Returned Mail Does Not Satisfy Due Process for Sale of Tax Deed

How much notice is required to a property owner before the state can sell his land for the delinquent taxes?

In a recent opinion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that mere compliance with state statutes was not sufficient to satisfy constitutional due process.  See Crownover v. Keel.

In that case, a county sold real property for nonpayment of taxes.  Prior to the sale, the county complied with state law by sending a letter by certified mail to the landowner’s last known address, and by posting notice of the sale in the local newspaper.

The letter was returned “undeliverable,” but the procedure itself still complied with state law.

Although the procedure satisfied state law, the court found the notice did not meet the constitutional standards of due process.

The court emphasized that notice – in a constitutional sense – requires more effort. “[W]hen notice is a person’s due, process which is a mere gesture is not due process. The means employed must be such as one desirous of actually informing the absentee might reasonably adopt to accomplish it.”

Because the effort here was not reasonably calculated to provide notice in fact, the court invalidated the tax sale.

For persons and counties that desire to purchase or sell tax deeds, the court suggested other methods of providing notice that would likely satisfy due process, including sending a letter by regular mail, or by posting notice on the property itself.

If you are considering purchasing real property by obtaining a tax deed, an attorney can help guide you through the process and identify potential problems that could invalidate the sale.

If you have questions about due process and tax deeds, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill in Tulsa, 918-935-2777.