Minneapolis; August 24, 2021: An unlawful scheme is enriching local governments at the expense of Minnesota homeowners, who are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in home equity. A new report published by Pacific Legal Foundation found that when homes are foreclosed to pay property tax debts, Minnesota homeowners lose an average of 92% of the equity in their home.
Geraldine Tyler, a 92-year-old widow, lost all the equity she had in her Minneapolis condo — valued at more than $90,000 — over a debt of just $15,000. Minnesota allows counties to foreclose on an indebted property, sell it, and keep all of the proceeds from the sale. Hennepin County sold Tyler’s condo for $40,000 and kept everything.
Tyler’s story isn’t unique. Pacific Legal Foundation’s report found that from 2014 to 2020, more than 1,200 Minnesota homes were subject to tax foreclosures in 12 counties. Most homeowners’ debts were less than a tenth of their home’s value, resulting in the theft of $207,000 in home equity on average.
“Home equity is property, and it’s protected by the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions,” said David Deerson, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “Although the government can take property to settle tax debts, it can’t take more than it is owed. Doing so amounts to unconstitutional home equity theft.”
Pacific Legal Foundation is representing Geraldine Tyler in her legal challenge to Minnesota’s home equity theft scheme.
“Across the 12 counties we studied, over 1,200 Minnesota homeowners and families have fallen victim to home equity theft in recent years,” said Carol Park, Pacific Legal Foundation’s strategic research analyst. “Often these foreclosures and the related equity theft hurt vulnerable citizens whose home equity represents the bulk of their savings. Minnesota should address this problem immediately.”
Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that property owners there have a right to collect the surplus proceeds from the tax sale of their home, and in April, North Dakota enacted legislation to protect the property rights of landowners there. Pacific Legal Foundation is leading the charge to end home equity theft in the 12 states that allow it.
Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 14 victories out of 16 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.
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