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The property at 101 Anthony Road in North Stonington did not sell at a recent tax sale auction due to its condition. | (Michael Souza / The Westerly Sun)

Tax sale ineffective if nobody wants the property


NORTH STONINGTON — It used to be that putting a property up for tax sale would prompt the occupant to arrange a payment plan with the town. If that didn’t happen, then the town would easily recoup the money through the sale.

Recently, however, there have been a few cases where the town has come out — or might come out, depending on pending court judgments — on the losing side, stuck with a piece of property nobody wants.

These cases are infrequent, usually accompanied with irregular circumstances. According to First Selectman Nicholas Mullane II, the problem is the residue of the housing bubble prior to 2007.

“In my opinion the banks have given people mortgages that have put people over their heads,” he said at last week’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen. “These cases are exceptional because in each case nobody wanted them at tax sale.”

The topic had been broached before, but was discussed again in the presence of Tax Collector Sandra Steinhart on Feb. 11.

In the most recent case, the owner of a house at 101 Anthony Road fell behind on the taxes, got sick and ultimately died. With taxes and other costs, the town was owed $17,500.

With few options, the property went to auction for taxes, but none of the five contractors present wanted the property.

“It was deplorable,” said Ronald Lewis, of North Stonington, who was there for the tax sale and present at the selectmen’s meeting. Lewis said that wood on the first floor had rotted into the earthen basement and the presence of lead paint and asbestos tile or insulation was highly likely

According to Lewis it would cost $30,000 to demolish the two-story structure.

A common-share driveway and the likelihood of a bad septic system were not even discussed.

“When you say ‘foreclosure,’ that doesn’t always work,” Mullane said.

After much discussion, the selectmen voted to file a motion in court — at a cost of $400 — in order to have the bank retain ownership of the property.

“That’s the sad reality of what’s going on today,” Mullane said. “The town does not want to be in the housing business. The bank gave people these difficult mortgages, the bank can keep it.”

Over the next month the selectmen plan on establishing an internal procedure to deal with such cases.

Steinhart told the selectmen that most property tax payments are timely and those that are not are due to human error.

“Some people are late, some people need to be reminded,” she said.

She also explained that her office is willing to work with the public should the need arise.

“We don’t usually go to foreclosure at all,” she said. “We also don’t usually get stuck with these properties and we don’t like to send these properties to the town solicitor.”

Selectman Robert Testa said that the town should be aware of opportunities that would help the town’s Affordable Housing Commission.

In fact, the commission asked if the town would consider obtaining 101 Anthony Road, which Mullane declined, explaining the property would be a large investment to renovate.

msouza@thewesterlysun.com



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