Thousands of city properties in danger of going to tax sale -- here's which ones

March 16, 2012|Jamie Smith Hopkins

Haven't paid your city property taxes? Then you're on the city's list of owners whose properties could end up in tax sale this May, along with nearly 27,000 others who (as of last week) were behind on taxes, water bills or other city tabs.

That's more than 10 percent of city properties, located in neighborhoods as varied as Poppleton and the Inner Harbor. If previous years are any judge, many owners will pay up quickly and avoid tax sale altogether.

Here's an interactive map that shows where all the properties are. You can click on the dots for more details, including the address, who owns and how much the city says they owe. (Keep in mind that some may have paid already -- and at least one is an error.)

Kudos to colleagues Adam Marton and Patrick Maynard for their work on the map.

The Johns Hopkins University has at least a dozen properties on the list, for a grand total of $43,000 owed, according to the city. That came as a surprise to me, and not just because Hopkins is one of the biggest institutions in town. It's also a nonprofit.

But nonprofit-owned buildings aren't necessarily exempt from property taxes -- it depends on the use. At least one of the Hopkins properties on the list has offices and ground-floor retail. And the tax-sale list isn't just about taxes.

Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for the university, said Hopkins routinely finds itself on the list (though not the tax sale itself) "because the city uses this sale to collect not just property tax bills, but any sort of fee it is owed."

"With properties all over the city, who knows, for instance, how many water bills we receive?" he said in an email. "If one of those – through some oversight or other – doesn’t get paid, that property could end up on the list. If a minor privilege fee for an awning over a sidewalk isn’t collected, that property could end up on the list."

One year, O'Shea heard, "the entire Homewood campus was on the list because a commercial tenant had not paid the property tax owed on one small area it occupied in the basement of one building."

"This list is actually a convenient way for the city to collect, because – once we have the list – we can track down where the problem is and see that the fee or tax involved gets paid," he said. "We will do that again this year. We will pay what we owe, and we certainly don’t expect any of our properties to be sold out from under us."

He added: "The bottom line is that this is a routine cleanup of mostly very small fees, and we are very happy to make sure that we take care of whatever we owe."

Other nonprofits, including big hospitals, are on the city's list as well -- along with hotels, apartment complexes and offices in and around downtown.

Most of the 27,000 properties are zoned residential, presumably either homes or lots. About 9,500 are listed in tax records as the owner's principal residence.

Typical assessed value of all properties on the list: $70,000. Typical lien amount: $1,738.

The total list has about 10 percent more properties this year than last year, but fewer than in 2010, when it topped 28,000. A bit less than half -- 45 percent -- of advertised properties ultimately went to tax sale in each of the last three years.

Here's the official tax-sale site for more information about how the process works. Bottom line: There's still time to pay (or contest) the bills. And what's sold at tax sale is the liens on the properties, not the properties themselves. The purchasers can then pursue foreclosure if the owners don't pay up.

Got a housing news tip or experience to share? (Or just want to tell me something?) Email me at

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