Dupere v. Town of Dartmouth, et al.

State’s home equity theft scheme robs family, funds private company’s windfall

Cases > Property Rights > Dupere v. Town of Dartmouth, et al.
Active: State lawsuit filed to restore family’s home and property rights

Home is everything to Tina Dupere, and in 1996, she moved back into her childhood home in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to live with her mother, Mary Ann. In 2011, Mary Ann suffered a permanently debilitating stroke. Tina’s income as an advocate and caretaker for people with developmental disabilities was no match for her mom’s costly medical care, and they fell behind on their 2016 property taxes by around $2,500. Later that year, the Town of Dartmouth placed a tax lien on the Duperes’ home. In 2018, the town sold its lien to a private lienholder, Tallage Davis, LLC for roughly $7,000. A year later, Tallage foreclosed on the home, taking the entire value of the $330,000 home for itself and leaving the Duperes with nothing. Mary Ann and Tina are now fighting back in court against Massachusetts’ legalized home equity theft.

Tina Dupere is very proud of her mom, Mary Ann, an elementary school teacher who retired in 2001 after 38 years in the New Bedford, Massachusetts, school system.

As an only child, Tina is also very protective. And when Mary Ann suffered a devastating, permanently debilitating stroke in 2011, Tina immediately took charge of her mother’s care and household finances. Logistically, there were no difficulties. Tina has lived with her mother in the family’s Dartmouth, Massachusetts, home since 1996. Mary Ann, who has owned the home since the early 1980s, planned to one day leave the home to her daughter.

Prior to Mary Ann’s stroke, the Duperes made ends meet and stayed current on their property taxes. The stroke unfortunately left her severely disabled and in need of costly medical care. Now in her 80s, unable to work, and with medical bills piling up, Mary Ann relies on government aid. Tina’s work as an advocate and caretaker for the developmentally disabled, while rewarding, hasn’t been quite enough to consistently keep up.

In 2016, when the Duperes were unable to pay their tax bill of $2,535.65, the Town of Dartmouth initiated a “tax taking,” which meant the tax debt began accruing 16% annual interest, subsequent tax bills, and other costs. Two years later, when the tax debt had grown to $7,295.98, the town sold the tax lien to Tallage Davis. Tallage is a private investment company that specializes in buying property tax debts and either collecting payments from homeowners at generous interest rates or—if owners cannot pay—taking ownership of their property and selling it for massive profits.

Tallage started the foreclosure process shortly thereafter and quietly paid all subsequent tax bills. Although Tallage sent a notice of the foreclosure action to the Duperes, notices are consistently written in legal jargon few people could understand.

In 2019, the Massachusetts Land Court foreclosed on the lien and gave absolute title to Tallage. Because the Duperes’ property was valued at $330,000, and their debt had grown to roughly $22,000 in taxes, interest, and costs, the government effectively gave the company more than $300,000 of the Duperes’ equity.

In September 2020, Tallage sent a property manager to the Duperes’ home with a “generous” offer to let them buy back their home for $155,000. Even if the Duperes could secure a loan, they would still lose more than $100,000 in home equity.

Tallage’s principal restated the offer again in December. He alternatively offered to pay Mary Ann and Tina $15,000 to move out of their home, advising Tina she was getting a “good deal.”

Now facing eviction, the Duperes are among the multitudes of property owners victimized by Massachusetts’ egregious—and unconstitutional—tax foreclosure system that regularly grants massive windfalls to private lienholders.

The average foreclosed property value exceeds the average tax debt by a ratio of 50:1. In just one year, municipalities and private investors took a windfall of more than $56 million in property equity from Massachusetts residents. This is legalized theft.

A home’s equity is just as much property as a home itself and cannot be taken by government without just compensation. For this reason, and because of what the home means to them, Tina and her mom didn’t follow the Tallage attorney’s advice. In fact, they did the opposite. Represented by PLF free of charge with assistance from attorney Michael Pill of Green Miles Lipton, LLP, they’re fighting back with a lawsuit challenging Massachusetts’ home equity theft system that preys on its most vulnerable members.

Massachusetts is the latest state in PLF’s ongoing work to defeat home equity theft across the country.

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What’s at stake?

  • Government cannot use the tax foreclosure system to take a homeowner’s equity and transfer it to private corporations for profit. In no other debt collection context is this normal, including in Massachusetts.
  • The government practice of seizing property over a tax debt and keeping more than it is owed is home equity theft and is unconstitutional.

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May 21, 2021

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