charlemont after a 2010 act by the Legislature fixed the town’s boundaries. Prior to that time, the parties disagreed as to whether the defendant’s property was located within the limits of Charlemont, or within the limits of the bordering town of Hawley. This question of where the property was located prior to the legislation was relevant to determine whether Charlemont could foreclose on its tax title for the previous years that it had assessed taxes against the defendants’ property. If the defendants were correct that their property was located in Hawley prior to the passage of the act, the tax assessed by Charlemont would be rendered void, and Charlemont, in turn, would have no legal basis to proceed in its foreclosure action against the defendants’ property.
The Land Court began by examining maps of the area that made up Charlemont and Hawley in order to determine the boundary line. A 1794 map depicted the southern boundary of Charlemont bordering the northern boundary of Hawley. In 1838, Charlemont annexed an unincorporated village that also bordered the northern boundary of Hawley. Subsequent maps conflicted in their descriptions of the boundary line between Charlemont and Hawley, prompting the Massachusetts Legislature to pass an act that definitively established the boundary line in question as of March 16, 2011.
The Land Court went on to consider other relevant documents as well as the testimony of two registered professional land surveyors, in order to determine the locus of the defendants’ property prior to March 2011. After weighing and evaluating the evidence presented by the parties, the Land Court concluded that the defendants met their burden of demonstrating that, prior to the effective date of the statute, their property was located in Hawley, rather than in the town of Charlemont. As a result, the unpaid property taxes from the years 1992 through 2011 were not due and owing to Charlemont, despite its assessment and lien on the title. Having determined that the tax was wholly void, the court held that the defendants had a valid defense to the foreclosure action filed and denied Charlemont’s claim.
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More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Land Court Holds Petition to Vacate Foreclosure Untimely, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published July 12, 2016
Massachusetts Bank’s Mistake Has Significant Consequences in Reverse Mortgage Case, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 12, 2016