Eileen Battisti’s $280, 000 home was sold at a tax auction in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, in September 2011; taking the view, as she told newspapers, that ‘for the house to be sod just because of $6.30 is crazy,’ Ms. Battisti took the matter to court. And many of use would agree with her – especially since she ‘didn’t even know about the $6.30.’
But the case didn’t come down to what was crazy: it came down to the law (by the time you’ve red this, you might think they’re the same thing) – and the judge was clear that the county tax claim bureau followed the letter of the law when it came to notifying Ms. Battisti of her outstanding debt.
That debt came to just $235.00, made up mostly of interest and fees on the original $6.30. It isn’t owing now – the house sale generated about $116, 000 and most of that money is due to go to Ms. Battisti, who still lives in the house.
Looked at more closely, Ms. Battitsti’s story isn’t an uncommon one, especially for women of her generation: her husband handled all the finances, and he had recently passed away, dying in 2004. Ms. Battisti says he never informed her of any $6.30 owing.
An attorney for the buyer was unavailable for comment, but the chief solicitor of Beaver County, Joe Askar, said the judge got the decision right, reading straight from the law books.
The judge, Beaver County Common Pleas Judge Gus Kwidis, wrote that the county tax claim bureau had complied with notification requirements in state law. ‘There is no doubt,’ Judge Kwidis wrote, ‘that [Ms. Battista] had actual receipt of the notification of the tax upset scale on July 7, 2011, and Aug. 16, 2011. Moreover, on Aug. 12, 2011, a notice of sale was sent by first class mail and was not returned.’
‘The court never wants to see anybody lose their home,’ Mr. Askar said, ‘ but at the same time the tax sale law, the tax real estate law, doesn’t give a whole lot of room for error, either.’
Addressing the question of whether Ms. Battisti knew about the $6.30, Mr. Askar said, ‘it’s bad – she had some hard times, I guess her husband kind of took care of a lot of that stuff. It seemed that she was having a hard time coping with the loss of her husband – that just made it set in a little more.’
Ms. Battisti has declined to collect on the sale and plans to take her case to the Commonwealth Court to appeal further. She’ll be allowed to stay in her home until a final ruling is handed down. The court will be as constrained as Judge Kwidis was by the law, though, and as he put it, ‘under tax law, even if I feel sorry for her, I can’t do a thing for her.’