When a tax bill becomes delinquent, the Tax Commissioner may issue a tax lien against the property. A tax lien, also known as a Fi.Fa., from the Latin term Fieri Facias, may also be referred to as a tax execution. A tax lien is a claim or encumbrance placed on a property that authorizes the Tax Commissioner or the Sheriff to take whatever action is necessary and allowed by law to obtain overdue taxes. It is also the first step in taking the property to tax sale.
For real property, the Tax Commissioner must issue a 30-day notice to the property owner before filing the lien. Liens on personal property may be filed at any time after the account becomes delinquent. Liens remain filed until taxes are paid in full, and may affect personal credit records, real property closing procedures and other legal processes. A Fi.Fa. filing fee is also added to the delinquent account.
To satisfy a lien, payment may be made to the Tax Commissioner using cash, check, credit card (convenience fees may apply), cashier's check or money order. The Tax Commissioner accepts partial payments but does not offer formal payment plans. Making partial payments on delinquent property does not necessarily prevent the property from progressing to levy and tax sale.
If payment is not made after a Fi.Fa. is issued, the Tax Commissioner will proceed to levy upon and sell the property to obtain the taxes due.
Once a tax lien has been filed, the Tax Commissioner may levy on the property. A levy of a tax lien is the act of setting aside a portion or a whole of a delinquent taxpayer’s property to satisfy the lien. In other words, a levy is a "seizure" of property on which taxes are owed.
In the case of real property, "seizure" may be made by posting a sign on the property to that effect. This does not affect the ownership of the property, nor does it affect the right of the property owner to reside on the property.
When levied upon, personal property is seized in the literal sense. The Tax Commissioner may take inventory of and store personal property until taxes are paid or until the property is sold at tax sale.
In all cases, notice is sent when a property has been levied upon. At this stage, additional levy costs and fees are added to the delinquent account, and only certified funds are accepted as payment. Certified funds include cash, cashier’s check or money order. Checks, credit cards and bank cards are not accepted. No partial payments will be accepted once a property has been levied upon.
Once a property has been selected to go to tax sale, additional costs are added to the delinquent account for title research, advertising and other necessary actions. The property owner still has the option at this point to pay all applicable taxes, costs and fees to prevent the property from going to sale. Only certified funds are accepted.
The Tax Commissioner will advertise the property to be sold in the The Leader-Tribune for four consecutive weeks prior to the date of sale. Advertisements also include the date and time of the sale. All sales take place in front of the Peach County Courthouse. Owners whose property is scheduled for sale will receive written notification prior to the sale as will those who may hold mortgages or liens on the property.
Those interested in participating in the tax sale must register with the Tax Commissioner’s office prior to the start of the sale. There is no fee to attend a tax sale. Tax sales are conducted as auctions, and properties are sold to the highest and best bidder. This is not only the bidder who bids the highest amount for purchase of the property but also who can actually pay the amount that day. The opening bid is equal to the amount of taxes due plus costs.
The purchaser of property at tax sale must make payment with certified funds (i.e., cash, cashier’s check or certified check issued or certified by a financial institution which is insured with the FDIC or FSLIC). Purchasers are issued a receipt upon payment, and the Tax Commissioner will issue a tax deed in the name of the purchaser and have the deed properly recorded. Purchasers are responsible for paying property taxes as they become due. If taxes become delinquent after purchase, a notice of intent to Fi.Fa. is sent to the purchaser and a lien is filed in the tax sale purchaser's name.
Purchasers of property at tax sale do not automatically "own" the property, and property owners do not immediately get evicted. Purchasers must by law allow the owner one year after the date of sale to redeem the property. In addition to the property owner, anyone with legal interest in the property, such as a mortgage company or anyone who holds a lien on the property, may also redeem the property. To redeem a property, the owner or interested party must pay the purchaser the amount the purchaser paid at tax sale, plus 20 percent of that amount. In addition to this amount, the purchaser may also add to the redemption price the dollar amount of any subsequent property taxes the purchaser paid on the property after the tax sale took place.
One year from the date of the tax sale the purchaser may foreclose on the right of redemption and forever bar anyone from redeeming the property from that time on. The purchaser must issue written notice of this action. At that point, the purchaser may take steps to become the deeded owner of the property. The purchaser will automatically take title to the property four years after the date the tax deed was recorded if the property is not redeemed, even if the purchaser does not formally foreclose on the right of redemption. This process is also known as the “ripening” of the tax deed.
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Purchasers of properties at tax sales have certain responsibilities regarding the sale. We suggest you consult legal counsel to determine the correct course of action before and after the purchase of property at a tax sale. For complete information on tax sales in Georgia, please refer the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.).