The Story of Florence
I am often asked how it is that so many people find themselves facing Tax Foreclosure in Erie County, and especially in the City of Buffalo. After all, aren't most people's property taxes taken right out of their monthly mortgage payment?
In the following series of articles, I endeavor to describe how some of my clients lost their home to tax foreclosure, and show how good, honest and intelligent people can find themselves on the wrong side of a City foreclosure auction.
The Story of Florence
Florence was 78 years old when her husband, Alfred, passed away after a stroke.
Alfred had always opened the mail and paid the bills. After 56 years of marriage, Florence had become quite accustomed to Alfred playing the role of family accountant.
In the weeks after Alfred’s death, the mail started to pile up on the kitchen table. Florence was still getting over Alfred’s death and opening stacks of junk mail was not high on her priority list.
Florence knew that the mortgage on her home had been paid in full years ago. Alfred had always told her that as long as she paid the taxes and utilities on the house she would always have a place to live.
When Florence finally got around to sorting through the piled up mail, she carefully separated what looked like important mail from the junk mail, erring on the side of caution.
Florence carefully budgeted her expenses each month. Now that Alfred was gone, Florence was only receiving half of the pension the couple was formerly entitled to. After Florence had paid the County and City taxes, she was happy to see that she still had several hundred dollars left over.
A few months after Alfred’s death, Florence’s grandson, Jake, came to the house to have dinner. After visiting for a few hours, Jake asked Florence if he could have some money to help pay for his college textbooks.
Jake had asked Alfred and Florence for financial help before. Alfred had always said that he was fine with giving Jake money, as long as it was for a good reason.
Even though Florence knew she didn’t have as much money to spare, she wanted Jake to feel like he still had a financial safety net. She wrote Jake a check for $400.00 knowing that her Social Security check would be enough to pay for her groceries and other expenses for the rest of the month.
Florence felt good about being able to help Jake out and everything seemed fine until a week later when Florence was surprised to see a letter in the mail from the City of Buffalo stating that she was behind on her Garbage User Fee.
Florence had never even heard of a Garbage User Fee and certainly wasn’t aware of any late payment she owed the City of Buffalo. The bill was for $452.00 and Florence didn’t have enough in the bank to cover it. Knowing that she would be getting an income tax return in a few months, Florence decided to put the bill aside and hoped that the penalty on the payment wouldn’t be too severe.
About a month later, Florence noticed a small document tacked to her door that looked like some sort of Official Notice. Florence saw the words “In Rem Foreclosure” written in bold at the top of the paper.
Florence had no idea what the document meant and thought that it must either be a mistake or some kind of scam.
When Florence received her tax return check a few months later, she went to Buffalo City Hall to pay her Garbage User Fee.
When she eventually found the right room in City Hall to pay her bill, she was horrified to hear from Garbage User clerk that her home had been auctioned off by the City at a Tax Foreclosure Sale.
Because Florence had owed the City of Buffalo $452.00, her house had been sold at auction to a property management company for $40,000.00. With the exception of the small piece of paper that had been tacked to her door, Florence did not receive any notice that her home was being put up for the Erie County Tax Foreclosure Auction.
Florence spent the next several days calling various offices at Buffalo City Hall trying to find out what she could do to get her house back. Although the people answering the phone at City Hall were very polite, no one could offer Florence any advice as to how she could get her home back or how her home had been foreclosed upon so quickly.
Worse yet, the City took the $452.00 it was owed, and within a few weeks Florence received eviction papers from a property management company claiming to be the new owners of the home.
Not having anywhere to go and not having any money to relocate with, Florence was on the brink of despair when she found attorney Amy Counter on the internet.
Florence learned that Amy Counter’s office was a local Buffalo attorney with a proven track record in recovering Surplus Funds remaining from an In Rem Foreclosure.
After speaking with attorney Amy Counter, Florence learned that the City of Buffalo can be ruthless in its foreclosure practices pertaining to properties with tax arrears. Unlike most of its suburban counterparts, the City of Buffalo expedites the in rem tax foreclosure process so that, oftentimes, homes are foreclosed upon before the owner even knows something is wrong.
The silver lining for Florence was that attorney Amy Counter was able to deliver the $39,548.00 remaining as unclaimed surplus monies left over from the tax foreclosure sale to Florence so that she was able to move into a Senior Apartment where she was at least safe and secure.If you or a loved one has been victim of a Tax Foreclosure sale, call Dwan Counter, Attorneys at Law and ask for attorney Amy Counter. Ms. Counter will be able to tell you if there is anything that can be done to save your home or if there are any unclaimed Surplus Funds to be recovered.