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AARP Bulletin

Predators Target Homes of Older Americans

Foreclosures tied to delinquent tax payments are a growing crisis for older homeowners

Tax Liens on the Elderly

Tax-lien landscape and law protection

In response to abuses, other jurisdictions have put protections in place. New York City won't allow tax liens to be sold on homes owned by low-income seniors, people with disabilities and veterans. Some counties in Michigan have done away with tax-lien sales and instead offer struggling homeowners payment plans. Maryland caps legal fees in tax-lien cases at $1,500.

And in D.C., Legal Counsel for the Elderly has been pressing for a new law that would, among other reforms, ban the sale of tax liens under $2,500 on primary residences, cap the legal fees and expenses that can be charged to homeowners at about $2,200 and establish an ombudsman to help distressed homeowners.

It was also through LCE's intervention that the Phillips brothers rescued the home they grew up in. Melvin recalls imagining his neighbors saying, "There's Captain Phillips … did you hear that he lost his house?"

But Phillips was luckier than many Americans. He and his brother have kept their house, and fixed it up. "It looks beautiful now."

From the Battle Lines

  • In Louisville, Ky., Rose Harper, a 77-year-old widow who lives on Social Security and food stamps, says that she is still in shock from being notified last year that a Dallas-based company was foreclosing on her house over a $469 property tax bill that its previous owner had failed to pay in 2009. The company, Tax Ease Lien Servicing, demanded $4,221 to settle the bill — an amount that John Dwyer, Harper's attorney, says is padded with bogus attorney's fees. "If she had to move," says her grandson, Tony Harper, "I don't think she would live much longer."

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