The State Auditor’s Office maintains that its new role in selling delinquent tax properties will aid communities plagued with vacant, dilapidated structures.

Previously, counties conducted their own sale of properties that had gone delinquent from property tax nonpayment. Those who had allowed their properties to become delinquent had 18 months to pay them, with interest, or see them auctioned off at respective county courthouses. Those sales usually took place each fall.

The Auditor’s Office plans to hold one sale a year in each county courthouse.

Groups of lawyers and other professional investors scour lists of properties for which the owner has relinquished his or her right of ownership, by not paying the principal and interest on owed taxes. Legislation passed during the most recent regular legislative session eliminates the interest payment requirement.

“For years, the tax sale has been a root cause of slum and blight,” a release from the office said. “Out-of-state speculators, many with no desire to turn properties into usable living spaces, would buy properties to make money off West Virginians who had fallen on hard times.

“The properties purchased at tax sales were a mechanism to cash in on the interest homeowners had to pay to get their properties back. This bill eliminates that interest to not only help homeowners save money but to encourage purchasers in the tax sale to buy properties as an investment in a community.”

Another change in the law would establish what the office calls a “pecking order” for unsold properties. The order is adjacent landowners; municipalties/land use agencies; counties; land stewardship corporations; and then the general public.

“Recognizing no one’s home should be taken away for falling on hard times, for the first time ever, the bill establishes a payment plan,” the release says. “If your home is sold at a tax sale, you can request a repayment plan from the Auditor’s Office, to be paid in three installments before the deed is issued to the new purchaser.”

The release notes that the bill provides the “state Department of Environmental Protection the authority to utilize statewide contracts and appropriated funds to remediate dilapidated structures, including those acquired by communities and public corporations, and redevelop such structures to address the statewide scourge of run-down properties.”

It also notes that DEP has been provided with $10 million for the pilot phase of this program.