Bill for $6.30 cost Beaver County woman her home

Homeowner permitted to fight it in court


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A Beaver County woman whose house was sold in a tax sale over $6.30 in unpaid late fees and interest will have her day in court.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Monday remanded Eileen Battisti's case back to a Beaver County Common Pleas judge, finding that she must have the chance to make her case at an evidentiary hearing.

Ms. Battisti bought the home on Rosewood Drive in Center with her now-deceased husband, Anthony, in 1999.

He handled the family's finances up until his death in 2004. She used his life insurance to pay off the mortgage, but struggled to keep up with the bills based on various events in her life, the court said, including having a daughter who was seriously injured in a car crash.

According to the court, the Central Valley School District notified Beaver County's tax claim bureau in March 2009 that Ms. Battisti owed back taxes on her property.

The woman sent a check to the bureau for the amount she believed she owed -- $897.19. However, in the interim period of time before the check was received in May, an interest charge for $6.30 was added.

According to the court filing, the tax bureau then sent Ms. Battisti "a notice of return and claim," citing the unpaid amount, adding postage and costs for a total of $28.25.

However, the court opinion said, the notice was returned to the Tax Claim Bureau as unclaimed.

"No further notices, apparently were sent to taxpayer," the court said.

While Ms. Battisti was notified of unpaid taxes the following year -- and she paid them in full -- she received no additional notices on that original $6.30.

Still, her home, valued at $260,000, was sold at an upset tax sale to S.P. Lewis on Sept. 12, 2011, for less than half its value, $116,000.

The outstanding interest and costs owed to the county tax office was just $234.72.

Ms. Battisti didn't learn about the sale until a few weeks later when she was contacted by Mr. Lewis of Imperial, said Joseph M. Spratt, the attorney who represented her.

Mr. Spratt said he attempted to negotiate with Mr. Lewis and his attorney, David E. Holland of Erie, to no avail.

"They wanted $250,000, and they would give the house back," he said. "I found them repulsive -- their approach toward this."

Mr. Holland did not return a call seeking comment, nor did Beaver County solicitor Joseph Askar.

Seeking to undo the sale, Ms. Battisti, who has been allowed to stay in her home during the pendency of the case, filed a petition in Beaver County Common Pleas Court to set it aside, saying she was not notified of the pending sale or the outstanding debt.

But Mr. Lewis filed a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, which was granted by Judge Gus Kwidis without a hearing on May 18, 2012.

The judge found that Ms. Battisti "received all notices required under the law, but her payments did not satisfy the full amount owing."

Mr. Spratt said he believed Judge Kwidis, "anguished over" his decision.

Ms. Battisti appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing several points, including that the sale was "particularly inappropriate because the outstanding liability was small and the value of the home was far greater than the amount paid by purchaser."

The Commonwealth Court opinion did not have to get to that issue, instead finding that Judge Kwidis did not give Ms. Battisti her due process rights.

neigh_west

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


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