MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of a 94-year-old Minneapolis woman whose home was seized and sold by Hennepin County for unpaid taxes.
Geraldine Tyler left a north Minneapolis condo in 2010, renting an apartment in what she considered a safer neighborhood. But she maintained ownership of the place she called home for 11 years.
By 2015, she racked up about $15,000 in unpaid property taxes, penalties, interest, and fees. At that point, the county sold her one-bedroom condo for about $40,000, $25,000 more than she owed.
"And that's perfectly legal under state law," says Christina Martin of the Pacific Legal Foundation.
Martin is the lead attorney on Tyler's case. She says Minnesota is one of 12 states to regularly seize people's property and keep all the proceeds. No matter the amount of debts – which banks or private entities are not allowed to do.
"We recognize that the government has a right to collect the debt, but we just want the government to be treated like everybody else," said Martin.
A Hennepin County spokesperson tells us: "When a property owner fails to pay taxes and does not avail herself of the numerous ways to remedy the deficiency -- including selling the property, using the sales proceeds to pay the tax and keeping any surplus -- the state's retention of the surplus is not an unconstitutional taking, nor is it an excessive fine."
A Pacific Legal Foundation study found Minnesota seized homes from at least 1,360 people this way between 2014 and 2021. The debts averaged about 8% of the home's value, raising more than $100 million in equity.
"That's a huge amount of money that's essentially taken from society's most vulnerable members," said Martin. "And it's disproportionately people who are elderly, sick, and just often very poor."
Two courts have sided with the county, but the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Tyler's case, likely sometime in April.