D.C. Officials Outraged Over Post Report on Tax Liens, Foreclosures

D.C. promises quick action to better protect vulnerable homeowners from losing their homes to tax liens and foreclosures amid a Washington Post series detailing how some elderly, infirm and financially stressed homeowners have lost their homes while owing only a few hundred dollars.

The months-long investigation shows that hundreds of homeowners lost their homes to tax lien sales to aggressive lawyers and real estate firms over the past eight years even when the taxes owed were a fragment of the house's worth.

D.C. Council Finance Chairman Jack Evans, who helped tighten the rules a few years ago, said the Post stories demanded new action.

“I'm outraged that this has happened and I'm going to take action immediately,” he said.

Evans told News4 he would propose emergency legislation next week that would:

  • Immediately freeze tax sales for seniors, veterans and the disabled,
  • Require home sale profits to revert to the homeowner,
  • Cap attorney fees at $1,500 and
  • Prohibit any tax sale where the debt is less than $2,000 (the floor is $1,000 now).

“But regardless, this shouldn't be happening to people in the District of Columbia, and we're going to take action to make sure it doesn’t,” Evans said.

Mayor Vincent Gray said he was shocked by the Post report and would make his own proposals soon but wasn't specific.

“I don't want to start to get into specific approaches at this stage, but we will have those and will have those very quickly,” he said.

Some critics complain the mayor, Evans, other council members and the city's tax office have known about predatory tax liens for a long time but have done too little about such practices.

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