Until recently, local North Dakota officials could seize and sell valuable properties when the owners fall behind on property tax payments and then keep all the profits as a windfall. The owners? They get nothing.
Until April, the repugnant practice was legal in North Dakota. But thanks to the leadership of courageous state legislators and a forward-looking governor, a new law took effect April 23 that bars local officials from employing this abusive form of governmental theft.
To understand how it works, consider the case of Kevin Juhl of Drayton, who was out of state on a long freight haul when his wife called, sobbing. She told him that Pembina County officials had taken title to their home and were preparing to auction the property. The Juhls had fallen a couple of years behind on their property taxes, which run around $575 per year. They planned to pay it back with interest but lost track of the deadline.