Monday, November 16, 2015
C.A. Clarifies Statute on Claiming Tax Sale Proceeds
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A recorded grant deed is the preferred, but not exclusive, means of proving the right to claim the excess proceeds of a property tax sale, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Three Thursday reversed an Alameda Superior Court judge’s ruling in favor of the county in a suit by Jerome Carloss, reinstating his claim that the county owes him nearly $65,000 from the proceeds of the sale of his late mother’s home on Magnolia St. in Oakland.
At issue in the case was Revenue and Taxation Code §4675’s requirement that a claimant to tax sale proceeds be a “person with a title of record” or the person’s successor. Carloss alleged in his complaint that his mother lived in the house for over 50 years and regularly paid the taxes on it until the last years of her life.
The property was sold in March 2011 at a tax sale. Carloss’s mother died soon after.
In rejecting Carloss’s claim to the proceeds, a county hearing officer said neither Carloss nor any of his relatives who asserted an interest in the proceeds had proven their claims, because no claimant had produced a recorded grant deed establishing ownership in themselves or a predecessor.
The county administrator adopted the hearing officer’s findings, leading to the Superior Court action. Carloss alleged in his complaint that the lack of a recorded grant deed was likely a result of “mis-indexing by the County of Alameda at the time of acquisition.”
His parents, he alleged, had owned the property as joint tenants with his uncle. The uncle died in 1967, he said, and his father in 1988, making his mother the sole owner of the property.
As proof, he cited documents presented at the administrative hearing, including a recorded 1952 deed of trust with his parents and uncle as the grantors and two individuals as beneficiaries and a recorded 1985 affidavit regarding his uncle’s death, referencing a deed of reconveyance in 1956 from the beneficiaries.
He also presented an assessor’s office history, listing his parents and uncle as owners in 1969 and his parents as owners in 2010.
Trial Court Ruling
Judge Delbert C. Gee sustained the county’s demurrer, agreeing that the claim could not succeed in the absence of a recorded grant deed. He also held the action to be barred by §4675’s 90-day statute of limitations.
But Justice Stuart Pollak, writing for the Court of Appeal, said there is no absolute requirement that the claimant produce a recorded grant deed.
“While such a deed is the normal means of establishing title of record, and proving title may be difficult in the absence of such a deed, in unusual circumstances such as Carloss has alleged here, title of record may be established by recorded instruments of various types, the assessor’s records, and testimony that, as a whole, proves that the claimant or the claimant’s predecessor in interest held title of record,” the justice wrote. “Allegations in the complaint that ‘many documents were recorded in the chain of title’ evidencing ownership that the county failed to consider sufficiently state a claim.”
Citing legislative history, Pollak said it was clear that one may hold “title of record” without a grant deed being recorded. The Legislature, he explained, changed the relevant terminology from “former owner” to “person with title of record” for purposes of “technical consistency,” not because it wanted to make it harder to claim proceeds.
In fact, he noted, the current legislation “was enacted in response to a situation much like the one here—a long-time homeowner losing her home because of a tax delinquency less than her equity in the home.”
As for the statute of limitations, Pollak said the 90-day period was triggered by the mailing of the county administrator’s decision, and that the five-day extension for documents served by mail, under Code of Civil Procedure §1013, applies. Because the plaintiff contends that he filed suit no later than 93 days after the county mailed him notice of the decision, he has pled timeliness of the action and the demurrer should have been overruled, the justice concluded.
The case is Carloss v. County of Alameda, 15 S.O.S. 5425.
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