The General Assembly recently approved a two-bill package sponsored by Assemblymen Tim Eustace, Vince Mazzeo, Joseph Lagana and Bob Andrzejczak to help seniors and residents with disabilities avoid having a lien placed on their home and to rectify the matter should a lien exist.
“Many seniors and disabled individuals frequently encounter health emergencies and other problems that make them more likely than others to fail to notice bills for extended periods of time,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This package will provide additional safety nets to help avoid this, or worst case scenario, help them rectify the matter should a lien exist.”
Under existing state law, verification of any existing liens can be accomplished formally though a municipal tax lien search for a $10 fee. The sponsors noted that many municipal tax collectors are also willing to check for municipal liens on a less formal basis when the local resident simply calls the tax collector’s office.
“Property taxes and certain other local bills, even when the amount owed is relatively small, if neglected for long enough, can result in a tax sale and eventually foreclosure,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “To avoid this catastrophic result, it is important for seniors to be aware of their ability to check with their municipal tax collector to ensure that no outstanding municipal liens exist on the property.”
To that end, the first bill (A-4589), which was approved by a vote of 66-0-8, is designed to assist seniors and disabled individuals in ensuring that their home is free from municipal liens. The bill requires that, along with the homestead property tax reimbursement application that is currently mailed annually to many low-income seniors and disabled persons, the Director of the Division of Taxation must also provide notification of the ability to initiate a search for municipal liens in exchange for a $10 fee, and provide the contact information for the applicable municipal tax collector’s office.
“It’s important that we help seniors and residents with disabilities maintain their independence, especially when it comes to remaining in their homes,” said Lagana (D-Bergen). “Making sure they’re aware of their ability to check for existing liens will help provide a certain peace of mind, especially when coupled with assistance from staff at an area agency on aging.”
The second bill (A-4590), approved by a vote of 65-3-8, enhances notice requirements related to municipal tax sales. Under the bill, property owners must be notified by certified mail two times, once at least 90 days prior to the tax sale, and once at least 40, but not more than 50, days prior to the tax sale.
“For many seniors, especially those who don’t have family living close by, these added safety nets can help them avoid enormous headaches,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/ Cumberland). “Putting these simple safeguards in place will also help ensure that no one inadvertently loses their home due to a simple oversight.”
The bill enhances protections for senior citizens by requiring that the notice of the tax sale also be sent to an “Area Agency on Aging,” typically the county office on aging, within 40 days of the tax sale. The agency would then be authorized to immediately send correspondence to the owner of the home subject to the tax lien explaining what actions can be taken to satisfy an outstanding lien and implement the provisions of a program for home visits to seniors who have not responded to the correspondence sent by the Area Agency on Aging.
The bill also requires a tax collector to provide the necessary information to a taxpayer who requests to satisfy an outstanding tax lien within seven days.
Both bills now head to the Senate for consideration.