Dartmouth Family Lost Home Over Unpaid Tax Bill
DARTMOUTH — One Dartmouth family is battling to regain their home after losing it — and its more than $300,000 in value — over a $2,300 unpaid tax bill.
Tina Dupere and her mom Mary Ann may face eviction after their 2016 property tax bill from the town of Dartmouth ultimately led to a Boston-based company foreclosing on their home.
A lawsuit filed in the Bristol County Superior Court on May 21 alleges that the company and town violated the Duperes' constitutional rights.
According to the legal complaint, the Duperes live in a house on Gentle Valley Drive that has been the family's home for more than 42 years.
After Mary Ann suffered a stroke in 2010, Tina has acted as her caregiver, also working part time as a staffing agent for people with disabilities.
But in 2016 the family struggled to pay their tax bill.
The lawsuit — filed by the California-based nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the Dupere family — alleges that the $2,300 bill snowballed with interest and fees into a debt of more than $7,000, which the town sold to Boston firm Tallage Davis, LLC in 2018.
The firm started foreclosure proceedings later that year. But the complaint alleges that the foreclosure notice mailed to the Duperes was "vague," full of legal jargon, and "did not explain the consequences of failing to stop the foreclosure."
"The Duperes did not receive...any warning about losing their home or equity," the complaint continues.
Eventually, the debt grew to over $13,000.
Tallage was granted the absolute title to the house by the land court in 2019 — a home worth around $330,000.
The complaint claims the value of the house is roughly 1,100 percent more than the debt (plus interest and fees) owed by the Duperes.
According to Pacific Legal Foundation Attorney Joshua Polk, a large majority of U.S. states prohibit companies or towns from keeping all proceeds from such takings.
But Massachusetts is not one of them.
Tallage has also started eviction proceedings against the family, according to the complaint.
Attorney for Tallage Davis Dan Hill commented, "Tallage denies all of the allegations of unconstitutionality or bad faith," noting that the company "complied with all statutory requirements."
"We’ve looked at this and we definitely have not breached any constitutional issue," he added.
Dartmouth Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes commented, "We make every effort, within the confines of state law, to keep homeowners in their homes when there's an issue with back taxes."
Town officials did not comment on the Duperes' case or the town's relationship with Tallage Davis.
Polk said that the firm, the town, and the Duperes are working to settle the lawsuit out of court.
But even if the Duperes' case is settled, he said, the issue won't go away until regulations address what he called "home equity theft," which he noted is all too common.
An Easton family nearly lost their home earlier this year, but were able to recover the title after another lawsuit brought by Pacific Legal Foundation, Polk said.
Every year around $56 million is taken this way from Massachusetts residents, according to a research paper from UMass Law School Professor Ralph Clifford.
Lawmakers are attempting to address the issue.
One proposed bill — which would require better notice of foreclosures and limit profits for tax title holders to just the amount owed — is wending its way through the state's House of Representatives.
"No matter how the Duperes’ case turns out, we will not stop challenging unconstitutional tax foreclosures until Massachusetts homeowners can be secure in their property," Polk said.
“The government and its agents aren’t entitled to any more than they are owed," he noted. "Anything above that amount is stealing.”