Eight dollars and 41 cents. About the cost of a Chipotle burrito. That's how much Uri Rafaeli owed the treasury in Wayne County, Michigan, for property taxes. To get that $8.41, the county took his house and sold it for $24,500 (or about 3,000 burritos). They kept every penny for themselves.
There is a word for this practice: theft. And Wayne County is not the only one winning big on the minuscule mistakes of the little guy: it's every county in Michigan and in a dozen other states, as well.
Home Equity Theft
The nation is in the midst of a housing crisis. As FEE readers well know, government policies like zoning restrictions and rent control contribute to and sustain the problem. Home equity theft—taking the entire value of a home despite being entitled only to a tiny fraction thereof, like what happened to Rafaeli—doesn't help.
The system is designed to make it very easy for property tax payers to make mistakes. Of course, government must notify property owners of their delinquency, but they don't appear to take this duty especially seriously. In the case of Erica Perez, whose home was taken and sold for $108,000 to satisfy a debt of $144, the notice was mailed to the wrong address—even though the county had the correct address on file.