When real property taxes become 3 years delinquent, the Whatcom County Treasurer is required by law to begin foreclosure action. A certificate of delinquency is filed with the Superior Court, after which, taxes, interest, penalties, and foreclosure costs begin to accrue.
A title search is conducted for each parcel. As required by law, all parties with recorded legal interest (as revealed by the title search) are served with a notice and summons by certified or registered mail. A notice and summons is published in the local newspaper (RCW 84.64.050), as well as a missing persons ad (PDF).
Court Judgement on Sale
The Whatcom County Treasurer receives a judgment from Superior Court foreclosing on the tax liens and ordering the sale of those parcels. Parcels being foreclosed can be redeemed by their owners, or other parties with recorded legal interest, through the close of business on the day before the sale. That is, they are allowed to pay all taxes, interest, penalties, costs and fees due, thus removing their parcel from the sale. After April 30, we accept only cash, cashier checks and money orders made payable to the Whatcom County Treasurer. Absolutely no personal, business, travelers checks, or credit/debit cards will be accepted.
Prior owners have no rights to the property after foreclosure, unless they were a minor or legally incompetent. Minors and legal incompetents have the right to redeem anytime within three years from the date of the foreclosure sale. They redeem the property by paying the sales price, plus interest on the tax amount. Any improvements made by the new owner would also be reimbursed. (RCW 84.64.070)
Generally, all liens on foreclosed property are extinguished. However, the County can make no guarantees that the prior lienholders will honor this extinguishment. IRS liens are usually also extinguished, but they are subject to a 120 day redemption period. If prior lienholders attempt to collect on their liens after the property has been foreclosed on, it is entirely up to the new owner to defend against these claims.
What happens to the excess proceeds?
If a parcel is sold at auction for more than the amount owing, the previous title owner of record can claim the surplus money. This is the party who held title on the day that we filed the Certificate of Delinquency. They have up to three years from the date of the sale to make their claim. (RCW 84.64.080 and RCW 63.29.350 (PDF)) The Whatcom County Treasurer will not provide foreclosure surplus data to any requester without a signed public record access form.
For additional information regarding how to research a tax foreclosure, tax-title, or county surplus parcels, see the Real Property Auction Research page.