by Dan McCaleb
A Wayne County woman filed a lawsuit Monday challenging a Michigan policy that allows counties to seize an individual’s property to settle back taxes, sell it, and keep all of the money from the sale.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends Americans against the government, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Erica Perez against Wayne County and County Treasurer Eric Sabree, the foundation said in a news release.
Perez and her family are residents of a New York City suburb outside of New Jersey.
In 2012, Perez and her father, Romualdo Perez, bought a four-unit home and a single-family home in Detroit for $60,000, intending to move closer to family, according to the lawsuit. They spent tens of thousands of dollars restoring the four-unit house over three years and rented out the units before beginning to work on the single-family home, the lawsuit says.
In 2017, however, “Wayne County seized their property, citing an outstanding tax debt,” the news release said. “The Perez family had unknowingly underpaid their 2014 property taxes by $144. To settle that minor debt, Wayne County took the homes and sold them for $108,000, keeping every penny from the sale. The Perez family lost all their equity in the houses, while the county pocketed $107,498.55.”
The Pacific Legal Foundation calls the practice home equity theft and said the lawsuit is part of the organization’s efforts to end the practice in Michigan and elsewhere.
“Although the government can take a property to settle debts, it can’t take more than it’s owed,” foundation attorney Christina Martin said in a statement. “For most people, the equity in their home represents their life savings. Home equity theft – which is what Wayne County has committed – is unconstitutional, and the courts need to end the practice.”
The lawsuit was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court.
The Center Square has reached out to Wayne County officials seeking comment.
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Dan McCaleb is a veteran editor and has worked in journalism for more than 25 years. Most recently, McCaleb served as editorial director of Shaw Media and the top editor of the award-winning Northwest Herald in suburban Chicago.
Photo “Erica Perez and Family” by Pacific Legal Foundation.