Wayne County Treasurer Sabree Says Rental Property Tax Foreclosures Exceed Homeowners’ WDET 101.9 FM

Eli Newman

Property tax foreclosures are once again happening in Wayne County. This is the first time they have taken place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the list of people at risk of losing their homes has grown considerably.

The deadline to avoid foreclosure passed on April 1. But recently, a Third Circuit Court judge ruled that foreclosures should be stayed for some homeowners until next year.

Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree called for the break. But that doesn’t mean his office is stopping foreclosures for everyone.

Hear: Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree discusses the court order to delay some foreclosures until next year.

Eli Newman, WDET News: What does this court order do?

Eric Sabree, Wayne County Treasurer: It removes from the entry the taxpayers who would have been entered for the taxes of 2017, the taxes of 2018 and the taxes of 2019.

How many properties were subject to foreclosure before this order was issued and how many will be protected by this order?

Approximately 2,400 owner-occupied properties were subject to foreclosure prior to the order. This order will remove about 1,800 of them from foreclosure.

Why was it important to delay foreclosures for another year?

Because those years we are asking for holdback are the years they would have been seized during the years it was COVID-19. I looked at this and said if these people applied to the Michigan Homeowners Assistance Fund, many of them did, the Michigan Homeowners Assistance Fund would pay [delinquent property taxes] for 2019, 2020 and 2021 for eligible taxpayers, then they would have one year to work on 2017 and/or 2018 with us through a payment plan.

Beyond owner-occupied properties in Wayne County, how many occupied properties are still at risk of foreclosure this year?

The non-owner occupied, which would be the property that will be rented out or inhabited by someone who does not own the property. This number is close to 3,700. It will probably go down maybe a few hundred days.

In terms of these non-owner occupied properties, I mean, there are thousands of people in these situations where the house that they don’t necessarily own could be seized and they rent out that house. What advice do you have for someone in this position? What should they do at that time?

The first thing is that they don’t have to leave the property and you don’t have to pay rent. That’s the advice I have for them.

And to be clear, once you leave that property you are renting out, you lose that ability to claim that property as your own.

This is true, because you are no longer an occupant of the property. In the city of Detroit you have the program called “Make it Home”, which the city has used in the past. You have over a thousand people who used to live in foreclosed properties who become owners. The city could possibly buy the properties by paying the taxes and then try to help turn the former tenant into a landlord, so that’s a possibility. If this does not happen, the property will be auctioned off. Because these properties once seized by law, we have to offer them to the state, to the county municipality in that order.

Prior to this order, was this a banner year in terms of the number of occupied foreclosures the county faced?

No. The highest year was 2015. I don’t know how many occupants [property foreclosures] but we had a total of 28,000 properties going through the auction. And this year, it’s less than 10,000.

Are you worried that by pushing back a lot of these foreclosures until next March, there might even be more foreclosures in 2023 than you and the courts will have to deal with?

I think there will be less because the Owners Assistance Fund has been helpful. They have already started paying part of the taxes. People are eligible for these federal funds. This will free them to focus on the two years or one year they have left. Instead of having four years of tax arrears, they will only have one or two. This would make it easier for them to pay. That’s the reasoning behind it all.

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  • Eli Newman is a reporter/producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

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