Unpaid Liens After The Sale, and Subrogation

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I sold my house in (state) in august 2001 I hired a title attorney whose (local company X) acted as a agent for (national company Y). The facts are that there were errors and omissions which led to negligence in the performance at the closing of the property. The property taxes for the year 2000 were not paid. The title company did not do their duty and gave clear title to the buyer. Now, more than 5 years later Company Y is claiming I owe them these back taxes plus accrued costs. I would kindly appreciate some feedback

Yes, you owe the money.

The title insurance policy you bought insures the person who bought the property. Property taxes are part and parcel of all land ownership. A reasonable person should have paid those taxes. But they didn't get paid.

This doesn't mean that someone didn't screw up. Every title search needs to include a search for unpaid liens that includes property taxes. That's just the facts of the matter.

However, this does not relieve you of your duty to pay those taxes in full and on time. If it was an obscure mechanics lien recorded against your property erroneously for work that was never done, you'd have a great case. If it was for stuff that you paid, and had reason to think you paid in full even though you were short, you might have a case. But not stuff that every reasonable property owner knows has to be paid, and didn't get paid at all.

Let us consider what would have happened if you still owned the property. The county would be sending a law enforcement official around with delinquency notices, which would include interest and penalties for late payment. If those weren't paid, they'd send law enforcement around another time with a tax foreclosure sale notice. You would have to pay those taxes.

It's no different because you sold. Because it's a valid existing lien on the property, albeit one they missed during title search, they paid it to clear the buyer's title, as the policy requires them to do. On the other hand, when an insurance company pays a bill like this, and title insurance is insurance, they acquire the right to collect payment via subrogation. This fancy word just means they paid the damage on behalf of someone, and now they have the right to collect payment, just like auto insurers who pay for the damage to your vehicle and go sue the party at fault, for which that person's liability insurer usually pays. The person with the liability to pay that property tax bill is you. Now, I'm not an attorney, so I don't know, but there might be a case you can build against the person who did the title search for the interest and penalties that have accrued since the search. Before that, the bill was all yours, and given that it was for 2000, should have been paid before August 2001. On the other hand, that title company might not have had a duty of care to you, despite the fact that you were the one who paid the bill, as the insured was your buyer, not you. Furthermore, the cost of paying the attorney can often go to several times the cost of paying the taxes and penalties. You'd need to, you know, talk to an attorney for more information. You might want to call company Y and ask if they'll settle for the bill as of the sale date, because they don't want to pay for an attorney any more than you do, and they did screw up, and if they hadn't, you would have paid the bill back then, right? Company Y can then recover the balance from their agent, company X.

Any lien that exists before the sale, discovered or not, is your responsibility. The only time that I think you are going to get off the hook is if you are dead and your estate probated and distributed before the lien is discovered. Basically, you've got to die to get away with it. Perhaps intervening bankruptcy might do it as well. I don't think so, but I'm not a lawyer. If you had died, the title company would still have paid, as the policy requires to protect the buyer, but would have had no choice but to eat whatever amount they paid, because there would be nobody alive who they would have a valid claim against.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 3, 2008 7:00 AM.

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