Tax Sale Overturned

Mis-addressed Mail:  Strict Compliance with Notice Provisions is Required

Recently, our real estate litigation team successfully overturned an Upset Tax Sale in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in the matter Scheider v. Fayette Co. Tax Claim Bureau, et al., Fayette Legal Journal, vol. 87, No. 10 (M//hidden/ 9, 2024).  The sale involved a family’s recreational second home being sold for a small amount of past due taxes – under $500.  The Fayette County Tax Claim Bureau had been providing defective mailed notice to delinquent taxpayers.  The Bureau mailed the notices, but addressed the mailing with the taxpayer’s last name first and the first name last.  So, for example, the required mailing would be addressed to “Doe John,” not “John Doe.”  The taxpayer never received the notices and the record demonstrated USPS “insufficient address” notifications were returned to the Bureau.  The Court found this juxtaposition of the taxpayer’s name to render the statutorily required notices to be improperly addressed, causing them to be invalid.  The Court held that the tax sale must be overturned.  To view the entire Opinion and Decree of the Court, click here.

In reaching this holding, the Court recited that the Bureau is required to give each owner notice of sale at least thirty (30) days before the date of sale by United States certified mail, restricted delivery under 72 P.S. § 5860.602(e)(1). If the TCB does not receive a return receipt from each owner, then the Bureau must provide a similar notice of sale by first class mail with proof of mailing at the last known address under Section 5860.602(e)(2).  Citing In re Tax Claim Bureau of Lehigh County, 381 A.2d 511, 512 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1978), the Court went on to explain that the notice provisions of tax sale statutes must be strictly complied with in order to guard against the deprivation of property without due process of law.  Of course, if the Bureau improperly addressed the notice of sale, the notice is invalid and the sale must be overturned. “When an individual’s property rights are at stake, due process requires that he or she be identified with clarity and without disguise so that those rights may be asserted and the owners may fully protect his or her interest in the property concerned.” LaBracio v. Northumberland County, 467 A.2d 1221, 1224 (Pa. Cmwlth.1983).

This ruling resulted in the tax sale to be overturned and set aside, and allowed a family to retain their recreational second home for future generations to enjoy.  Unfortunately, as of the date of the writing of this article, the Fayette County Tax Claim Bureau continues to utilize this defective method of mailing the statutorily required notices to delinquent taxpayers.

Should you have a question about tax sales, been affected by improper notice of a tax sale, or lost your property as the result of a tax sale, feel free to contact Eric B. Smith, Esquire at 215-540-2653 or  You may also view our prior article Strict Compliance Required: Notice Requirements Before the Tax Sale of Your Home for a more expansive discussion of Pennsylvania’s Tax Sale Law.

Mr. Smith, a partner of Timoney Knox, LLP, serves as Chair of the Firm’s Litigation Group and has been consistently recognized by Super Lawyers and Best Attorneys since 2005.  In 2017 Mr. Smith served as the President of the Montgomery Bar Association.  His commercial and real estate litigation practice spans across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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Eric B. Smith

Mr. Smith, a partner of Timoney Knox, LLP, serves as Chair of the Firm’s Litigation Group and has been consistently recognized by Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers.  In 2017 he served as President of the Montgomery Bar Association.

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Timoney Knox's Real Estate Litigation Group

Timoney Knox has real estate attorneys experienced in buying and selling property; in mortgaging and borrowing against real estate; in interpreting and applying the wide variety of local land use and zoning laws; and in representing the needs and concerns of individuals as well as homeowners’ associations, condominiums, and planned communities.