Flipping through the newspaper or scrolling down your county’s website, you may have seen a notice for Sheriff’s Sales or Tax Deed Auctions. When the state or county places a tax lien or deed on real estate, sometimes the government will try to sell that lien at auction. While some see these sales as investment opportunities, Georgia law does provide some recourse for those property owners who are delinquent on their taxes.

Tax Liens and Tax Deeds

A tax lien is a lien (security interest) imposed on real estate or personal property after the owner fails to pay, or is delinquent on, their taxes. Tax liens do not expire – the only way to get rid of them is to pay the amount owed or sell the property and use the proceeds to pay off the lien.

Some states will issue a tax lien certificate when the property owner fails to pay their taxes. The lien attaches to the property and takes priority over other property-related debts. Other states, including Georgia, will issue a tax deed when the property owners don’t pay their taxes. Tax deeds, sometimes referred to as redeemable deeds, are connected with auctions.

Buying a Tax Deed at Auction

When a Georgia property owner fails to pay their property taxes, the county commissioner may try to sell the real estate to recoup some of the tax money. Individual investors can purchase the tax deeds at public auction.

For non-judicial tax sales, the county commissioners hold Sheriff’s Sales, or auctions, on the steps of the county courthouse the first Tuesday of the month. (You can contact the county tax commissioner to find auction information). The starting bid is usually the amount of back taxes owed, with the highest bidder taking ownership of the tax deed. Some counties have additional requirements, such as the buyer being in-person at the auction and paying for the tax deed in full.

One Year Right of Redemption

In Georgia, when an investor purchases a tax deed, they do not immediately get possession of that property. Once the original owner is properly notified about the sale, they have a one-year “right of redemption,” during which time they can pay off the tax deed, plus interest and penalties. Currently, Georgia’s tax lien interest rate is 20%. That means, if the homeowner wants to reclaim ownership of the property, they’d have to repay the deed-owner the full auction price, plus 20% interest and any penalties. It doesn’t matter if this occurs during the 10th day of the year or the 300th day of the year; it’s the auction price, plus 20% and penalties.

Repayment or Foreclosure

After the one-year right of redemption ends, the person who purchased the tax deed has a couple of options. They can hold onto the tax deed, force repayment, or foreclose on the property. Every year, the tax lien interest rate increases by 10%. So, if the original owner wants to reclaim the property during year two, they’d have to pay the auction price plus 30% interest and any penalties. During the third year, it’s the auction price plus 40% – and so on.

However, if the person who purchased the tax deed is ready to see a return on investment, during year two, they can force the original owner to pay all money owed, or else foreclose on the property. If the property is foreclosed upon, the owner of the tax deed will take full possession of the real estate. The original owners must vacate the property.

Have Additional Questions? Contact Our Real Estate Team

If you have additional questions about Georgia’s property tax, ownership, or tax lien laws, please reach out to Brian M. Douglas & Associates at (770) 933-9009 or via our online contact page. Our real estate team would be happy to help.