A lot of people are being cut some slack when it comes to paying bills during the pandemic, but they aren’t being shown any sympathy when it comes to Guilford County foreclosing on their property.
According to Guilford County Tax Director Ben Chavis and Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne, the county is continuing its ongoing foreclosure operations as usual on homes and businesses during the pandemic.
About eight years ago, the Guilford County Tax Department and the Guilford County Attorney’s Office teamed up to become much more aggressive on foreclosures. At that time, there was a huge backlog of foreclosures from non-payment of taxes, and, in some cases, people hadn’t paid property taxes for eight years but still hadn’t been foreclosed on.
Now, the average number of years of non-payment before a foreclosure proceeding is about half that time.
While restrictions on evictions have been in effect much of this year during the coronavirus pandemic, Payne said that eviction is not usually necessary when it comes to the county foreclosing on the property. He said that, 99 times out of a hundred, by the time the county is at the point of auctioning off the property to the highest bidder, the house is unoccupied and has been for a good while.
Payne also said that, while the county hasn’t halted the foreclosure process during the pandemic, some late payers did get a little extra time because of the natural slowdown of county business earlier this year when the pandemic first hit.
Both Chavis and Payne pointed out that a foreclosure is not a result of missing just a year of payment, so those property owners now being foreclosed on stopped paying property taxes long before COVID-19 hit.
Payne noted that property taxes for 2020 aren’t yet past due, so no one who can’t pay taxes due solely to COVID-19 is going to be subject to a current tax foreclosure.
“Remember the average age of our tax foreclosures is about four years,” Payne said. “This means they have not paid taxes since 2016 or so.”
“Also,” he added, “these properties are very rarely occupied so no one is being put out of their home by tax foreclosures. That said, tax foreclosures are continuing. Tax foreclosures were briefly suspended due to the court closings and a decision of the tax department. However, foreclosures began again as the courthouse opened up in July of this year and are continuing.“
Chavis said no one likes having to foreclose on homes and businesses to collect back taxes, but he added it is occasionally necessary.
“It’s a remedy of last resort,” Chavis said.
In the meantime, evictions, on the other hand, have come to a halt.
In March of this year, due to orders of NC Governor Roy Cooper and the courts, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department initiated an eviction moratorium. When the legal authority provided by that action expired at the end of July, Guilford County went back to “business as usual.” Soon after that, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its own moratorium and that remains in effect until 2021.
Due to the CDC’s edict, a tenant who’s being evicted solely for failure or inability to pay rent – rather than for things like criminal misconduct, destruction of the landlord’s property, etc. – cannot be evicted.