Neil and Mark Mucciaccio are proud of their deep family roots in Easton, Massachusetts. Shortly before their mother passed away in 2006 and with the family’s blessing, the brothers took ownership of their childhood home. They live there today with Mark’s wife, his disabled stepdaughter, and two of his grandchildren, one of whom has diabetes at nine years old. Unfortunately, because of hard times and state-sanctioned home equity theft, the Mucciaccios’ stand to lose the family’s generations-old stronghold and all of its equity.
Both brothers are working-class earners, and starting in 2013, financial hardship left them struggling to pay their property taxes. They managed to pay off that year’s taxes—plus the interest and costs—in 2014. From there, however, their financial problems snowballed due to a series of family medical troubles.
When the Mucciaccios missed their 2016 taxes, the Town of Easton initiated a “tax taking,” meaning the debt went on the books and began accruing 16% annual interest, subsequent tax bills, and costs. Seven months later, the town sold its 2016 tax lien to Tallage Lincoln, LLC for $4,355—the amount the Mucciaccios owed the town. 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 just one month after buying the tax lien and paid all subsequent tax bills. Although Tallage sent a notice of the foreclosure action, foreclosure notices are consistently written in dense legalese that few people could understand. Neither Mark nor Neil were aware they were on the verge of losing their family home.
In 2019, the Massachusetts Land Court foreclosed on the lien and gave absolute title to Tallage. Because the property was valued at $276,500 and the Mucciaccios’ debt had grown to roughly $30,000 in taxes, interest, and costs, the Land Court effectively handed the company the home and more than $245,000 in equity.
A home’s equity is just as much property as a home itself and cannot be taken by government without just compensation.
The Mucciaccios aren’t alone. The Massachusetts tax foreclosure system is particularly egregious and a recipe for cronyism because it 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 stole over $56 million in property equity from Massachusetts residents.
On November 11, 2020, Tallage sent a realtor to the Mucciaccios’ home with a “generous” offer to let them buy back the home for $138,000. Both Neil and Mark were recently put out of work due to COVID-19. But even if the Mucciaccios could find work and get a loan, they would still lose more than $100,000 in home equity.
Instead, represented free of charge by PLF, the Mucciaccios are fought back with a lawsuit challenging the state’s home equity theft system that preys on its most vulnerable members. With that lawsuit pending, Tallage Lincoln reached an agreement with the Mucciaccios allowing the family to pay their debt and reclaim title to the home. The family voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit in March 2021.
Massachusetts is the latest state in PLF’s ongoing work to defeat home equity theft across the country.