Cook County, treasurer sued on resi tax sales

Suits by homeowners, nonprofits cast case in racial terms

Maria Pappas and Cook County in Illinois (Google Maps)
Maria Pappas and Cook County in Illinois (Google Maps)

A pair of low-income homeowners and three Chicago nonprofits filed suit on Thursday against Cook County and its Treasurer Maria Pappas over the county’s handling of the sales of home over tax delinquencies.

The civil suit, filed in federal court, alleges that the county’s annual delinquent tax sale — where private buyers can purchase properties with unpaid taxes — is a violation of the owners civil rights and their protections under the Fair Housing Act, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The suit claims that the process takes away the owners’ property without due process and strips them of any equity they have in the property.

“Many low-income homeowners have just one asset to pass on to future generations: the value of their home,” said John Bouman, lawyer and director of the nonprofit Legal Action Chicago, which is representing the homeowners. “By depriving homeowners who fail to pay their property taxes of the entire value of this asset, and by disproportionately affecting Black and Latino homeowners, the tax sale system widens the racial wealth gap that has plagued this region for years.”

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Also joining the suit are nonprofits Southwest Organizing Project and Palenque LSNA. The suit is seeking compensation for the equity lost, not necessarily a return of the homes that were sold to new owners.

Properties enter the tax sale when the owner is behind on taxes for 13 months. The county sells the debt to private buyers. Then the original property owner has a maximum of 30 months to pay the debt, plus interest and fees, and if they don’t, the private buyer can seize the entire property without any additional payment to the former owner..

Pappas and her office did not respond to the Tribune’s request for comment on the lawsuit, but she herself has criticized the tax sale and her office has said it disproportionately impacts Black and Latino neighborhoods.

— Miranda Davis

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