An Alabama company that purchased a property at a tax sale in Elkhart but subsequently failed to pay property taxes did not receive adequate notice that the city was seeking a tax deed on the property, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
In a unanimous ruling, the court affirmed an Elkhart Circuit ruling in City of Elkhart, Indiana v. SFS, LLC and Jefferson Group, LLC that concluded Elkhart officials didn’t comply with state law to provide notice of tax sale proceedings. The appeals court also affirmed the trial court’s ruling that vacated Elkhart’s tax deed for a single-family home at 1701 Kilbourn St.
“We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it granted SFS’ motion to correct error and that its order was correct both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law. Because the City failed to provide adequate notice, the City’s tax deed is void,” Judge Edward Najam Jr. wrote for the panel.
At issue is the city’s failure to provide notice to a company that owned the property after a paralegal found an address for the company through independent investigation.
State law spells out a variety of means by which officials can use public records to obtain addresses of property owners to serve notice of tax sales, but other requirements for notice are unsettled, according to the ruling.
Najam wrote that the city was required to use “ordinary means” to give notice to SFS under I.C. 6-1.1-25-4.5(d). “Our case law does not define the ‘ordinary means’ requirement … we hold simply that where, as here, a governmental entity has knowledge or the means of knowledge at hand of the address of a person with a substantial property interest of public record, it is not ordinary to disregard that knowledge when providing notice to that person.”