Appealed From No. 96-05329. Common Pleas Court of the County of Washington. Judge GLADDEN, President Judge.
Before: Honorable Dan Pellegrini, Judge, Honorable James R. Kelley, Judge, Honorable Emil E. Narick, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Senior Judge Narick.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Narick
OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE NARICK
This appeal presents the issue of whether the Washington County Tax Claim Bureau (Tax Bureau) met its burden of proving proper legal notice of tax sale.
Dr. George N. Ban (Dr. Ban) appeals from the decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County (trial court) which upheld the September 24, 1996 upset sale of Ban's real estate for delinquent taxes pursuant to the Tax Sale Law. *fn1 We reverse.
This case arises from the upset sale of a residential property in Washington County owned by Dr. Ban. Our review of the record indicates the following. Dr. Ban lived in Butler County but maintained his, now vacant, childhood residence in Washington County through a neighbor who acted as caretaker. Dr. Ban failed to pay property taxes in a timely manner and on July 11, 1995, the Tax Bureau sent Dr. Ban a notice of claim for unpaid 1994 taxes which Dr. Ban received on August 3, 1995. *fn2
Dr. Ban took no action, and on July 29, 1996, the Tax Bureau sent a notice of public tax sale via certified/first-class U.S. Mail for which he also acknowledges receipt. The Tax Bureau also published notice of the sale in three Washington County newspapers of general circulation thirty (30) days prior to sale. On September 7, 1996, the Tax Bureau posted a notice of the pending tax sale on a rear entrance door, apparently not visible from the public street or public sidewalk fronting the property.
The Tax Bureau conducted an upset sale on September 24, 1996 at which the property sold for an amount well in excess of the upset price *fn3 to Bud Frey (Frey), intervenor. Within thirty (30) days, the Tax Bureau sent Dr. Ban notice via certified/first-class U.S. Mail, which he acknowledged receiving, that the property had been sold and advised him that he could file objections and exceptions to the tax sale no later than thirty (30) days after the trial court's confirmation nisi of the Tax Bureau's consolidated return. Dr. Ban timely filed objections and exceptions to the sale. After a hearing, the trial court confirmed the sale, holding that the Tax Bureau had established by substantial evidence that notice was posted in a reasonable manner such as would likely inform the taxpayer of the intended sale. Dr. Ban appeals. *fn4
On appeal, Dr. Ban argues that the tax sale should be voided because the Tax Bureau did not meet its burden of proving that the property had been properly posted pursuant to the Tax Sale Law *fn5 because the notice was posted on the back door of the house where it could not reasonably be noticed. *fn6 We agree.
In a tax sale case such as this, the burden of proving compliance with statutory notice provisions of the Tax Sale Law rests with the Tax Bureau. Rinier v. Tax Claim Bureau 146 Pa. Commw. 568, 606 A.2d 635 (Pa. Commw. 1992). Section 602 of the Tax Sale Law sets forth three methods of notice. *fn7 These notice requirements consist of publication at least thirty (30) days prior to sale, notification by certified/ first-class mail, and posting of the property at least ten (10) days prior to the sale, all of which are required for a valid tax sale. Matter of Tax Sales by the Tax Claim Bureau of Dauphin County, 651 A.2d 1157 (Pa. Commw.), reargument denied, appeal denied, 544 Pa. 650, 664 A.2d 978 (1994). It is well established that notice provisions are to be strictly construed, and that strict compliance with such provisions is necessary to guard against deprivation of property without due process, and if any one is defective, the sale is void. Rinier.
At issue in this case is the whether the Tax Bureau has complied with the statutory requirements for posting notice. *fn8 In deciding whether a property is properly posted for purposes of the Tax Sale Law, the Court must consider not only whether the posting is sufficient to notify the owner of the pending sale, but provides sufficient notice to the public at large so that any interested parties will have an opportunity to participate in the auction process. Chester County Tax Claim Bureau v. Griffith, 113 Pa. Commw. 105, 536 A.2d 503 (Pa. Commw. 1988).
In In re: Upset Tax Sale of September 10, 1990, 147 Pa. Commw. 52, 606 A.2d 1255 (Pa. Commw. 1992), a case similar to the present case, we examined the purposes behind the posting provision in great detail. Judge Pellegrini spoke for the Court:
Public posting assists in informing a taxpayer that his or her property will be exposed at tax sale, ... it serves the additional purpose of notifying others whose interest may be affected by the sale such as mortgage and lien holders. Posting also serves to notify the public at large that the property is going to be offered at tax sale. This increases the number of bidders for the property, aiding in the likelihood that the taxing bodies will receive the taxes owed, as well as making the sale fair to the delinquent taxpayer so that the property is sold for the highest amount ...