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Tangoren v. Stephenson

August 6, 2009

ALI TANGOREN, APPELLANT,
v.
MAURICE STEPHENSON, THOMAS STEPHENSON, AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEES.
SHEMSEDIN HASSAN, APPELLANT,
v.
F.W. CLARKE AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEES.
JAMES M. BIGGS, APPELLANT,
v.
ELIZABETH LEE, ADRIAN FENTY, AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEES.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil Division (Nos. CAR-2290-05, CAL-1768-05, CAL-2339-05). (Hon. Joan Zeldon, Trial Judge) .

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glickman, Associate Judge

Argued December 11, 2008

Before REID, GLICKMAN and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.

Appellants Ali Tangoren, Shemsedin Hassan, and James M. Biggs ask us to reverse the trial court's ruling that their efforts to foreclose on properties they purchased at a tax sale were time-barred. We agree with appellants that the trial court misinterpreted the tax sale statute, and we reverse.

I. The Statutory Framework

Under the Tax Clarity Act of 2000, when an owner of real property in the District of Columbia is delinquent in his property tax payments, the District may sell the property at a tax sale, which is conducted by the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR).*fn1

The purchaser must deposit twenty percent of the purchase price at the tax sale and has an additional five days from the date of the sale to pay the balance due to the District.*fn2 After the price is paid in full, OTR issues the purchaser a certificate of sale.*fn3 The statute requires this certificate to set forth three dates: (1) "[t]he date of the original public tax sale to which the certificate corresponds;" (2) "[t]he date of the sale to the purchaser;" and (3) "[t]he date of the certificate."*fn4 These dates are important because they trigger the start of certain statutory time periods.

Of relevance here are time periods governing the tax sale purchaser's institution of foreclosure proceedings against the property owner's right of redemption.*fn5 The purchaser must wait six months from the date of the sale before commencing such proceedings,*fn6 and must file any foreclosure action within one year from the date of the certificate of sale.*fn7 If "diligent proceedings to foreclose the right of redemption are [not] brought within one year from the date of the certificate, . . . the certificate shall become void, [and] all monies paid for the real property by the purchaser shall be forfeited to the District."*fn8 At that point in time, the right to foreclose on the property reverts to the District, which may elect to sell the property at a later tax sale or foreclose the right of redemption itself.*fn9

II. The Foreclosure Actions

Appellants Tangoren, Hassan, and Biggs were successful purchasers at a tax sale conducted by OTR on July 19, 2002. Some time after the tax sale, Tangoren and Hassan received their certificates of sale from OTR. Biggs did not receive a certificate of sale at this time -- or so he claims, and there is no evidence in the record to contradict him. As required by law, the certificates furnished to Tangoren and Hassan set forth the dates of the original public tax sale and the sale to the purchaser (July 19, 2002, in both cases), as well as the date on which the six-month waiting period would end (January 19, 2003). However, the certificates did not set forth the third statutorily-required date -- the date of the certificate itself; nor did the undated certificates set forth a specific date on which the one-year period for initiating foreclosure proceedings would end.

Over the next two-and-one-half years, appellants commenced no foreclosure proceedings. On January 28, 2005, OTR sent each appellant a letter, informing them that [a]n action to foreclose upon the right of redemption must be filed . . . within one year from the date of the Certificate of Sale. The Certificate of Sale is void if an action to foreclose the right of redemption is not filed within the one-year period. . . . The intent of this law is to bring closure to a tax sale in a timely manner by ensuring that all foreclosure actions are filed within one year from the date of the Certificate of Sale.

The date on the Certificates of Sale issued for the 2001 and 2002 Tax Sales did not clearly define the date that the Certificates of Sale were issued. YOU ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED THAT THE OFFICE OF TAX AND REVENUE ("OTR") SHALL DEEM MARCH 28, 2005 AS THE EXPIRATION OF THE ONE-YEAR PERIOD. ANY SUCH CERTIFICATE OF SALE FOR WHICH A FORECLOSURE ACTION HAS NOT BEEN FILED BY MARCH 28, 2005 SHALL BE DEEMED VOID BY OTR.

This notice is for OTR procedural uses only. You may not rely upon this notice as a legal extension of the filing deadline, and should consult your legal advisor to determine whether your Certificate of Sale is void before you incur additional expenses.

In response to this notification, Tangoren and Hassan commenced foreclosure actions in Superior Court before March 28, 2005. Meanwhile, on March 7, 2005, Biggs requested that OTR issue him a certificate of sale for the property he had purchased on July 19, 2002. On March 23, Biggs received a certificate, which, like Tangoren's and Hassan's certificates, bore the date of the tax sale and the date of the sale to the purchaser but not the date of the certificate itself. In addition, however, Biggs's certificate was marked "Duplicate" in the upper right-hand corner and was ...


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