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AARP Files Brief in U.S. Supreme Court Case Challenging ‘Home Equity Theft’


En español | We’re urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a Minnesota law that allows local governments to seize a person’s home to recoup back property taxes and keep any leftover money after the home is sold. 

AARP Foundation filed a brief in a case before the court this week in support of Geraldine Tyler, a 94-year-old Minnesota woman who lost her condo after she failed to pay $15,000 in back taxes, fees and interest.  

According to court documents, the county seized her condo, sold it for $40,000 and kept the $25,000 surplus, as required under Minnesota law. 

“For most of us, our home is our greatest asset,” William Alvarado Rivera, AARP Foundation senior vice president for legal advocacy, said in a statement. “For the government to wipe out an entire lifetime of savings to recover a small tax debt is not merely unconstitutional — it is unconscionable.” 

AARP argues the law violates the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits taking private property for public use without just compensation. 

In our filing, we urge the court to consider “the human cost of such laws,” which can be “catastrophic” for the nation’s older homeowners. Many live on fixed incomes, struggle to pay rising food, utility and medical costs, and lack access to affordable professional financial advice, we told the court. 

“These challenges not only raise the risk of being sued for unpaid taxes, but also imperil their ability to defend themselves and resist foreclosure,” we wrote. 

Minnesota is one of a dozen states, along with the District of Columbia, with laws allowing the government to seize a homeowner’s entire equity to pay modest property tax debts, according to the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation. 

“AARP has advocated against home equity theft in the legislatures and in the courts for over a decade,” Rivera said. “We look forward to a Supreme Court decision that corrects this grave injustice against homeowners, who, like Ms. Tyler, are usually 50 or older.” 

Read our filing, and learn more about AARP Foundation and its legal advocacy work. 

 

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