An Overview on Property Taxes

Taxes. During this time of year, it is likely that you have just completed and filed your local, state, and federal income taxes.  While taxes are still fresh in your mind, if you own property, you should also start thinking about your real estate taxes if you haven’t done so already.  The county tax bill (at least Allegheny County) has already been issued and the municipality tax bill is typically issued any time between March 1st through July 1st.  All school district tax bills are issued July 1st.

Although property owners are ultimately responsible for payment of real estate taxes, for many people, these taxes are an afterthought as their mortgage companies or banks escrow money from monthly mortgage payments and then make the payment directly to the taxing bodies.  However, there are situation that arise where the property owners are responsible for payment or, at the very least, assuring that payment is made by the correct party.  It is important to know that under Pennsylvania law, even if a property owner does not receive a tax bill, he or she is still responsible for the payment of real estate taxes.  This bears repeating- even if one does not get a tax bill, he or she must still pay the taxes.  If the taxes are not paid and become delinquent, the additional penalties and charges must be paid.

Some of the more common situations where a property owner may not receive a tax bill are as follows.

  • A mortgage is paid in full. When there are no more monthly mortgage payments, there is also no payment being made toward an escrow account.  A mortgage company or bank’s responsibility to pay real estate taxes ceases when the mortgage is paid in full.  It is often the case that a mortgage company or bank will advise a property owner, sometimes repeatedly, that it is no longer responsible for payment of taxes.  However, this does not always happen. The mortgage company or bank is not required to send the unpaid bill to the property owner or notify the tax collector that it no longer escrows for an account.  It is incumbent upon the property owner to contact the necessary tax collectors and advise them that the tax bills should be sent directly to the property owner’s attention.
  • A home is recently purchased. If a property owner buys a new home, especially during the month of June when school district tax bills are being prepared, the new owner’s information may not get transferred to the tax collectors and the bills are sent to the prior owners or their mortgage company.  Additionally, new property owners may believe that the real estate taxes for the year were paid at the closing and they do not expect to receive a tax bill for that year.  Therefore, no thought is given when one is not received.  If they receive a tax bill in error, prior owners do not have a responsibility to notify the tax collectors or the new owners.  Again, contact the necessary tax collectors and advise them of the change of ownership and request that a new bill be generated so that payment can be made.
  • Issues with mail service. A property owner may move and still retain ownership of a property but fails to notify the post office of a forwarding address or, simply enough, the bill gets lost in the mail.  All of these situations only require a telephone call or visit to the tax collectors.  Addresses and phone numbers can be found on copies of old tax bills; on taxing body websites; or even a quick call to the taxing body itself.  It is important that one be aware of when bills are issued so that one can contact the tax collector if a bill is not received in the mail to update addresses and request another bill be sent.

Regardless of the situation, if you do not receive a bill or you are unsure as to whether or not you should have received a tax bill, contact the tax collectors.  The savings in additional penalties, charges and the possibility of having a lien placed on your property are worth addressing the matter as soon as possible.