Republican presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan, Democratic Rep. Thomas Lantos, the Embassy of Botswana, an association of wheat growers and the Archdiocese of Washington. What could possibly tie these parties together?
They're all on a list of 7,730 D.C. property owners that the city government claims as so delinquent on their taxes that their homes, land or buildings could be sold off later this month. Although several of those on the list--including Buchanan and Lantos--say they've paid their taxes, their properties remain on the city's auction list.
At the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue auction July 20 to 23, bidders will be able to buy thousands of homes and buildings on the delinquent tax rolls for as little as $100.08, the amount of delinquent taxes owed on one of the properties.
The District hopes to collect $19.8 million in back taxes. Ultimately, the auction is more of a debt collection effort than a land sale, given that all but a couple hundred of the land owners likely will pay their bills before losing their property. But in the last two years, the city has earned $20.7 million through the process and cleared up debts on 9,025 accounts, said Stan Jackson, the city's chief of assessment services.
Property owners can end up on the auction list even if they are only six months late in paying their taxes, but some bills have been accumulating for years. Only about 220 of the thousands of property owners owe more than $10,000, and in some cases they are delinquent only on late-payment interest.
The single largest delinquent property owner is listed as the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation group that 14 years ago embarked on a much-delayed project to build affordable housing in the Mayfair-Parkside area.
The trust, which did succeed in building some housing in the area, still owns about 50 parcels on Kenilworth Terrace, Foote Street and Anacostia Avenue that are slated to be auctioned, based on delinquent tax bills totaling about $1.2 million. Phyllis Nudelman, regional counsel for the group, said yesterday that she was unaware the property is on the auction block.
"I am a bit surprised," she said, blaming one of the trust's partners for the delinquency. "Our hope and goal is the land will still be developed for affordable housing."
Several of the other large delinquent bills are the subject of disputes.
The District-based National Association for Home Care, for example, owes $215,523 in taxes for six properties on A Street NE, where it operates the Frederick Douglass Museum and Hall of Fame for Caring Americans. Val J. Halamandaris, president of the group, said the properties should be tax-exempt because they serve as a museum. But so far, the museum is still on the auction list, Jackson said.
The eight-page, fine-print listing of properties on the auction block, published recently in The Washington Post, also included the Embassy of Botswana on New Hampshire Avenue NW, suggesting that the nation was $83,553 in debt to the District. But Jackson said this week that after consultations with the State Department, the embassy won't be offered at auction because the city intends to give Botswana a tax exemption.
The Shakespeare Theatre and the Bureau of National Affairs both had properties on the auction list, but they too have since been removed after the city realized it had made an error.
Buchanan and Lantos each say they have paid their past-due bills, listed as $215 for a Connecticut Avenue NW home owned by Buchanan and $109 for the California congressman's home on Maryland Avenue NE. Buchanan's property manager even provided The Post with a copy of a check he said he had sent in.
That check shows that the payment was made late, and it is the past-due interest that appears to have landed Buchanan's property on the auction block.
Lantos aide Bob King said the tax bill on the Maryland Avenue property "did not reach the congressman because of some misaddressing. It has been taken care of."
But the District's Jackson said that as of yesterday, his records showed that the Buchanan and Lantos debts are still pending.
Among the other notables on the city's list of delinquents are the Archdiocese of Washington, which owes a total of about $7,300 on several pieces of land in Southeast that city records indicate are not tax-exempt, and eight pieces of Chinatown land controlled by prominent real-estate developer Douglas Jemal, for which a total of $31,843 is owed. The National Association of Wheat Growers was listed as owing $65,219 on its Second Street NE headquarters.
The bidding, which will start at 9:15 a.m., July 20 at 941 North Capitol St. NE, is open to the general public. But buying a delinquent property can be complicated.
Bidders need put up only as much money as is owed on the past-due tax bills, such as the $170.73 owed on a single-family home on Q Street SE that has an assessed value of $86,734. But the delinquent owners may reclaim their property within six months after the auction by paying the bidder back the investment, plus 1.5 percent per month interest.
Before the deed is transferred to the new owner, all outstanding debts to the city must be cleared, including any water and sewer bills, housing code fines or other pending tax bills, which sometimes can cost more than $20,000.
Some bidders in such auctions have learned about these other debts after purchasing the tax lien, and have lost their investment after realizing they could not afford the additional costs.
"You have to make sure you do your homework before you bid on a property," Jackson said.
CAPTION: (This graphic was not available) Delinquent Property Owners
CAPTION: Republican presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan is one of 7,730 D.C. property owners whose homes, land or buildings could be sold because of delinquent taxes.