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Tax Sale

A transfer of real property in exchange for money to satisfy charges imposed thereupon by the government that have remained unpaid after the legal period for their payment has expired.

Tax sales are authorized by state statutes to collect taxes that are long overdue to the state government from negligent or unwilling individuals.


Any sale of real property for delinquent taxes must be conducted in compliance with legally imposed requirements, or it is not valid. Ordinarily the tax collector is required to make and publish a list of property on which taxes have not been paid. Such a list must contain an adequate description of each parcel of land to be sold, the owner's name, the amount due, and the period of time for which the taxes are due. The interest permitted by law on the delinquent taxes, penalties for default in payment, and the costs incurred for the sale may be included in the amount due. Certain states mandate that this delinquency list must be filed or recorded in the office of the county clerk, and statutes may indicate specifically the newspapers in which the list is to be published.


The purpose of a notice of a tax sale is to warn the owner of the property that it will be sold and to furnish information to prospective buyers. Failure to provide notice to the owner renders any subsequent sale of the property invalid. This rule is consistent with due process requirements that any individual must be given notice and opportunity to defend himself or herself before being deprived of his or her property. The notice given to the owner must adequately describe the property, the amount of tax owed, and for what years it is due.


State statutes regulate the manner in which tax sales may be conducted. Ordinarily the sale is open to the public in order to ascertain that a fair price for the property will be obtained in the open market. A private sale is valid, however, when authorized by statute.


The general rule is that land offered at a tax sale must bring at least the total amount of taxes due on it, plus legal costs and charges. In some jurisdictions, a sale for a smaller amount is invalid.

In the event that the land is sold at the tax sale for a price that exceeds the amount owed, the sale might be valid, depending upon the state; however, the excess must be given to the delinquent taxpayer.


Any individual who is not disqualified by statute may purchase land at a tax sale provided he or she is the highest bidder. Upon payment of the amount bid, the buyer will be given a tax deed that serves as proof of his or her ownership of the property. Certain states mandate that a tax sale be confirmed in a court proceeding before the purchaser actually takes title or ownership to the property.

A state, county, Municipal Corporation, or other governmental unit may buy land sold at a tax sale only if authorized by statute.


The owner of property that is the subject of a tax sale is given a statutory right of redemption—that is, if, within a certain period, the owner pays the back taxes plus any other legal charges due, he or she will regain complete ownership of the property free of the prior tax debt. The public policy behind such a statute is to provide the taxpayer with every reasonable opportunity to redeem property since Forfeiture of land has always been regarded as a drastic remedy. Generally any individual interested in the property sold for taxes is entitled to redeem it if his or her interest in the property will be affected by the purchaser taking complete ownership of the land, such as in the case of an individual who has a life estate in the property.

Redemption must occur within the time and in the manner specified by the statute.

Sale Prohibited

Courts can proscribe a tax sale in cases where (1) a sale would be unlawful, so that the buyer's ownership of the land would be open to question; (2) the taxes have been paid; (3) the levy or assessment was unlawful or fraudulent; or (4) the valuation was grossly excessive.

Where errors or irregularities exist in the assessment that could have been rectified if promptly brought to the attention of the proper authorities, the tax sale will not be enjoined if such errors have no effect upon the substantial justice of the tax or the liability of the property for its satisfaction.

Further readings

Lilienthal, Christopher. 2003. "Tax Sale Set Aside: Officials Failed to Examine Past Due Taxes: County and Township Tax Offices Failed to Use 'Common Sense Business Practices'." Pennsylvania Law Weekly (March 31).

Sacks, Michael E. 1998. "Escape Clause in Tax Sale Law Under Review by High Court." Pennsylvania Law Weekly (November 9).

Stone, Lin. 1998. How to Buy Land at Tax Sales. Ed. by James Criswell. Kansas City, Mo.: Truman.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


in the law of sale, the money consideration for the transfer of property. In a contract of sale of goods, the price may be fixed by the contract or may be left to be fixed in a manner agreed by the contract or it may be determined by the course of dealing of the parties. Failing any of the foregoing, the buyer must pay a reasonable price. What constitutes a reasonable price is a question of fact dependent on the circumstances of each particular case. The price may be left to the decision of arbiters, maybe fixed by some public standard or maybe left to the decision of one of the parties. Where there is an agreement to sell at valuation by a third party and he cannot or does not make a valuation, the agreement is avoided; but if the goods or any part of them have been delivered and appropriated by the buyer, he must pay a reasonable price for them. Where the third party is prevented from making the valuation by the fault of the seller or buyer, the party not at fault may maintain an action for damages against the party at fault. Unless a different intention appears from the terms of the contract, stipulations as to time of payment are not of the essence of a contract of sale. Various statutes relating to competition or consumer protection affect the price at which goods can be sold or advertised, see e.g. PRICE MARKING.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

PRICE, contracts. The consideration in money given for the purchase of a thing.
     2. There are three requisites to the quality of a price in order to make a sale.
     3.-1. It must be serious, and such as may be demanded: if, therefore, a person were to sell me an article, and by the agreement, reduced to writing, he were to release me from the payment, the transaction would no longer be a sale, but a gift, Poth. Vente, n. 18.
     4.-2. The second quality of a price is, that the price be certain and determinate; but what may be rendered certain is considered as certain if, therefore, I sell a thing at a price to be fixed by a third person, this is sufficiently certain, provided the third person make a valuation and fix the price. Poth. Vente, n. 23, 24.
     5.-3. The third quality of a price is, that it consists in money, to be paid down, or at a future time, for if it be of any thing else, it will no longer be a price, nor the contract a sale, but exchange or barter. Poth. Vente, n. 30; 16 Toull. n. 147.
     6. The true price of a thing is that for which things of a like nature and quality are usually sold in the place where situated, if real property; or in the place where exposed to sale, if personal. Poth. Contr. de Vente, n. 243. The first price or cost of a thing does not always afford a sure criterion of its value. It may have been bought very dear or very cheap. Marsh. Ins. 620, et seq.; Ayliffe's Pand. 447; Merlin, Repert. h.t.; 4 Pick. 179; 8 Pick. 252; 16 Pick. 227.
     7. In a declaration in trover it is usual, when the chattel found is a living one, to lay it as of such a price when dead, of such a value. 8 Wentw. Pl. 372, n; 2 Lilly's Ab. 629. Vide Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.; Adjustment; Inadequacy of price; Pretium affectionis.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
He tells me that the actor whose grandfather invented baking powder was the late great Vincent Price. Dr V C Price invented the world's first cream of tartar baking powder while still in college in 1853 and his inventions made him a multi-millionaire by the time he was 50.
Mad monks, devil-worshipping priests, witchcraft and zombies are all staple ingredients of the famous films that starred Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and Barbara Shelly.
Edward was created by an eccentric inventor (Vincent Price) who was almost finished with his task when he died, leaving Edward with giant temporary scissors instead of real hands.
"Kane," an acronym for King Asiatic Nobody's Equal Kane, comes from the rapper's fascination with martial arts films as a youth, while "Big Daddy" comes from the name of a character Vincent Price played in the 1963 film Beach Party.
Duke President Vincent Price condemned the vandalism in a statement issued Monday, saying he heard the news with a "deep sense of frustration and sorrow.
This color art book, intended to accompany a retrospective exhibition at the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College, surveys 30 years of the photography of lesbian Chicana photographer Laura Aguilar, including her nude self-portraits, portraits of friends and family, and documentation of lesbian communities.
The clip is filled with dark, terrifying moments and to give that 80s feeling to the show, the trailer makes full use of Michael Jackson's blockbuster hit 'Thriller' with the menacing voice of Vincent Price.
And on Sunday, May 28, Annabel will share the stage with horror legend Vincent Price's daughter, Victoria Price, at The Electric cinema, in Birmingham - one day after what would have been the horror legend's 106th birthday - as a homage to the actor's life.
And on Sunday May 28, Annabel will share the stage with horror legend Vincent Price's daughter, Victoria Price, at The Electric, Birmingham.
Idris Elba is also a scene-stealer in Dance Off-a track that recalls Thriller's cleverly realized fusion of dance music (Michael Jackson) and spoken word (Vincent Price).
2the Pit AnD the PenDuluM (1961) ViNCeNT Price stars in this wonderfully melodramatic adaption of edgar Allan Poe's tale, in which he plays a man whose wife is reported to have died of a blood disease, but who seems to have died of fright.