City of Seaford considers selling abandoned properties at auction

By Lynn R. Parks

For the first time in at least three decades, the city of Seaford is considering selling at auction abandoned properties whose owners are significantly delinquent in paying taxes or fees.

Kathy Anger, collections representative for the city, told members of the city council last week that there are 70 properties in Seaford whose owners are three years or more behind in paying taxes. Unpaid taxes on those properties amounts to $233,666.

Anger requested permission from the council to move ahead with a plan to start selling the properties. Ultimately, she said, she would like to be able to put two or three of them on the auction block a month.

Im not suggesting that we evict anyone or kick anyone out of their house, she said. The properties that she is talking about selling have all been abandoned. Many of them still have structures on them; others are empty lots because buildings that were there have been condemned and torn down by the city.

Anger presented a list of five properties that the city could start with. Owners of a vacant lot on North Conwell Street, for example, owe nearly $26,000 on the property, an accumulation of six years worth of taxes as well as fees for maintenance, including grass cutting, and building demolition.

Another property on East Third Street has more than $9,300 levied against it, including four years of back taxes. Two Clarence Streets lots are in arrears, one owing $6,100 and other $7,000.

The fifth lot, on N. North Street, carries a bill for taxes and services of nearly $6,500.

Anger said that the city solicitor, Daniel Griffith, has agreed to handle the cases for a fee of 20 percent of the sale price or $600, whichever is greater. The fee to file a case with the countys sheriff office, which would conduct the auction, would be $1,025, and the sheriff would claim an additional 4 percent of the sale price.

On a property that sells for $5,000, for example, the city would pay Griffith $1,000, or 20 percent of the sales price. It would pay the sheriffs office the filing fee plus 4 percent, or $1,225.

After that, the city would be paid $2,775.

Anger said that the city would like to recoup all of what it is owed on each property. But if the offer made during the auction is reasonable, and the sale means that the property will become a vital part of the community again, the city would accept the bid. The remaining part of the debt would be written off, Anger said.

In addition to bringing money into the city, selling the properties would present opportunities for people to build on the lots and could lead to the revitalization of communities. If we could sell some of these, it would be a great thing for Seaford and for the neighborhoods where these properties are, city manager Charles Anderson told the city council. In addition, seeing these properties being sold could encourage people who owe money on properties to take us more seriously and make an effort to pay the city what they owe.

Step one in each selling process would be to file a motion with the court, Anger said. The property owner would have 20 days from that motion to file a challenge; if that didnt happen, the property would be put on a list of upcoming sales. It takes about two months for a property to move up to the top of the list.

Following the auction, the city would have 20 days to respond to the final bid. After the sale, the property owner would have 160 days to re-purchase the property for 120 percent of what it sold for at auction.

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