Luzerne County’s inventory of back-tax leftover properties continues to grow

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | December 26th, 2015 3:49 pm

Luzerne County has another batch of buyers interested in acquiring properties that didn’t sell at past back-tax auctions, but the inventory in this pool — known as the repository — continues to grow, county records show.

The county now has 1,051 repository properties stuck in limbo, which is more than the 11 other similarly sized third-class counties in Pennsylvania, records show.

That number comes from the county’s latest snapshot reading of all properties, known as a certification, completed last month.

In comparison, the county had 809 repository properties in June 2014 and 903 in July 2015, certifications show.

The county council has approved 48 repository sales this year to date — 39 in June and nine in November.

Despite higher than usual sales, representatives of Northeast Revenue Service LLC, the county’s tax-claim operator, say the pool continues to grow, largely because the company has been more aggressive about bringing delinquent properties to sale.

There were many complaints about delinquent property owners, some politically connected, evading tax auctions before the county outsourced operation of the office to Northeast Revenue.

Some of the repository properties also may never sell because the inventory includes hundreds of land slivers that are landlocked or too small to fit a structure, a few buildings likely contaminated and stormwater systems, private roads and other scraps left by developers after their projects were completed.

The size of the county’s repository is a concern because the county is liable for these properties while the owners of record have abandoned them and stopped paying real estate taxes, officials have said.

The 1,051 properties currently in the repository have a combined assessment of $22.1 million, which equates to lost county tax revenue of $127,000 annually in addition to lost payments to school districts and municipalities, county records show.

The county council is expected to vote on the proposed sale of 25 repository properties Dec. 29.

The properties are in several municipalities, with purchase offers ranging from $500 to $2,055.

For example, a Wilkes-Barre man has offered $500 to purchase a deteriorating house on Durbin Street in Plymouth. Taxing bodies have not received any payments on that property since 2009, records show.

All three taxing bodies — school, county and municipal — must approve repository sales. Back taxes are forgiven because the properties didn’t sell at previous auctions.

State law allows repository sales at any time without the need to publicly advertise them.

Special circumstances were established in the law to encourage sales because the holding of repository properties “constitutes a cost to the county and (tax claim) bureau,” the law says.

Taxing bodies may not “unreasonably withhold” consent of sales, the law says.

A list of available repository properties is posted at

County has more than 1,000 parcels in repository

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.