Morgan calls for transparency in sale of delinquent properties

Legislative Staff Release

Published: 16-Jul-2010

In a release sent recently to CapitolBeatOK, questions were posed about the honesty and true transparency in sale of delinquent tax properties in Oklahoma.

If the average Oklahoma citizen were asked if he could point to “ALL BLK 1 EX W20FT LOT 12 & 13 & ALL BLK 2 EX W20FT OF LTS 12 & 13 & ALL BLK 3 EX THAT PT TAKEN FOR STREET & ALL BLK 4 EX THAT PT TAKEN STREET PLUS VAC MADISON STREET LYING BETWEEN SD BLKS” on a state map, most would be unable to determine the location.

However, a great majority would recognize 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd as the address of the state Capitol, or in the least, would be able to do a quick reverse address check and easily determine the location in question.

However, in terms of notifications of tax delinquencies pending sale at auction, it is the legal description and not the physical address that is printed in a local paper one month prior to the sale.

State Rep. Danny Morgan of Prague, Democratic leader in the state House, states that the process in place for delinquent tax properties is antiquated and unnecessarily complicated and plans to introduce legislation in the coming session to address this issue.

Morgan says he was angered to read last month of a businessman who bought for $1,584 a shared driveway at auction for delinquent tax properties, then demanded that the four condominium owners, who were unaware they did not own their driveway, pay him $80,000 for the property.

When the elderly owners refused, according to the legislative release, the owner placed concrete highway barriers in their driveway. Shortly after the driveway was blocked, officials ordered removal of the barriers for public safety reasons.

In this case, none of the condominium owners, nor the president of their respective homeowners association, were aware that this property was in tax delinquency or was for sale.

Rep. Morgan’s research on the issue revealed that once delinquent tax properties are eligible for sale at auction, it is only the name of the last known owner and his/her last known address that is published along with the legal description. The physical address of the property for sale at auction is not provided.

Furthermore, this pending sale is only posted in the local paper in the month preceding the sale. In small towns there may only be one local paper, but in larger metropolitans there are several. In the case of Oklahoma City, the Journal Record publishes tax delinquency properties for sale, not the Oklahoman.

Rep. Morgan contends that if the county is able to provide this information to newspapers, it can be uploaded to the respective county website for easy viewing.

He also questions why notices are published only one month prior to the sale at auction, as opposed to three to six months.  Currently, delinquent tax properties are sold at county action in June of each year; therefore, only in the month of May do local newspapers publish these pending sales.

Rep. Morgan also contends that the physical address of the property pending auction should be included in these notices, as the addition of this one field of information would be beneficial in terms of transparency of the process, and at the same time would not be burdensome to the county.  

“I think the government can do a much better job of providing transparency to this process,” Rep. Morgan said. “In the case of the condominium owners, they never received notices of this sale, as it was the unidentified owner of the driveway who received notices prior to the sale. Furthermore, they did not know and would not have even been able to recognize the legal description even if they had picked up the paper in May and read through countless classifieds.”

He continued, “Providing the physical address of the property for sale, in addition to giving more than just a month’s notice of the sale, could prevent the senseless situation that occurred in Edmond. It will increase homeowners’ protection and work toward ending the sale of properties without notice.”

Rep. Morgan noted that this transparency will also lead to a larger pool of people who can participate in auctions and, therefore, increase the amount reimbursed to the county for unpaid taxes.

Coupled with future legislation, the legislative release said, will be a campaign to make all property owners aware and educated in the county’s procedures on delinquent taxes in order to protect homeowners from predatory, albeit legal, practices of people who exploit the system.