I Can't Pay the Taxes on my House: What Can I Do?
- Where do I apply?
- What else do I need to tell them?
- When do I qualify for an abatement?
- What happens after I apply?
- What if I don't hear from the town in 30 days?
- What do I do if the Town turns me down?
- What can I do if I am still told that I have to pay the tax?
- Don't I need a lawyer from the beginning?
- How many years of taxes can be put aside?
- If I have a mortgage, can the town make the bank or FMHA pay my tax?
- Here are some other ways may to get help with your house taxes.
In Maine, if you cannot pay your tax bill for the property you live on, there is something you can do. Your city or town can decide that you don't have to pay some or all of it. This is called a "poverty tax abatement."
Where do I apply?
Go to your town office or city hall. If your town doesn't have an office, ask the town clerk or a Selectman. Tell them that you need a "tax abatement" because of your low income or financial hardship.
What else do I need to tell them?
The Town should give you a form with questions. If they do not have a form, you can get one from Pine Tree Legal Assistance. If you contact us, we will mail you one.
If you don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can go and get it. It's free, but takes a little while to download.
If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader, or another .pdf reader, you can view, print or download the blank form. Go here to view the form.
On the form, you will be asked to list your:
If the town has given you General Assistance in the past year, write that down. If you cannot work, write down why.
When do I qualify for an abatement?
If you use all of your income to pay for basic living expenses (like rent or house payment, lights, heat, and food), then you should be able to get an abatement.
If you cannot explain how you spend all of your money or if you spent some of your money on non-essential items, you may have a harder time getting an abatement. If you own valuable property you could sell, you may not qualify.
You should also apply to the Maine Property Tax and Rent Refund Program. Apply between August 1 and May 31. Call 626-8475 for more information. TTY: 287-4477. If you get refund money, use it toward your tax bill, and ask your town to abate the rest.
What happens after I apply?
The town has 30 days to decide what to do. During that time, they may hold an informal hearing. It must be kept private. At the hearing, they may ask you more questions about what you can pay. After the 30 days, they must tell you if you must still pay the taxes. They must give you their decision in writing . It must give you reasons.
What if I don't hear from the town in 30 days?
Call Pine Tree Legal Assistance. They may be able to help you get the town to decide.
What do I do if the Town turns me down?
You have 60 days try to change the decision (appeal). To appeal, you must send a letter to a higher authority, asking for a new decision. It can be a simple letter. Ask someone to help you if you need help. Your written decision from the town should tell you where to send the letter. If it doesn't, call Pine Tree Legal Assistance for help. Next, you will be told when and where and go to an appeal hearing.
At the hearing, be prepared to talk about your income and budget. The people who hear your appeal have 60 days total (from the date of your letter) to make a new decision.
What can I do if I am still told that I have to pay the tax?
You can appeal the second decision to the Maine Superior Court. You must do this within 30 days after you got the second decision. If you do not receive this second written decision within 60 days, then your appeal is considered denied. In this case, your appeal deadline is 90 days from the date of your hearing. If you've gotten this far and want to appeal again, call Pine Tree Legal Assistance right away for help.
Other Questions You May Have
Don't I need a lawyer from the beginning?
No. You can apply on your own. You can also go to the first informal hearing (if the Town has one) on your own. Try to get a lawyer before you go to the appeal hearing. If you think you need help at any stage, call Pine Tree Legal Assistance.
How many years of taxes can be put aside?
The town must let you apply for up to 3 years of back tax bills. If you owe more than 3 years, ask the Town if they will forgive all of the taxes that you owe. Be prepared to give them your income and budgets for each year.
If I have a mortgage, can the town make the bank or FMHA pay my tax?
No. You would still have a debt that you can't pay. Sometimes your bank pays your taxes on its own, to protect its interest in your property. If this happens, you can still apply for an abatement so that you can repay the bank. If you don't do this, the bank will add the amount of the tax to your debt. This will increase your debt and may give the bank the right to foreclose on your mortgage.
Here are some other ways may to get help with your house taxes.
You may also be able to get more tax relief if you are:
- a wartime veteran and at least 62 years old
- the widow or minor child of a wartime veteran
- You can do something if you don't have enough money to pay your house tax.
- Don't wait until the town has taken your house for back taxes. It might be too late.
- Call or write to Pine Tree Legal Assistance if you need help or have more questions.
Updated July 2012