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In re Petition to Set Aside Upset Tax Sale

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

October 1, 2019

In Re: Petition to Set Aside Upset Tax Sale Appeal of: Craig Hansford

          Argued: September 9, 2019

          BEFORE: HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Senior Judge

          OPINION

          ANNE E. COVEY, JUDGE

         Craig Hansford (Hansford) appeals from the Lehigh County Common Pleas Court's (trial court) September 17, 2018 order denying Hansford's Amended Petition to Set Aside Upset Tax Sale (Petition).[1] Essentially, the issue before this Court is whether Hansford was an owner occupant of 41 East Wyoming Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania 18103 (Property) at the time of the upset tax sale.[2]

         The facts are undisputed.[3] Hansford has owned the Property "[s]ince 2007, 2008."[4] Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 43a. Hansford was arrested on or about May 22, 2017 and has been incarcerated thereafter. See R.R. at 43a-44a. On September 20, 2017, a tax sale ensued as a result of delinquent taxes. Hyoungjoon Park (Park) purchased the Property at the tax sale for $60, 000.00. See Original Record, Hansford Memorandum in Support of Petition, Ex. A (Lehigh County Property Tax Notes). On December 22, 2017, Hansford filed the Petition alleging that he is an owner occupant of the Property, thus the Lehigh County Tax Claim Bureau (Bureau) was required to personally serve him notice of the sale.[5] On March 16, 2018, Park filed a Petition to Intervene. By March 20, 2018 order, the trial court granted Park's Petition to Intervene. The trial court held a hearing on July 9, 2018, and heard argument on July 17, 2018. On September 17, 2018, the trial court denied the Petition. On September 18, 2018, the trial court filed its opinion. On October 9, 2018, the trial court filed an amended opinion and an amended order incorporating the amended opinion. Hansford appealed to this Court on October 24, 2018.[6]

         Hansford first argues that the Bureau failed to present evidence establishing its compliance with Sections 601(a)(3) and 602 of the Real Estate Tax Sale Law (RETSL).[7] The Bureau rejoins that Section 602 of the RETSL is not an issue before this Court because it was not raised before the trial court; and Section 601(a)(3) of the RETSL does not apply because Hansford was not an owner occupant at the time of the sale.[8]

         Initially, with respect to the issues before this Court, the following transpired before the trial court:

THE COURT: . . . .
We have two issues as defined by [Hansford's a]ttorney [Glennis] Clark[, ] and Attorney[] [Diane] Dinstel [representing Northeast Revenue Service, LLC, the agent for the Bureau] and [Attorney Kathryn] Williams [representing Park] agree are [sic] fair issues to deal with in a case like this.
1. Whether [] Hansford is an owner occupant as defined under Section 102 of the [RETSL[9] as to the [P]roperty at issue; correct?
MS. WILLIAMS: Yes.
MR. CLARK: Yes.
MS. DINSTEL: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: 2. Whether the [RETSL] requires personal service on an owner who is not an owner occupant as defined by said statute; correct?
MS. DINSTEL: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: That makes sense. Yes?
MR. CLARK: Yes.
THE COURT: Yes?
MS. DINSTEL: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Okay.
MS. WILLIAMS: Yes.
THE COURT: So the first is a factual question and the second is a ...

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