The City's Assessing Department (Assessing) identifies taxable parcels and owners of property in Boston from the land records maintained at the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds and from communications from taxpayers. Cities and towns assess the owner of record as of January 1, for the following fiscal year which begins six months later on July 1. Assessing coordinates the tax rates with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and also reviews applications for property tax abatements.
Assessing transmits ownership information to the Collector -Treasurer (C/T) and C/T mails out quarterly property tax bills on July 1, October 1, January 1 and April 1. Tax payments are generally due within 30 days of the bill and amounts not paid accrue interest at 14%. Any taxes that remain unpaid at the end of the fiscal year (June 30) are certified to a tax title account and the interest rate increases to 16%, according to state law.
C/T then issues a tax taking, also known as a tax lien, on the property and records the tax taking at the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds. The tax taking is a claim of legal ownership by the City which provides the taxpayer the right to redeem. After a six month waiting period, if the tax is still not paid, the City Law Department files a complaint in the Land Court to foreclose the rights of redemption. The City adds Registry of Deeds filing fees and Court complaint fees to the tax title account.
Upon filing, the Land Court mails a preliminary notice by regular mail to the party named on the petition, the owner of record according to Assessing records. The purpose of the preliminary notice is to allow the taxpayer to pay the delinquent account prior to more formal and costly court proceedings. If the taxpayer pays the tax title account, the City withdraws the complaint from the Land Court. Otherwise, the Court assigns a title examiner to perform a title exam on the property by reviewing records at the Registry of Deeds to identify all persons with an interest in the property such as owners and mortgage lenders. Title examiners may also research probate and bankruptcy court records.
The Court then mails a citation or notice of the foreclosure proceedings to all interested persons identified in the title report. In certain cases if notification by certified mail is unsuccessful, the Court may authorize notification by deputy sheriff or by publication in a local newspaper.
The citation or notice will state a return day which is the deadline to file an Answer in Court. Filing an Answer is an important step that will protect the taxpayer. An Answer is a simple one page form, available at the Land Court, in which the property owner, mortgage holder or other party of interest asserts a right to redeem the property. By filing an Answer, the taxpayer guarantees that he or she will be notified of all future Land Court proceedings. A person who ignores the notice and fails to file an Answer can be defaulted and waives his or her right to contest the foreclosure and to receive future notice from the Court. If all parties who are entitled to notice are notified and fail to file Answers, the Court may enter a General Default and then issue a foreclosure judgment without a hearing. At any time in the process, the taxpayer can pay the delinquent tax balance. The tax title balance does not include the current year's property taxes.
If one or more parties of interest file Answers, a hearing will be scheduled and a request for a Finding will be made. A Finding is a ruling by the Court that a certain sum of money is due and sets a timeframe with an expiration date in which to pay the balance of the tax title account, this is usually 60 days, but the Court has discretion to designate more or less time. The City cannot proceed with the case until the Finding period has expired. Failure of parties of interest who have been notified of a Finding hearing to appear at the hearing may result in a default from the case and Judgment may enter against them.
If the Finding has expired and the Tax Title account balance has not been paid in full, the City may request a hearing before the Land Court for the allowance of a motion for judgment of foreclosure against the parties who have filed Answers.
A hearing on a motion for judgment is the final step in contested cases. Parties will have the opportunity to present their case before the Land Court Recorder, who will decide whether to allow the motion for judgment. As with uncontested cases, if the Court issues a Judgment, the City becomes the owner of the property and the taxpayer loses all rights in the property. State law allows a taxpayer a limited period of time after a Foreclosure Judgment to ask the Court to vacate the Judgment. Payment of the tax title account in full is required before the City assents to vacating Judgment. The City of Boston Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) manages foreclosed property for the City.
Taxpayers may request payment plans from the City to pay off tax title accounts. Payment plans allow a taxpayer to pay four equal payments over a ten month period, beginning 30 days after the agreement is signed and then three payments at 90 day intervals thereafter. Payment plans also require taxpayers to file an Answer, assent to a Finding, and pay current year taxes when billed. Payment plans are not authorized to redeem a property after the Court enters a Judgment.