Homeowner had pre-sale alerts, Beaver County judge finds

| Friday, April 25, 2014, 9:34 p.m.

A Beaver County woman contesting the sale of her $280,000 house over a $6.30 late fee lost another round in court but will fight to take her case before a state appeals court, she said on Friday.

County Judge C. Gus Kwidis this week ruled against Eileen F. Battisti, 53, of Center, who claims county officials improperly sold her Rosewood Drive home at a September 2011 tax sale. She has said the county failed to provide her proper notifications about the sale or about the six-day late fee that put her house on the block.

The fee on her 2008 school property taxes ballooned to $234.72 with interest and other costs when S.P. Lewis of Imperial bought the home for $116,000, according to court records.

“The county is never satisfied when they have to sell a house,” said county Solicitor Joseph Askar. He said county officials must follow the state tax sale law, which mandates a sale if a bill is more than two years overdue.

Askar referred to findings by Kwidis, who wrote in a six-page order that there “is no doubt” that Battisti “had actual receipt” of pre-sale alerts in the summer of 2011.

Askar estimated Beaver County sells 600 to 1,000 properties a year over unpaid taxes, and he said few lead to such litigation.

Battisti and her lawyer, Ed Santillan, vowed to seek an appeal of Kwidis' decision before the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg.

Kwidis wrote in his order that Battisti admitted to receiving pre-sale notices on July 7 and Aug. 16, 2011. She is entitled to $108,039 in proceeds from the sale after her tax obligations are met, Kwidis wrote.

“She's going to get that money, but she's going to lose her house. All the notice requirements were met,” Kwidis said on Friday. “In tax assessment laws, even if I feel sorry for her, I can't do anything to help her. ... Everyone felt bad about it.”

Santillan said Battisti does not want the proceeds from the tax sale, preferring instead to keep the home. He said she would lose about $200,000 in equity if she accepts the sale proceeds.

“Yes, I had issues. I'm a widow. I'm raising three kids on my own, trying to put them through college,” Battisti said. “Yes, it took me a while to get the bills, but I pay my bills. To steal a house for $6 is ludicrous.”

Santillan said he expects the county Common Pleas Court will allow Battisti to stay in the house while she follows the appeals process. The county court allowed her to stay through earlier stages of her appeals, which landed before the Commonwealth Court last year.

At that point, it ruled the county court was wrong in depriving Battisti of an evidentiary hearing earlier in the legal process. The Commonwealth Court in August ordered the case to return to Beaver County.

Kwidis presided over an evidentiary hearing on March 27, then ruled on Tuesday to uphold the sale of Battisti's house. She said Lewis, who bought the home, has offered to return it to her for a “ridiculous” $260,000.

Lewis' attorney could not be reached. Santillan said Battisti has kept paying as much of her property tax bills as the Tax Claim Bureau will accept while the case is appealed.

“I'm going to fight it until my dying day,” Battisti said.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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