Tax Sale Loophole Drains Tens of Millions of Dollars from Chicago and Suburbs

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In a recent study unveiled by the Cook County Treasurer’s office, it has been revealed that investors are taking advantage of a legal loophole that is causing a drain of 280 million dollars from schools, parks, police, and other agencies in Chicago and its suburbs. This loophole, known as the “sale and error” provision in Illinois law, allows investors to avoid buying delinquent properties, resulting in them gaining both the property and a full refund on the taxes paid, plus up to 36 percent interest. The consequences of this loophole are most deeply felt in minority communities in the south suburbs.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and her team are determined to put an end to this practice, as they believe it is detrimental to community development and causes significant financial losses. While the law was initially implemented to incentivize investors to pay delinquent property taxes, it has resulted in a misappropriation of funds that were meant for essential services such as police, fire protection, and schools.

The study conducted by the treasurer’s office revealed that approximately 1,600 times a year, investors exploit this loophole, particularly for vacant and unwanted homes. These properties are often inaccurately listed on the Assessor’s website, providing investors with an opportunity to challenge the tax purchase and earn significant profits. In one example highlighted in the study, an investor earned over $17,000 in interest due to a mistaken listing of an addict on a vacant Harvey home. The burden of repaying these funds falls on the property owners, further exacerbating their financial hardship and leading to disarray in local finances.

Harvey, a municipality in Cook County, has been severely impacted, losing 14 million dollars in the past seven years due to this loophole. Chicago has lost 85 million dollars, and Calumet City has lost 16 million dollars. Altogether, the investors have drained nearly 280 million dollars from the south suburbs of Chicago and Cook County.

The issue at hand is not just a matter of financial loss, but also a flaw in the Illinois policy that is absent in other states. The consequences of this loophole will ultimately be borne by the community, as property tax bills will inevitably increase to compensate for the drained funds. Recognizing the urgency, state representative Cam Buckner has expressed the intention to review the study and explore potential legislative solutions to address the issue.

The Cook County Treasurer’s office and their work on this study have shed light on a critical flaw in the current tax sale system. The misallocation of funds not only undermines the growth of local communities but also highlights the need for a policy overhaul to prevent further financial losses. By closing this loophole and implementing stricter regulations, the Illinois government can ensure that funds destined for public services are utilized effectively.

In conclusion, the tax sale loophole draining tens of millions of dollars from Chicago and its suburbs is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. By rectifying the flawed system, communities can thrive, and essential services can receive the funding they need. The study conducted by the Cook County Treasurer’s office serves as a wake-up call for policymakers and stakeholders to take action and enact meaningful change to protect the financial well-being of Illinois communities.

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