Court lets Pennsylvania widow keep home sold over interest on $6.30 tax bill

By Elizabeth Daley

By Elizabeth Daley

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A widow whose western Pennsylvania home was sold by the county after she failed to pay interest accrued on $6.30 in late tax fees was overjoyed when a court ruled she can keep her home, her lawyer said on Friday.

Eileen Battisti, who is in her early 50s and lost her husband in 2004, was unfamiliar with managing her finances and did not understand in 2009 that she owed the $6.30 late fee, which subsequently accrued $234.72 in interest, prompting the tax sale of her home in 2011, said her lawyer, Ed Santillan.

A judge in Pittsburgh on Thursday ruled Battisti could keep ownership of the home in Aliquippa, about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Pittsburgh.

She has remained in the home with two of her three adult children since it was sold by the Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau to S.P. Lewis, a man who buys tax delinquent properties and sells them back to their former owners for a profit, according to court papers.

“We are thrilled with the decision of the commonwealth court and my client cried tears of joy when she heard the news,” Santillan said.

“I think when you read the opinion it is clear that the property should never have been sold,” he added.Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Leavitt ruled that county tax officials failed to provide Battisti with proper notification or warning regarding the sale of her house.

"A reasonable tax claim bureau would have responded to Taxpayer’s payment on the 2008 taxes with an invoice for $6.30, and it would have invoiced Taxpayer in 2010 for the 2009 shortage of $234.72," the judge wrote in her ruling.

The home, which is worth between $250,000 and $280,000, was sold to Lewis for $113,000. He offered to sell the property back to Battisti for $160,000, Santillan said.

Lewis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bureau still has the money from the sale and is expected to return it to Lewis, Santillan said, but Lewis has 30 days to appeal the court ruling.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Mohammad Zargham)