Family sues Wayne County over property tax foreclosure law

Family says county foreclosed on home, sold it for $108,000

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®, Derick Hutchinson

DETROIT - A New Jersey family is suing Wayne County, claiming officials improperly took their home and asking for their money back.

There are two kinds of foreclosure: mortgage and property tax. If someone stops paying the mortgage, the bank takes their home. If someone stops paying property taxes, the county takes the home.

In both cases, the property is sold, but this lawsuit, which centers around what happened to a Southwest Detroit home, aims to change the rules.

Erica Perez and her family wanted to join other family members in the area, so a fixer-upper home was their opportunity.

"Every bit of money we saved and every spare minute we had went into fixing the house, the plumbing, the electricity and everything," Perez said.

Every other weekend they would drive 11 hours each way to rebuild they place they paid $50,000 to buy, Perez said. Once they got it up to code, they started renting, she said.

"It was worth it," Perez said. "It was something we were proud of and could call our own."

Something went wrong along the way, though, and the family ended up $144 short on a 2014 tax bill. They were told to pay about $350 in penalties.

The family, which moved to another New Jersey address, never received the Wayne County appearance warnings, Perez said.

Perez said the family continued to pay taxes in other years, but the county foreclosed on the home and sold it for $108,000.

Attorney Christina Martin believes the state law allowing this type of process violates the 5th and 8th amendments of the Constitution with excessive finds and unjust enrichment.

"This is nothing short of theft and we want the state to put a stop to it," Martin said. "In the meantime, counties across Michigan are stealing homes and land equity from people like Erica Perez."

Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree isn't commenting on the case because his office doesn't talk about pending litigation. His spokesperson told Local 4 Sabree follows Michigan law to the letter and the Treasurer's Office goes out of its way to inform homeowners to stay current with their property taxes, including getting on payment plans.

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