Lesson. For tax sale notice deadlines, count backwards from the date of the sale to determine when the notice mailing is due.
Legal issue. Whether the county timely mailed its notice of tax sale to the owner.
Vital facts. The date of the tax sale was October 3rd. The county mailed the notice of tax sale on September 12th.
Procedural history. Buyer purchased the subject property at the tax sale and filed an action to quiet title following the receipt of the tax deed from the county. The former owner contested the action and sought to set aside the tax deed. The owner’s theory was that the county mailed the notice one day late – twenty days before the sale instead of twenty-one. After a bench trial, the court entered judgment for the buyer and found that, although the notice was one day late, it “substantially complied” with the statutory requirements.
Ind. Code 6-1.1-24-4(a) controlled the notice issue. At the time, the statute provided that the county auditor “shall send a notice of the sale by certified mail to the owner or owners of the real property … at least twenty-one (21) days before the day of the sale….” The current statute – link here – basically says the same thing.
Indiana Trial Rule 6(A) generally controls, in part, how parties determine deadlines in connection with litigation. In Schafer, the Indiana Court of Appeals applied the rule in the context of a tax sale. Rule 6(A) says:
In computing any period of time prescribed or allowed by these rules, by order of the court, or by any applicable statute, the day of the act, event, or default from which the designated period of time begins to run shall not be included. The last day of the period so computed is to be included unless it is:
(1) a Saturday,
(2) a Sunday,
(3) a legal holiday as defined by state statute, or
(4) a day the office in which the act is to be done is closed during regular business hours.
In any event, the period runs until the end of the next day that is not a Saturday, a Sunday, a legal holiday, or a day on which the office is closed….
Holding. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court but on different grounds. “It was not necessary for the trial court to reach the issue of substantial compliance….” The notice was in fact timely.
Policy/rationale. Schafer is a counting lesson. The trial court (and the former owner) mistakenly concluded that the clock began to run when the county mailed the notice. However, the statute “places a requirement on the auditor concerning the timing of notice, not the timing of when the tax sale must be held after notice is provided.” In other words, as explained by the Court, the statute does not mandate the sale to be held no fewer than twenty-one days after notice is mailed. Instead, the “act or event” for Rule 6(A) is the date of the sale. As such, “the days should be counted backwards to the date notice is mailed.” Since the sale date was October 3rd, the first day to be counted for the deadline was October 2nd. (See the italics section in the rule above.) Counting backwards from the sale, instead of forwards from the mailing, twenty-one days was September 12th, which is when the county mailed the subject notice.
Mortgagees Beware: Only Owners Receive Notices Of Indiana Tax Sales
I sometimes represent lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in disputes arising out of tax sales. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at email@example.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.