Sunday, October 14, 2012

R wants to know if a tax proration error is covered by title insurance

So I bought a house on Jun 26, that was the day we closed.  I just got the property tax bill from our county and it was rather high, and I don't remember any credits coming my way at closing from the Jan 1-Jun 25 timeframe.  I went back to look and still don't see anything.

My question for you -- since I didn't take ownership until Jun 26, I assume I'm not liable for property taxes from Jan 1-Jun 25, right?  Should those have been prorated and charged to the seller at closing?  Even if they were estimated at the time since final property tax bills aren't issued until Oct 1?

And if this was a human error of some sort, who's responsible for the screw up?  The title company?  And how would I go about getting reimbursed so I'm not stuck with the entire 2012 calendar year tax bill?  Can I invoke title insurance for human error?  I assume these are the types of things title insurance is used for?

Your thoughts?



Hi, R:  The method of prorations for taxes and whether or not prorations take place is set out in the sales contract.  The title agent would look at the contract and set up prorations or not based on what buyer and seller agreed to.  In the absence of such instruction from a contract, a title agent would typically do whatever is the custom for that area.  The responsibility of the buyer and seller, then, is to review these figures and then by signing the settlement statement, acknowledge acceptance.

If the county tax bill is based on a calendar year, and the bill doesn't come out until October for this calendar year, then it would make sense that the seller would have given you a credit for January 1 thru June 26.  This credit would be on page one of the HUD-1 on the bottom half of the page.

If the county tax is based on a fiscal year, the dates may be different and it is possible that the October bill is for a fiscal year that started after June 26 but in that case you would have given the seller a credit for the county tax to adjust for what they had paid beyond closing to the end of the fiscal year.

Tax prorations are typically not covered by title insurance.  However, they may be covered by a Closing Services Letter if you are in an area where such letters cover consumers.  In PA the letters DO cover buyers.  The basis of a claim under the letter is that the title agent did not follow the written instructions.  In that case you would have to show that you gave written instructions for prorations and as I mentioned before, these are typically in the sales contract.

If there is no basis for a title insurance claim you could speak with an attorney and consider suing the title agent for negligence. Again, though, I think you'd have to show that they were given instructions and did not follow them.

Prorations of taxes are not mandatory as part of a real estate transaction.  They are negotiated by agreement between buyer and seller.

Hope this helps. ;)


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