A family has lived in a Hazle Township half-double for decades without paying real estate taxes because the owner — Luzerne County government — apparently never noticed the home was occupied.
The house was deeded to the tax-exempt county 50 years ago after it did not sell at tax auctions, according to a review of county records and subsequent confirmation from county officials.
The issue recently came to light because the administration compiled a list of 170 inherited properties that are not needed for government purposes and should be sold — a task that had been promised by past county officials for at least two decades.
Marilyn Bevans, who has lived in the half-double since she was born 59 years ago, said she had always heard the structure and one or two others in the tiny village of Jeansville were not taxed because it was a “homestead house,” possibly with some connection to nearby coal mining.
“I assumed it was OK because nobody ever said otherwise,” Bevans said. “I never received anything to say I must pay a tax bill. I never understood why I didn’t have to pay taxes.”
Her late parents, Roy and Dora Bevans, purchased the Jeansville Road property in 1945 for their family, which grew to 18 children, according to Bevans and records. Bevans said her father, a coal miner, died of a heart attack when she was 2. As an adult, she stayed put.
“I raised three kids in that home,” she said.
The county administration recently included the half-double in a list of 60 properties that county council may consider selling at auction.
In light of the half-double discovery, county Manager C. David Pedri said he will ask council to consider removing that property from the auction list so it can be purchased by Bevans.
The property essentially belongs in the repository, a pool of unsold tax auction leftovers that are available for purchase at any time, typically for $500, Pedri said.
Unsold auction properties are no longer transferred to county ownership. Since at least the 1990s, repository properties have remained in the name of the delinquent owners and are added to a publicly posted list for anyone interested in buying them, officials said.
The 1,248-square-foot half-double on 0.15 acre is assessed at $43,100, which would equate to an annual $716 real estate tax bill based on current school, county and municipal tax rates.
County officials said they would have no claim to recoup taxes from prior years because the county was the owner.
According to county deeds, a representative of Union Savings and Loan Association of Hazleton acquired the property through a tax auction in 1951. Another tax sale deed involving the financial institution’s acquisition was recorded around 1961, and Union Savings and Loan sold the property to two men described as “trustees” in 1963.
After the trustees defaulted on the taxes, the property was deeded to the county in February 1968.
Interest in buying
A fast food restaurant manager, Bevans said she’d like to buy the house that’s been inhabited by her family for three generations.
She and her son are in the process of repairing damage from a fire last summer, but she said she can’t afford to continue that work if her family is ejected from the property. While her son is living at the property to make repairs, Bevans said she has been temporarily staying with an acquaintance.
The house has been the site of countless family gatherings for three generations, Bevans said. Many relatives and lifelong friends live in the village.
“It’s like a homestead,” she said of the structure. “Most of the town is related. It’s a little family town.”
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.