Is Pennsylvania A Tax Lien Or A Tax Deed State?

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In this article, we will answer the question, “Is Pennsylvania a tax lien or a tax deed state?” Pennsylvania is a unique state with its own set of regulations and procedures when it comes to tax sales. Understanding the differences and nuances between tax lien and tax deed states is essential for anyone interested in investing in real estate in Pennsylvania. So, let’s delve deeper into the topic and explore the various aspects of tax sales in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania: A Tax Deed State

Pennsylvania is generally considered a tax deed state, which means that if property owners fail to pay their taxes, the government has the authority to confiscate and resell the property at auction. However, it’s important to note that Pennsylvania has different processes and regulations in different parts of the state. So, let’s take a closer look at the specific rules and sales that take place within Pennsylvania.

Understanding the Different Processes in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has a distinct difference between the eastern and western parts of the state when it comes to tax sales. Each district, such as Philadelphia, Scranton, and Allegheny County (which includes Pittsburgh), may have its own rules and regulations regarding tax sales. It’s crucial to be aware of these variations and thoroughly understand the rules specific to the district in which you are interested in investing. Reading the rules for each auction is essential to ensure compliance and success.

Pennsylvania: A Commonwealth, Not Just a State

While Pennsylvania is commonly referred to as a state, legally, it is a commonwealth. The difference between a commonwealth and a state may not be apparent to everyone, but it is important to understand the rules and regulations that apply to the specific designation. The rules governing tax sales in Pennsylvania are known as statutes, and it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with them to navigate the process successfully.

What is a Tax Deed State?

Before delving deeper into Pennsylvania’s tax sales, it’s essential to define what it means to be a tax deed state. In a tax deed state, if property owners fail to pay their taxes, the local government has the authority to confiscate the property. After seizing the property, the government aims to resell it at auction to recoup the unpaid taxes and return the property to the tax roll.

Different Auctions in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has several types of auctions for tax sales. Let’s briefly discuss the different types:

  1. Upset Auction: This auction occurs when property owners have not paid their taxes for at least two years. However, it’s important to note that buying properties at an upset sale may require paying all the backed liens, including mortgages, judgments, and other liens on the property.

  2. Judicial Sale: This type of sale is preferable to many investors as it ensures that the mortgage will be removed from the property. The judicial sale, also known as a free and clear sale, allows buyers to acquire properties without any outstanding liens other than unpaid taxes.

  3. Repository Sale: If properties do not sell at the upset or judicial sale, they may be moved to a repository sale. These properties present an opportunity for buyers who are willing to take on additional risks and potential liabilities.

  4. Private Sale: In addition to public auctions, Pennsylvania may also have private sales available. Private sales have specific rules and procedures that buyers must follow.

It’s vital to understand that each auction type may have its own unique set of rules and regulations. It’s advisable to carefully read and comprehend the guidelines outlined for each sale to ensure a successful and compliant purchase.

The Tax Deed Process in Pennsylvania

To gain a better understanding of how the tax deed process works in Pennsylvania, let’s take a closer look:

  1. Tax Levy: First, the legislature sets the rules and coordinates with the local county government. The local government, known as the treasury, is responsible for collecting property taxes.

  2. Collection Efforts: If property owners fail to pay their taxes, the treasury will send multiple notices of default to prompt payment. This process, known as due process of law, is intended to give property owners sufficient opportunity to pay their taxes and avoid losing their property.

  3. Property Confiscation: If property owners do not pay their taxes despite receiving multiple notices, the county government has the authority to seize the property and evict any occupants, including both owners and renters.

  4. Resale: After confiscation, the county government aims to resell the property. It’s important to note that the government is interested in recouping the unpaid taxes rather than acquiring the property. Therefore, the property will be resold at an auction to generate revenue and return the property to the tax roll.

It’s important to emphasize that these processes have been in place for centuries, even before the advent of income tax. While Pennsylvania’s tax sales system may be complex and outdated in some aspects, adherence to the established rules and regulations is crucial for successful property acquisition.


In conclusion, Pennsylvania is generally considered a tax deed state. However, the state has specific rules and regulations that vary between districts and counties. Familiarizing oneself with these rules is essential for anyone interested in participating in tax sales in Pennsylvania. It’s vital to understand the different types of auctions and the specific guidelines for each sale. By adhering to the rules and conducting due diligence, investors can navigate the tax deed process successfully and ethically. Remember, each district may have different auction processes, and it is essential to study the rules and be prepared to adapt strategies accordingly. With meticulous research and adherence to the regulations, investors can take advantage of the opportunities presented by Pennsylvania’s tax deed system.

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