Property Rights

A Challenge to Those Who Would Give Libertarians a Bad Name

|


Kermit and Delores Atwood's Kafkaesque predicament began with a $1.63 property tax bill they never received. After years of owing no property tax because of a homestead exemption, the Louisiana couple was suddenly charged this tiny amount in 1996, but the bill was sent to the wrong address. Even though the bill came back undelivered, in 1997 the county auctioned off the Atwoods' house at 4122 Dauphine Street in St. Tammany Parish to pay the delinquent taxes. Having somehow missed the tiny notice in the local legal paper, the Atwoods knew nothing of this until 2000, one week after the deadline for challenging the sale had passed. They complained to the county, and the tax assessor got the state Tax Commission to nullify the sale.

The Atwoods thought everything had been taken care of until they put their house up for sale in 2002. Although they got an offer of $90,000 for the house (the mortgage on which had been paid off since 1968), they found they could not complete the transaction because a local developer claimed to have acquired the property from the company that bought it at the tax auction. The developer, James A. Lindsay II of Bush, Louisiana, is challenging the Tax Commission's retraction of the sale in court, so far without success.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Katrina seriously damaged the Atwoods' uninsured house, which they would have sold years ago had it not been for Lindsay's lawsuit. Delores Atwood, 69, lives in a FEMA-furnished trailer in front of the house, while her 71-year-old husband, who needs a respirator, lives with relatives. They do not want to invest any money in fixing the house until they're sure they own it.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune explains Lindsay's perspective: 

Jamie Land [Lindsay's company] argued that once the three-year redemption period has expired, the state Constitution allows only the courts to annul a tax sale. Therefore, the commission lacked the authority to void the sale of the Atwoods' property, the company contends….

"Look, I don't blame her for being mad about it," Lindsay said. "But when you get down to it, it was her who didn't pay her taxes."

Could this be the same James A. Lindsay II of Bush, Louisiana, who one week before had published a letter in the Times-Picayune defending libertarians against columnist Michael Gerson's portrayal of them as libertines? The headline over the letter: "Libertarians Respect Others."

At least he's not Jewish.

[Thanks to Michael Keferl for the tip.]