West Virginia Tackles Vacancy With Tax Reform

The Center for Community Progress made recommendations for tax reform in West Virginia to address vacancy. Guided by CCP's suggestions, the state auditor’s office has passed two laws to change its tax sales process and keep properties in use.

2 minute read

September 28, 2023, 7:00 AM PDT

By LM_Ortiz


White two-story abandoned farmhouse in lush green field surrounded by trees in West Virginia.

Sherman Cahal / Adobe Stock

West Virginia is addressing its vacancy epidemic head-on.

The state—which has one of the highest vacancy rates in the country—recently passed new regulations to help alleviate some of the negative effects vacant properties have on communities. The policies aim to help keep communities from losing properties to speculators; give neighbors, cities, and land banks an advantage in purchasing unsold property; and allow struggling homeowners to use payment plans to manage their delinquent taxes.

Senate Bill 548, which passed in June, is making a lot of buyers who purchase property at tax sales nervous, says Christal Perry, the state’s assistant director of land. When homeowners fail to pay their property taxes, the delinquent property can eventually go to a tax sale, where bidders can purchase it. The new bill requires that bidders join a registry before entering a tax sale. The registry gives officials an opportunity to examine whether a bidder has a history of mis-using property, including previous code violations or delinquent property taxes. Bidders who have these histories will no longer be able to participate in a tax sale.

LLCs can only participate after they register with the West Virginia Secretary of State.

According to the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office, out-of-state speculators—buyers who purchase property with the intent of making a profit—often buy property during tax sales to damaging effect. The office says that these buyers have made the tax sale “a root cause of slum and blight,” allowing for vacancy to increase “with no desire to turn properties into usable living spaces.”

“If [buyers are] not going to come in and be productive purchasers of those properties, then we certainly don’t want them in here purchasing property, and leaving it worse than they came,” Perry says.

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