County works to collect unpaid taxes on mobile homes
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
Lake County is beginning the process of collecting back taxes on mobile home properties and clearing uncollectible amounts from the county records. In one of many steps in this process, county commissioners have approved eight abatements presented by the Lake County Treasurer. In some situations, the taxes were owed on mobile homes that had been moved out of the county or destroyed. Other situations involved cases where the owner was deceased or their current location was unknown.|
In approving the abatements, commissioners cleared $926 in taxes that were unable to be collected. Treasurer Linda Fischer said she has 15 to 20 additional mobile home properties on which back taxes are owed.
The abatements approved on Tuesday include one tax bill from 1994 and additional bills from 1998 through 2001. Fischer said the additional properties with outstanding taxes are for more recent years.
When it comes to outstanding taxes on mobile home properties, Fischer said that Lake County is unable to file a tax deed and take the property after a certain number of years of delinquent taxes. That process is only available for homes on fixed locations.
A mobile home is considered property, but it typically sits on a rented lot so it falls into the category of a building on a leased site.
That doesn't mean the property owners can avoid paying taxes indefinitely.
Fischer said the first step she takes is to send a letter to the property owner advising them of the taxes that are due. If the property owner doesn't respond, her next step is to include the property on the county's unpaid property tax listing in the local newspaper.
The final step is to issue a distress warrant, which is then given to the sheriff, who takes steps to collect the taxes.
"We try to work with them to pay their taxes," said Lake County Sheriff Tim Walburg, explaining that each situation is different and some cases are complicated by the fact that the owner is unknown or the property has been destroyed.
If the taxes can't be resolved, Walburg said, he can seize the property and sell the mobile home for the taxes owed. The sale of the property follows the same process as any property sold on a sheriff's sale.
Tracking down the owner of a mobile home can be complicated by the fact that it's fairly easy to transfer ownership to another party. Like a vehicle, ownership of a mobile home can be transferred by the owner signing over the title to another party.
Both Walburg and Fischer said there are cases, however, where the title is signed but not immediately filed with the Treasurer's Office. There are also cases where the mobile homes are moved out of the county.
Rick Becker, assessor with the Lake County Equalization Office, said the Zoning Office typically issues a permit if something is going to be destroyed. When mobile homes are moved, the property owner should have a permit from the Treasurer's Office that includes an affidavit stating all county taxes have been paid.
Fischer said professional movers can issue a moving permit, but they need a statement from the Treasurer's Office indicating all taxes have been paid.
"Every year we locate all the mobile homes registered in the county," Becker said. "If they're there, we assess them for the year. That's our verification that they're there."
Fischer said state law requires that all taxes be current on a property before the title can change hands, which has aided in the collection of some back taxes.
No statewide system is currently in place to check if new mobile homes registered in the county have taxes owed in another county.