Cook County officials this weekend are starting to unveil a massive list of properties in preparation for an April auction that allows investors to buy unpaid property taxes from delinquent property owners countywide.
A partial list of the more than 66,000 properties is being released in the classified section of Sunday’s Chicago Sun-Times. The list is designed to notify property owners they could lose ownership of their land and buildings if taxes aren’t paid. Other property listings are expected to be published on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9.
The tax sale, organized by Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, will auction almost $212 million worth of taxes that went unpaid in tax year 2015 by owners of residential and commercial properties as well as vacant lots, according to an official with the treasurer’s office.
Two other similar sales are set to start later this year: the 2017 “tax scavenger” sale in July, and the sale of property taxes that went unpaid in 2016, which is set for December, said Madre Belmer, a tax examiner in the Cook County Clerk’s office. “There are three tax sales this year, and that’s unprecedented,” he said.
To purchase unpaid taxes, potential investors must register to participate in the auction between Feb. 10 and March 24 at CookTaxSale.com or by contacting the treasurer’s office at (877) 361-7325. The sale will begin April 3. Buyers can purchase a real-time list of the taxes for sale for $250.
During the auction, investors bid a percentage on a property’s taxes, with the lowest percentage winning the auction. From the date of sale, a successful bid will earn a buyer that percentage of the still-unpaid taxes every six months, according to the treasurer’s office.
A successful bid also means the buyer pays the full amount of the unpaid taxes at the time of the sale. Going forward, it would be up to the tax buyer to watch for any further delinquencies on that property. The opportunity to pay taxes on time remains with the property owner — but if a buyer wishes to pay taxes for subsequent years, they’re only allowed to do so once the owner is delinquent, an official with the treasurer’s office said.
Once the delinquent taxes are sold at auction — which grants each buyer the taxes from 2015, all previously unpaid taxes and the opportunity to buy future unpaid taxes on each property — Cook County offers a grace period for delinquent owners to redeem their payments.
For residential properties, the original owners have 2 1/2 years after an investor buys their taxes to repay the unpaid amount, which can include fees, penalties and interest. Owners pay that money to the county, not the investor who purchased the taxes.
If the taxes remain unpaid after that time, the tax buyer can take a landowner to court to seize rights to the property, similar to a landlord evicting a tenant, Belmer said.
The tax buyer is required to give a property owner at least three months’ notice before beginning that process. Once a case is taken to court, the owner will be given a final deadline to repay their taxes or face losing their property.
If the original owner pays off their taxes in those 2 1/2 years, they will be able to keep control of the property, Belmer said.
For commercial properties and vacant lots, the grace period for repayment can span from six months to two years. If only one year of taxes is owed, the property owner can repay taxes within two years. If the owner owes taxes from 2015 and an earlier year, they’ll be required to pay back the amount within as little as six months.
The auction will be conducted by township:
- Taxes in Barrington, Berwyn, Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Cicero, Elk Grove, Evanston, Hanover, Lemont, Leyden, Lyons, Maine, New Trier, Niles, Northfield, Norwood Park, Oak Park and Orland townships will go on sale April 3.
- Taxes in Palatine, Palos, Proviso, Rich, River Forest, Riverside, Schaumburg, Stickney, Thornton, Wheeling, Worth and Hyde Park townships will go on sale April 4.
- Taxes in Jefferson and Lake townships go on sale April 5.
- Taxes in Lake View, North Chicago, Rogers Park, South Chicago and West Chicago townships will go on sale April 6.