A Massachusetts family has regained title to a $275,000 home that was confiscated over a $4,300 debt.
“This is a very good outcome for the Mucciaccios,” said Joshua Polk, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which defended homeowner Mark Mucciaccio in the case.
“The family was able to keep their home without a lengthy court battle, and they were able to save the equity that they have built in the property.”
Lawmakers now are working to fix the problem that began last year when Mucciaccio learned his family had lost title to its home in Easton. That happened when a representative from Tallage Lincoln LLC arrived to change the locks.
The family was told Tallage Lincoln now owned their home through a process that allowed the municipality to transfer the deed and full value of a property to private investment firms over “comparatively small tax debts,” the foundation said.
The family, facing hard times, had been unable to pay their property taxes for a short time.
The town of Easton then gave the title, valued at more than $275,000, to Tallage Lincoln over a $4,300 debt.
PLF then filed a lawsuit against the company and the town. The family at the same time asked the Land Court of Massachusetts to reopen the docket in the initial foreclosure case that transferred the title to Tallage Lincoln.
A short time later, Tallage Lincoln reached an agreement with the Mucciaccios allowing the family to pay their debt and reclaim title to the home.
“The Mucciaccios’ story illustrates a huge problem with state law that allows this to happen,” Polk said. “While the government can take and sell property to settle tax debts, it can’t take more than it is owed. When the government takes all of the equity in someone’s home over substantially smaller debt, it’s theft, and it’s unconstitutional. The legislature should take a serious look at correcting this problem so that it doesn’t happen to any other families.”
The foundation said state Reps. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, and Tommy Vitolo, D-Brookline, proposed changes in the law that would end such confiscation.
“Massachusetts is one of a shrinking number of states that allow local governments and private investors to reap windfalls when they take property. Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court found a similar law unconstitutional, ruling that people have a right to any surplus proceeds from a tax foreclosure sale after back taxes are paid,” the foundation said.
Brothers Mark and Neil Mucciaccio still live in their childhood home. Mark’s wife, stepdaughter and two grandchildren also live there.
It was a “streak of financial hardship and family medical troubles” that created trouble for the family.
The town was charging the family 16% interest while the process was underway plus “costs.”
“Tallage is a private investment company that specializes in buying property tax debts and either collecting payments from homeowners at generous interest rates or—if owners cannot pay—taking ownership of their property and selling it for massive profits,” the foundation said.
The investment company told the family it was taking over ownership “in dense legalese that few people could understand,” PLF said.
“The Mucciaccios aren’t alone. The Massachusetts tax foreclosure system is particularly egregious and a recipe for cronyism because it regularly grants massive windfalls to private lienholders. The average foreclosed property value exceeds the average tax debt by a ratio of 50:1. In just one year, municipalities and private investors stole over $56 million in property equity from Massachusetts residents,” the foundation said.
The company at one point offered to sell back the home to the family for $138,000.
The family voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit against the company when their ownership was restored.
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