Supreme court case impacts Georgia home buyers - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Supreme court case impacts Georgia home buyers

By Taylor Barnhill  - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A case goes before the Georgia Supreme Court that could have a major impact on every home buyer in the state. The question...who's responsible for footing the bill for fees on delinquent property taxes? News Leader Nine attended court in Atlanta to find the answers.

The Georgia Supreme Court heard a local case Wednesday involving Muscogee County Tax Commissioner Lula Huff and The Harpagon Company. The issue was whether or not the tax commissioner can charge delinquent fees before a property is sold.

Huff's attorney, Travis Hargrove stated, "Property cannot be sold and cannot be levied unless the research is done or a notice is provided and there's an expense incurred in that. And Muscogee County has opted to utilize an outside provider in order to provide that notice." That outside provider is Delinquent Tax Solutions Inc.

The company entered into a contract with the tax commissioners office, charging Harpagon a $165 fee on top of the $98 in back taxes the previous owner failed to pay.

"These are taxes. They're not voluntarily paid by anybody. They're imposed by the government, if you don't pay them, you lose your property. And our law has always been that in statues in taxation are strewed in favor of the tax payer, against the government if there's any impunity," said Harpagon's attorney Robert Proctor.

The issue is the collector's fee charged on top of the late ad valorem taxes before the sale to Harpagon was final.

Hargrove told the Supreme Court Justices, "Even if it's late, they cannot be added until the property is levied. Once it is levied then the fees can be charged to the tax payer."

But Proctor added, "It's a way of interpreting when you can charge a fee. You can't charge the fee until the sale occurs, we're not arguing that because there never was a levy. The decision will have implications for a lot of tax payers."

With homes in foreclosure all over the state, a ruling in this case could determine exactly who is responsible for back taxes at the time of purchase.

The Georgia Supreme Court won't have a final decision on this case for another few months.

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