Wayne County Treasurer Sabree Says Property Tax Foreclosures on Rents Outperform Homeowners » WDET 101.9 FM


Eli Neuman

Wayne County is experiencing renewed property tax foreclosures. It is the first time they have been held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the list of people who could potentially lose their homes has grown significantly.

The deadline for avoiding foreclosure expired on April 1st. But recently, a Third Circuit Court judge ruled that foreclosures for some homeowners should be stayed until next year.

Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree requested the break. But that doesn’t mean his office stops foreclosures on everyone.

Listen: Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree discusses court order to delay some foreclosures until next year.

Eli Newman, WDET News: What Does This Court Order Do?

Eric Sabree, Wayne County Treasurer: It removes taxpayers from foreclosure who would have been excluded for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 taxes.

How many properties were in foreclosure before this order was issued and how many are protected by this order?

About 2,400 condominiums faced the order of foreclosure. This order will remove about 1,800 of them from foreclosure.

Why was it important to postpone foreclosures another year?

Because the years we are asking to withhold are the years they would have been excluded in years when it was COVID-19. I looked at this and said that if these people applied for the Michigan Homeowners Assistance Fund, many of them, the Michigan Homeowners Assistance Fund would pay [delinquent property taxes] for 2019, 2020 and 2021 for eligible taxpayers and then they would have one year to work with us on either 2017 and/or 2018 on a payment plan.

Aside from owner-occupied properties in Wayne County, how many occupied properties are facing foreclosure this year?

The non-owner occupies, that would be the property that is rented out or occupied by someone who does not own the property. That number is close to 3,700. It will probably drop maybe a few hundred in the next few days.

In terms of these non-own occupancy properties, I mean there are thousands of people in these situations where the house that they don’t necessarily own could be subject to foreclosure and they rent out that house. What advice do you have for someone in this position? What should you do during this time?

First, they shouldn’t move out of the property and you shouldn’t be paying rent. That’s the advice I have for you.

And to be clear, once you leave the property you have rented, you lose the ability to claim that property as your own.

That’s true, because you are no longer a resident of the property. The city of Detroit has a Make it Home program that the city has used in the past. You have over a thousand people living in foreclosure properties who become owners. The city could potentially buy the properties by paying the taxes and then try to make the former tenant the owner, so that’s a possibility. If this does not happen, the property will be auctioned off. Because these properties, once foreclosed by law, we must offer them to the state, to the county, in that order.

Before this order, was this a record-breaking year in terms of the number of foreclosures on occupied property the county faced?

No. The highest year was 2015. Not sure how many were occupied [property foreclosures] but we had a total of 28,000 items that went through the auction. And this year it’s under 10,000.

Are you concerned that by postponing many of these foreclosures until next March in 2023, there could be even more foreclosures for you and the courts to deal with?

I think there will be fewer because the Homeowner’s Assistance Fund has been helpful. They have already started paying part of the taxes. People are entitled to these federal funds. This allows them to focus on the remaining two or one year. Instead of having four years of back taxes, they only have to pay back one or two years. So that would make it easier for them to pay. That’s the reasoning behind it.

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  • Eli Newman is a reporter/producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

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