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Cook County property owners with past-due tax bills could face steeper payments after Friday

Monday, April 30, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

ok County Treasurer Maria Pappas on Monday warned that tens of thousands of property owners who are late in paying last year’s property taxes are at risk of soon having their debt sold to companies that can charge high interest rates on overdue bills.

Pappas said about 37,000 property owners will have their property taxes put up for auction Friday if they don’t pay up by then. Nearly half of them owe less than $1,000, and about 15,000 never got their bills because they were returned to sender, she said.

Seniors and people with disabilities who don’t retrieve their mail sometimes don’t know they owe taxes, and some new homeowners don’t get their bills because the wrong address was entered at closing, she said. Pappas said she’s working with aldermen and other officials to try to track people down.

She urged property owners to go to her website and click on the purple box to check the status of their taxes, noting that bills can be printed there or paid online. People who don’t have computers can call 312-443-5100.

The consequences of not paying the taxes can be severe, she said.

Until the taxes go to auction nine months after the due date passes, the county charges 1.5 percent interest per month, plus late fees. But taxpayers can make partial payments to chip away at the debt before the auction occurs.

Once the auction takes place, though, the winning bidder can charge up to 18 percent interest on that initial debt, and they don’t have to take partial payments. And if property owners miss further bills, another 12 percent can be added to each one of those late amounts. After 2½ years of missed payments, the for-profit company has the right to go court to take the property.

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, D-Oak Park, said the auction could be the start of someone losing their biggest investment in life.

“The reality of it is that people will begin the process of losing their homes, if in fact we don’t locate them and they don’t pay their taxes,” he said.

The statistics that Pappas provided show that 36,960 properties are at risk of going to auction by the end of the week, more than half of which are “residential only” properties. In 17,079 cases, the amount owed is less than $1,000. Property tax bills mailed to 15,747 properties were returned.

A breakdown of that data shows a high number of unpaid tax bills in less affluent city neighborhoods and suburbs. Harvey, with more than 4,352 unpaid tax bills, tops the list by far. Calumet City and Chicago Heights each have more than 1,000 unpaid bills. Seven wards on the South and West sides have more than 1,000 unpaid bills each.

The total amount owed by the potential tax sale properties is $183 million, Pappas said.

She also said tens of thousands of senior citizens eligible for a bigger property tax exemption may not be getting them because they don’t realize they have to fill out forms every year to continue getting that break. Tens of thousands of lower-income seniors also may not be getting an even bigger break they are entitled to through a freeze on their annual property tax tab, she added.

Twitter @ReporterHal


Flawed assessments under Assessor Berrios caused $2 billion shift in Chicago property taxes, study finds »

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