More than 14,000 property owners receiving tax-delinquency notices

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Luzerne County Courthouse -

Luzerne County is sending mandatory notices to approximately 14,500 property owners this month because they still owe 2017 real estate taxes, tax claim representatives said Wednesday.

The first batch of 7,500 certified mail notices was sent earlier this month to delinquent property owners in 50 municipalities, according to Sean Shamany, of county tax-claim operator Northeast Revenue Service LLC.

The second group of around 7,000 notices will be sent next week for properties in the 26 remaining municipalities, including Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Pittston cities.

Impacted property owners are charged an additional $20, which covers the cost of the certified mail and services of an outside company that assembles and prints the notices and handles the mailing, Shamany said.

An Edwardsville woman told county council Tuesday she was among many standing in line at her post office to retrieve certified notices. The quantity of delinquent notices is evidence many cannot afford a proposed $5 vehicle fee to fund county infrastructure repairs, she said.

Shamany stressed his company tries to avoid the need to charge property owners for the certified notices by first sending courtesy reminder letters by standard mail in February or March.

Those who still have not paid off the debt by April 2 received the certified notices, said attorney Dyan E. Dinstel, associate counsel at Northeast Revenue.

The owners of more than 5,000 properties paid their debt before April 2, statistics show.

At the start of this year, a total of $29.57 million in 2017 school, county and municipal real estate taxes was owed on 19,980 properties, Shamany said.

In January 2017, Northeast Revenue was assigned to collect $28.8 million in delinquent 2016 taxes owed on 19,591 properties, he said. The delinquent tally the previous year was $29.4 million in 2015 taxes due on 20,672 parcels.

No choice

State law mandates the certified mailings to ensure property owners receive official notice of the debt, which is a lien on the real estate, Dinstel said.

Property owners who enter into repayment plans must still receive certified notices due to the outstanding balance owed, she said.

If certified notices return to Northeast Revenue unclaimed, the company must dispatch constables to post the notices at these properties, usually by the end of July, according to Shamany.

Some have complained about this posting, saying it is embarrassing, Shamany said.

“It is a legal requirement. Property owners can avoid this by accepting the certified mail,” he said.

While some property owners have valid excuses for failing to retrieve the certified notices, such as busy schedules, Shamany said his company has been informed by postal representatives that some refuse acceptance when they verify the tax-claim specialist is the sender.

The notices state the amount of money owed and warn the property may be sold at auction without the owner’s consent unless the taxes are paid or the owner files a legal action challenging the debt.

Properties must be auctioned if taxes have gone unpaid for two years unless the owner is complying with a repayment plan, is involved in an active bankruptcy proceeding or obtains a court order.

Before Northeast Revenue took over in 2010, the county had many properties kept out of sales, often for years, even though the owners were not keeping up with payment plans or paying at all.

Luzerne County Courthouse County Courthouse

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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

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