SHIRLEY -- Rebecca and Zdravko Djordjevic, of 15 Harvard Road, faced eviction from their home in less than a month when they came to selectmen Monday night seeking relief. At issue was a tax problem dating back 23 years.
With at least $105,000 in long-overdue taxes owed on the property, which after two decades in "tax title" was taken over by the town per a recent court order, Town Collector Holly Haase and Attorney David Coppola laid out the town's case for taking possession.
The property first became delinquent in fiscal years 1986 and 1987. Records then listed the owners of the property as Joseph and Marianne Green, Rebecca Djordjevic's parents.
Taxes were two years in arrears when Coppola conducted a title search and taxes were reassessed to Rebecca Green, who inherited the property after her mother died in 1979. From then on, all tax bills were mailed to her.
Payments were sporadic, with back taxes paid for 1986 through 1990 but not for fiscal 1991. Following procedures, the collector sent demands and letters to Rebecca Green. No response.
The parcel was then advertised on the "tax taking" list. In 1994, a lien was placed on the property. It has been in tax title ever since, with taxes, interest and fees adding up for 23 years.
In November 2009, the collector asked the treasurer to garnish Green's pay to recoup the long-overdue amount owed to the town, as state law allows. No action was taken.
In December that year, Coppola sent Green a letter, notifying her that the town would proceed with the foreclosure process in Land Court.
In January 2010, the treasurer sent a payment agreement to the owner but there is no copy of the agreement on file.
A petition to foreclose was filed in Land court in April 2010.
Partial payments were received annually from 2010 to 2012, the last on Dec. 31, 2012. No further payments were received.
At the first court hearing in April 2011, the owner was ordered to pay the outstanding tax bill in full by Aug. 31, 2011, but the taxes were not paid.
Another hearing set for September was continued to March 2012, with a series of hearings continued after that as the town awaited "promised financing," Haase said.
At the last hearing in January, another continuance was requested but the town decided to move ahead with foreclosure and filed a "motion for decree," which the court granted. After reviewing the case file, the Land Court issued the foreclosure decree last week.
A letter was sent to Rebecca Green, notifying her to vacate the property.
The Other Side
Zdravko Djordjevic said they believed the Digital Equipment Corp. paid the property taxes after Marianne Green had an industrial accident and the payments would continue "as long as she lived in the house."
The payments stopped, "unknown to us," he said. "We looked into it when Kevin (Treasurer Kevin Johnston) told us" about the unpaid tax bill in 2011, Djordjevic continued. "It was a big amount."
Citing records in the collector's office, Djordjevic said he and his wife paid $15,000 toward the balance, then $7,000. They applied for a loan, but had to fix the roof first. "We got a permit" and replaced the roof. "We had to re-apply" for the loan, he said.
Johnston allowed them more time to pay their mounting tax bill, according to Djordjevic, who went on to itemize other must-do home improvements the loan money must have paid for instead.
Over four and a half years, they spent over $47,000 fixing up the house, he said. "We have two children now and a little dog."
As for the overdue taxes, he thought they had an extension, Djordjevic said, but apparently the "new administration" didn't think so.
Now, they have a loan lined up but don't know yet what the exact figure will be, he said. Rebecca Djordjevic held a manila envelope that she said contained the loan commitment, proof that the money needed to square things with the town is just about in the bank.
All well and good, the selectmen said, but the tax bill is what it is: $105,000 plus.
"You are in an unfortunate situation, but it sounds like something should have been done a long time ago," Selectman Robert Prescott said. "Now, the money is due and we have a court decision. Nobody wants foreclosure."
Djordjevic didn't pursue the matter further. "This is where we are now and we're asking for an exact amount," he said.
Haase said the amount owed to the town would be provided to date.
"Allowing this to go on for as long as it has is not in the best interest of the town or the people of Shirley," she concluded. "The property owners left the town little choice but to foreclose."
The eviction date is June 9.
But the selectmen "could choose to vacate this decree," Haase explained. If so, she had a list of recommendations to ensure the deal works and that future taxes are paid on time.
Selectman David Swain said the board received a "formal request" from the owners via email to vacate the court judgment, which they were prepared to do, subject to the following conditions.
* Add to the due amount all attorney fees, including for Coppola to attend Monday night's meeting, plus any other fees to vacate the decree.
* The sewer betterment (about $3,500) must be paid in full.
* Fiscal 2014 taxes must be paid in full.
* Establish an escrow account for future taxes.
* All payments to the town must be by certified bank check.
With two of the three board members present, selectmen voted unanimously to vacate the court decree, subject to the conditions as recommended.
The Djordjevics agreed to all the conditions.
Town Administrator Patrice Garvin reminded them that the eviction notice stands until the account is paid in full. Meaning that if the total amount due -- back taxes, interest, fees and sewer betterment, calculated to the date payment is received -- is not made as promised, in cash or by cashier's check, the foreclosure would move forward.
Rebecca Djordjevic indicated that with the bank loan pending, they can pay the bill.
But her husband said it wasn't necessary to wait for the loan to come through. "Make it tomorrow, we'll pay the balance," he said. "The sooner the better."