Does Paying Property Taxes Give You Ownership?

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If you see a property where the owner hasn’t paid property taxes, don’t just start paying. That usually won’t give you ownership.

In most places, property tax bills are publicly available online. Anyone can see whether or not they’ve been paid.

Anyone can also usually click the link and pay anyone else’s bill. The main thing that stops this is people don’t want to pay other people’s taxes.

If you want to secretly help someone out, this might be a way to do it. Whether you stay anonymous will depend on exactly what info is shown online and what the tax collector will tell the property owner.

Paying someone else’s property tax bill generally won’t give you any rights to the property or even to be paid back. The main exception would be if you paid the wrong bill by mistake and reported it within a reasonable period of time.

What states don’t want people doing is paying someone else’s bill and trying to get paid back more.

Property Tax Sales

Many states have a system called a property tax sale, tax deed sale, or tax lien. When property taxes go unpaid for too long, the state holds a sale.

This is a special sale with procedures that vary by state. Just finding a property and starting to pay taxes on it is almost never enough.

Buyers in tax lien sales usually pay the unpaid taxes. They receive the right to be repaid with interest.

After a certain number of years, the tax lien holder can foreclose on the property. The property is then put up for auction.

Foreclosing usually doesn’t give you the title to the property. Instead, the property goes to the highest bidder. The tax lien holder gets paid back with interest from the sale.

Any extra money after government fees goes back to the original property owner.

Adverse Possession

Adverse possession is a legal concept where if you use a property for a very long time, you may be able to become the legal owner. Adverse possession is almost sometime’s known as squatter’s rights.

The exact laws regarding adverse possession vary by state.

In some places, paying property taxes may help establish adverse possession.

However, attempting to take over a property through adverse possession is risky. The owner may have grounds for a civil lawsuit against you. You may also be prosecuted for crimes like trespassing or breaking and entering.

Adverse possession is more common in things like boundary disputes between neighbors versus trying to find a property to take over.

Do not attempt adverse possession without talking to a local real estate lawyer. If you attempt adverse possession and pay property taxes on that property, know that there’s a chance that you may not become the owner of the property or get your money back.

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