Town of Houlton disposes of tax-acquired properties

2 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — Municipalities often go above and beyond working with homeowners who are struggling to pay their property taxes.

Sometimes, those efforts prove for naught, placing municipalities in a difficult position of taking over properties whose owners have failed to make an effort to stay current on their tax bills.

Other times, a property is simply abandoned and left vacant for some time, creating a nuisance to abutting landowners.

In an effort to get more properties back on the active tax rolls, the town of Houlton has begun acquiring homes whose owners have either failed to keep up with a payment agreement or flat out refused to pay property taxes for several years.

Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson apprised the council on the potential sale of five properties the town had acquired due to unpaid taxes during a special Tuesday, Oct. 11, council meeting.

“The town of Houlton really doesn’t want to be in the real estate business,” Anderson said. “We will work with anyone and as long as payments are being made, they keep their property.”

She explained the town goes through an exhaustive process to work with property owners to avoid seizing a residence for non-payment of taxes. 

First, a lien is placed on the property eight months to a year after non-payment. From there, the homeowner has 18 months to pay off the lien. If the lien remains unpaid, the town then issues a foreclosure notice, which comes with another 45-day notice.

“If a person makes any attempt to make a payment, even if it is just $30 a month, the town will take no action to evict anyone,” Anderson said. “Acquiring properties is the last step in a very exhaustive process.”  

She added that the town has been working with many homeowners, some dating back as far as 2016 and many well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The town also offers a “tax club” for people who want to divide their tax liability into 12 equal payments, with no interest provided the payments are made every month, Anderson said.

The five properties receiving bids, and their successful bidders, were as follows: 16 Randall Ave., $12,000 by Brown Development LLC; 3 Grant St., $14,500 by Brown Development LLC; 129 Military St, $21,000 by Paul Dore; 20 Pearce Avenue, $20,000 by Paul Dore; and a 0.61 acre parcel of land on Hillview Avenue, $1,900 by David Richardson.

Once a municipality takes over ownership of the property, it is then listed as part of a legal advertisement in the local newspaper, where those interested can place bids on the property. 

Anderson said that each bid must include the bidder’s name, mailing address and phone number and be accompanied by a deposit in the form of a certified check or money order, in an amount not less than 20 percent of the bid price. Any bid that does not contain the proper deposit is rejected. 

The successful bidder’s deposit is credited to the total purchase price for the parcel. Deposits are returned to unsuccessful bidders. High bidders who submit the same bid will be given the opportunity to submit a new bid. The town reserves the right to accept or reject any and all bids.

Conveyance of the property is done by a quitclaim deed without covenants, is sold on an “as is” and “where is” basis without any representations or warranties and subject to all provisions of the municipal zoning ordinances and building codes, Anderson said.

The successful bidder has 15 days from the date of the bid acceptance in which to complete the purchase. In the event that the successful bidder fails, for any reason, to complete the purchase in the specified time, the bid acceptance is void and the bidder’s deposit is forfeited to the town.

“The town doesn’t acquire properties very often,” Anderson said. “But sometimes, the communication stops and we are left with no other choice.”