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Cities and towns in Massachusetts, in an effort to collect back taxes, have the right to file a lien against a property owner in the Registry of Deeds. Municipalities can later foreclose the rights of owners to redeem the property (to get clear title to the property returned to them by paying the taxes). Municipalities have the right to take over ownership of the property. While tax title procedure helps cities and towns that need the money to function, it can be a great hardship to those who might be losing their homes.

The law that regulates the collection of real estate taxes by municipalities is M.G.L. c. 60. Under M.G.L. c. 60 § 52, municipalities may sell tax obligations to third-party investors at several points in the tax foreclosure process (as receivables, liens or tax titles) to raise immediate revenue. The private investor stands in the municipality’s shoes to collect the obligation and continue the tax foreclosure process.

Understanding the process is critical to being able to hold on to the rights of redemption for a homeowner whose home is in tax title. The City of Boston’s Tax Title Division has provided a brief summary of the tax title procedure to help taxpayers understand the process. The City of Pittsfield has done the same.

Gaining time to put together a plan to pay back taxes and redeem title to the real estate can be important for delinquent taxpayers. The Land Court has provided a “Tax Lien Answer” form wherein taxpayers can assert their rights, offering to “redeem upon such terms as may be fixed by the court” under MGL c. 60 § 68.

“Understanding the Tax Foreclosure Process” provides a detailed summary of Tax Title Takings and Foreclosure procedures in material that accompanied a 2005 symposium.

Legal help for those facing foreclosure of the rights of redemption in their property may be available through Limited Assistance Representation. Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) is available to any party who feels he or she cannot afford or does not want a lawyer for the entire case, but could use some help on a limited basis.

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