A law that allowed an 89-year-old woman’s house to be put up for auction because she owed 6 cents in back taxes would be amended under a bill that her state senator plans to introduce in the coming weeks.
The story of the octogenarian Ocean Township homeowner, Glen Kristi Goldenthal, drew international attention this week after her daughter in Virginia bitterly denounced township officials in a video she posted September 9 on Twitter.
“Today, I spent the entire day saving her home from a tax sale that was happening today that she didn’t want to tell me about because she has Alzheimer’s,” Goldenthal’s daughter, Lisa Suhay, said in the video, posted above.
“So, half the time she didn’t even remember it was happening, and the other half the time she was too terrified to tell me, and too ashamed, and too afraid and too worried,” Suhay said. “A tax sale for an 89-year-old woman’s home in the middle of a pandemic. And do you want to know how much my mother owed? Six cents. Six pennies. And for that, they put her house up for sale today.”
Goldenthal’s house didn’t get auctioned off. After the video was posted, Mayor Christopher Siciliano intervened to take the home off auction block. And since then, Siciliano said Suhay had paid what was owed on the property, which actually totaled more than $300, including fees.
Siciliano also reached out to State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, asking the lawmaker to introduce legislation to prevent such a minuscule debt from threatening the loss of a home in the future.
Reached on Thursday, Gopal said he would do just that, with a bill that would set a minimum dollar amount owed, probably $100 or less, before a property was subject to auction.
As it stands now, state law governing tax sales, NJSA 54:5-20.1 calls for an auction when a lien exceeds $100, but leaves it up to the discretion of the local tax collector to decide whether and when to put a property up for a tax auction when the amount owed is less than that.
“This would remove the discretion,” said Gopal, who added that there was an increased likelihood that property owners of any age might fall behind on their taxes amid the coronavirus-related economic downturn.
“I think it’s a little ridiculous and unfortunate, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that those who are most vulnerable shouldn’t be shut out, especially during these tough times,” Gopal said.
In defense of Ocean’s tax officials, Siciliano said the six cents owed on the property was part of a years-long pattern of delinquency related to Goldenthal’s Redmond Avenue property that persists to this day. He said her address was among those on a computer-generated list of properties subject to auctioning due to non-payment of liens, without details of the property owners’ ages or other circumstances.
The six cents owed from 2019, he said, was actually the amount that a purchaser of a prior tax lien on the property had shorted the township when paying — or intending to pay off — the lien, which had been for a much more significant amount.
Siciliano added that the property was delinquent on its 2020 taxes by a total of $6,261.97 as of Sept. 10, and that it had been delinquent for most of the last five years, or 14 of the last 20 quarters.
Siciliano said he felt badly for Goldenthal — which is why he intervened — an elderly woman reliant on a daughter living hundreds of miles away to keep her taxes and other bills paid.
“I feel terrible for her,” Sicliano said of Goldenthal. “She has a long-distance caregiver, and I’m sure it’s tough for her to keep on top of everything.”
Suhay did not respond to requests for comment.
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