Tax Title Foreclosure -- Notice

Town of Andover V. State Financial Services, Inc.
29 MLW445 (10/23/0)

The Town of Andover recorded a tax taking against a corporate landowner. A notice of foreclosure proceedings was sent by certified mail but the landowner never received the notice because of mail delivery problems. Does certified mail without actual notice violate constitutional due process? No says the SJC.

The question before the court is whether the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution requires landowners to receive actual notice of foreclosure proceedings barring their right of redemption. This question is confined to the foreclosure of tax titles under Massachusetts law only. The SJC determined that actual notice is not required to perfect a tax title foreclosure.

State Financial failed to receive the certified mail notice because of physical renovations to their office. The certified letter containing the notice was actually served to a workman who was employed by the contractor making renovations to the building that housed State's offices. He was not an agent or employee of the landowner. State financial was defaulted by the land court.

Chapter 60, section 66 requires that notice of a petition to foreclose a tax title be sent to interested parties by certified mail. By requiring certified mail as opposed to first-class mail, the statute not only satisfies the due process clause but provides greater assurance to Massachusetts property owners that notice will actually be received.

Should public policy permit allowance for tax redemption more than two years after entry of the decree foreclosing rights of redemption? The Legislature intended to limit the time during which the decree of foreclosure could be challenged to one year. After one year, the statute imposes an absolute bar on any petition to vacate. The Legislature speaks to public policy. The Legislature has determined that the public interest in marketable titles for tax takings outweighs any public policy considerations for individual hardship on the landowner/tax payer.