About 30 properties have been removed from next week’s Luzerne County back-tax auction because the owners have convinced a judge they deserve more time to address the debt, officials say.
Another 15 owners have obtained more flexibility to repay by entering into a hardship program the county started last year, said Dyan E. Dinstel, associate counsel at Northeast Revenue Service LLC, the county’s tax-claim operator.
Northeast Revenue pushed for the program because more delinquent property owners have been asking judges for reprieve due to illnesses and economic struggles in recent years. The program’s eligibility requirements reduce the need for judges to make subjective decisions on which properties should be removed, giving owners more time to repay.
Under the program, senior citizens must meet income requirements, and those under 65 must submit documentation of a significant emergency situation, such as unemployment or an illness.
The property owners who did not apply for the hardship obtained removal from Tuesday’s sale following a recent hearing before county Judge Fred A. Pierantoni III, Dinstel said. The court removals were treated as continuances, which means the properties will be listed for sale again in October or April if the property owners don’t pay the taxes or stick to installment repayment agreements as promised.
According to Dinstel’s summary of some, the arguments made by owners of properties that were removed included the like:
• Several property owners told the judge they are close to selling their properties.
• Glen O’Donnell and Michael Murray, owners of the Black Diamond Tavern property on Dana Street in Swoyersville, have a pending sales agreement that will resolve both an outstanding foreclosure action and the back taxes.
• The Wagon Wheel Restaurant on East Union Street in Shickshinny, owned by Kimberly J. Miller, also is listed for sale.
• Anna Rostocki said she has a property sale closing scheduled on her one-story house and adjacent land sliver in Hazle Township.
• Sales agreements are pending on Linda Neil Evans’ two residential properties in Kingston and Sean Golembeski’s single residential structure in Wilkes-Barre.
Others reported pending property-related matters that won’t be resolved until after the sale, Dinstel said.
• A Fairview Township property owner said the mortgage company failed to pay the 2014 taxes even though the expense was included in the mortgage.
• The owner of a home assessed at $355,100 in the Eagle Rock Resort in Black Creek Township was admitted to a nursing home, leaving it up to family members to sell the property. Relatives of a Kingston woman are in the same situation.
• The son of a deceased Wilkes-Barre couple is living in the family home and must open an estate to get the property in his name so he can secure financing or a payment plan for the taxes.
• A Foster Township residence has a pending assessment challenge.
• A Wilkes-Barre couple is awaiting a refinancing agreement on a residence, and a West Pittston man is researching a reverse mortgage on his home.
• The ex-wife of the owner of a Bear Creek Township parcel said their divorce agreement required him to transfer ownership of the property to her if he defaulted on the taxes, and a court action is pending.
• The occupants of a Fairmount Township residence said they have an agreement to purchase the property and have taken the owners of record to court for failing to transfer the property into their names.
• Tee Jay Realty Company said it has acquired five deteriorated properties in the Hazleton area and repaid thousands of dollars in municipal liens. The court approved an agreement to pay $3,000 by October and the remaining debt at $500 per month.
• At least four property owners cited personal struggles and went to court because they missed the deadline for the hardship program — a Hanover Township woman with medical issues coping with the recent death of her father and grandson, a Wilkes-Barre woman with cancer who recently became a widow and lost her job due to the company’s bankruptcy, a Hanover Township woman who recently developed epilepsy and an Ashley woman who is seeking disability and going through a divorce.
• Javier Hurtado was granted a new $200-per-month payment agreement for back taxes on his residential property in Plymouth, even though he has defaulted on three past agreements, leading to an $8,700 tax debt dating back to 2011. He told the court he’s trying to sell the property.
• Randal A. Keller also convinced the court to allow him to pay $400 per month until his $9,500 debt from 2012 through 2015 is repaid. He has defaulted on two past payment agreements and has listed his Hanover Township property for sale.
Pierantoni denied auction removal requests from three property owners who had a record of defaulting on prior repayment agreements, Dinstel said.