Real Property Taxes Always Get Paid First

In this economy, the best way to get paid on outstanding debt is to claim a lien on real property. Whether you’re a judgment lien creditor or a homeowner’s association, a lien can give you some sort of collateral for an otherwise unsecured debt.  In order to actually get paid, there must be equity in the property (otherwise, your lien has no value); where there’s no equity, the creditor’s lien must be recorded in advance of other creditors to get paid.

Unless, of course, that creditor is the county tax assessor, who gets to move to the front of the line for repayment. Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-2101(a) provides that:

The taxes assessed by the state of Tennessee, a county, or municipality, taxing district, or other local governmental entity, upon any property of whatever kind, and all penalties, interest, and costs accruing thereon, shall become and remain a first lien upon such property from January 1 of the year for which such taxes are assessed.

So, even though the bank’s deed of trust may have been recorded way back in 2002, the unpaid ad valorem county taxes for 2010 still trump that deed of trust. It’s no wonder that banks routinely require payment of the property taxes as part of the monthly loan payments.

This is one of the few exceptions to the “first to record” rule in Tennessee, and, if you’re a lien creditor, the rule of thumb is: you’ll always lose to the county property taxes.

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