A recent ruling by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
affirmed a lower court decision throwing out an attempt by a real estate investor, who ostensibly trafficks in municipal liens, to improperly foreclose on a $359.63 lien for unpaid water & sewer charges on the property belonging to one Charles E. Heyward.(1)
In addition, the court went further and affirmed the lower court ruling finding that, because of a failure to give proper notice (the certificate of delinquent charges that gave rise to the lien was mailed by the D.C. Department of Public Works to the wrong address - 715 Irving Street, N.W.
instead of 715 Irving Street, N.E.
- maybe a typo by a clerk in the billing department???), the lien itself was void. Accordingly, the water & sewer lien was nullified.(2)
For the ruling, see Crusader v. Heyward
, No. 09-CV-1414 (D.C. May 26, 2011).(1) In this regard, the court stated (bold text is my emphasis):
- D.C. Code § 34-2407.02 (2001) governs the enforcement of liens for unpaid water and sewer charges, and it specifies the time line and procedures necessary to effectuate such a lien. Specifically, § 34-2407.02 (a)(3) states the “Mayor may enforce the lien . . . in the same manner that real property tax liens are enforced pursuant to Chapter 13 and Subchapter IV of Chapter 13A of Title 47.” Additionally, § 34-2407.02 (a)(4) provides that “real property may be sold for the unpaid water and sanitary sewer charges . . . at a tax sale in accordance with the provisions for the sale of property for delinquent real property taxes pursuant to Chapter 13 of Title 47.” If the property is sold, the purchaser will receive a certificate of sale, but the property owner has the right to redeem the property within the time frame specified by statute. D.C. Code §§ 47-1304, -1306, -1360 (2001).
Here, there has been no showing that the property was ever offered at a public auction in accordance with the statute. In its brief, Crusader argues that “all of the liens ... subsequently sold and assigned to Strategic [Crusader’s predecessor-in-interest] had previously been bid off at a tax auction in the District of Columbia.”
In response to that claim, the trial court, relying on several statutory provisions, properly ruled that “assignments between private entities are not ‘tax sales’ as intended by [§] 47-1385.” Crusader cites no contrary authority and there is nothing in the record that indicates any property transfer at a public auction. Moreover, Crusader concedes that there was no tax sale. For these reasons, the trial court correctly concluded that Crusader did not comport with the statutory requirements for enforcing its lien. Therefore, the trial court did not err in dismissing its complaint.
(2) In this regard, the court stated (bold text is my emphasis):
- Crusader also contends that its lien on the property was valid, and the trial court erred in voiding it. We disagree. As already noted, the certificate of delinquent charges that gave rise to the lien was mailed to Heyward at 715 Irving Street, N.W., but the lien was on property located at 715 Irving Street, N.E. In addition, the original sale of the lien from WASA to Breen Capital did not comport with the requirements of D.C. Code § 47-1303.04 (d) because the document assigning the lien failed to state Heyward’s name and the dollar amount due, including penalties and interest.
While we have not expressly ruled that a lien is void when a party fails to strictly adhere to the statutory notice requirements, other jurisdictions have recognized this principle. See Town of Pownal v. Anderson, 728 A.2d 1254, 1259 (Me. 1999) (“The failure to properly name a record owner of the property on the tax lien certificate rendered the lien void even when that unnamed owner had actual knowledge of the lien’s existence.”); Cary v. Town of Harrington, 534 A.2d 355, 358 (Me. 1987) (“Because the tax lien certificates recorded by the Town do not strictly comply with the statutory requirements [the certificates failed to properly identify the property owner’s name], the tax lien mortgages are void . . . .”).
We are in full agreement with the authorities cited above. Crusader’s failure to notify Heyward of his right of redemption is a significant statutory defect, which cannot be cured given our tenets of public policy and strict adherence to statutory compliance. A failure of this magnitude warrants the nullification of the lien itself. Thus, the trial court properly invalidated Crusader’s lien on Heyward’s property.
The judgment on appeal is Affirmed.
It may be worth noting that, in voiding the lien, the trial judge relied on Boddie v. Robinson, 430 A.2d 519, 523 (D.C. 1981) in determining that the lien was void, because Crusader failed to notify Heyward of his statutory right to redeem his property in that the notice was sent to the wrong address. The appeals court apparently did not see Boddie as supporting that proposition, and instead, looked to the rulings of the Maine Supreme Court to find support for voiding the lien.