Unpaid user fees take a toll on family’s home of nearly 25 years

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–Johnny and Mary Wilson’s well-maintained home in the Kensington Bailey neighborhood has seen a lot in the 25 years they have lived there—raised their children who now have children of their own, and provided shelter through good times and bad.

The Wilsons also made sure they paid their property taxes, tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes over the years, but they came perilously close to losing their home and the years of equity they had put in it, over about $500 in city user fees.

Actually the city did sell the Wilson’s home at the annual tax foreclosure sale last October, “It crushed me,” said their son Ahmad, “because my mom worked so many years, overtime, just to own her home—her and my dad.”

But the couple went to court, and the city reversed the sale, allowing the Wilsons to hold onto their home.

In recent years, Ahmad Wilson has had the responsibility of paying his parents’ property taxes, due to their failing health, but he was not aware of what can happen if the city’s user fees, especially for garbage removal, are not paid.

“I came all the way to pay all the taxes, and then you turn around–right after I paid the same year, up to zero–you sell her house for a garbage fee?”

The unpaid user fees added up, and prior to the foreclosure sale in 2018, the Wilsons worked out a court ordered payment plan to get caught up. Then tragedy struck the Wilsons again and again, Ahmad recalled.

“Both of my brothers passed away then my nephew, there were just a lot of things they were going through,” in addition to Johnny and Mary Wilson coping with their own health issues.

The Wilsons fell behind on their back payments, and last October, the city sold the Wilson’s home at the 2019 tax foreclosure sale. They found out the day after, and asked the Western New York Law Center to challenge the sale.

WNYLC attorney Amy Gathings handled the Wilsons’ case, “They did have the money to pay back what they owed, but they were too late. They were just a day too late by the time they went down to try to work this out. The property had been sold the day before.”

The Wilsons went to court, the city reversed the sale, and the buyer got his money back.

Gathings said it was ironic that after all the hardship, the Wilsons were fortunate their home was sold using the city’s foreclosure provisions from 2018.

“The title had not transferred which is why we were able to get in at the right time before the deed passed to the new purchaser.”

Starting with October 2019 tax auction, the City of Buffalo takes title to the foreclosed property, so when it is sold, the city is selling its own property–not the previous homeowner’s–and reversing the sale would have been virtually impossible for the Wilsons.

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