How the Tax Sale Works

Illinois law requires counties to auction off thousands of unpaid property tax bills every year to try to recoup at least some of that money for local governments to fund services. But how some homeowners go from being late on their property taxes to facing eviction is a complicated process. Here's how it works in Cook County:

Step 1:

Notification of deliquency

Cook County property tax bills are sent in two installments to homeowners. The first installment is 55% of the previous year's bill and is typically due in March. The second installment bills, which were released last this year, are due Dec. 30. If you do not pay your tax bill in full by the second installment's due date, your taxes are considered delinquent. The county treasurer's office should mail a notice of delinquency with a deadline to pay in full, before the next tax sale. It also publishes the list of delinquent tax properties online and in newspapers. A list of delinquent taxes, broken down by ward, is posted on the treasurer's website. You can also use the county clerk's website to search by your property's PIN number to see if your taxes are delinquent.

Step 2:

Tax auction

Tax sales are held annually via online auction. Tens of thousands of PIN numbers are listed in Cook County every year, but there are many more delinquent tax bills than tax buyers. At the sale, the buyers purchase the taxes, not the properties. The buyers don't make a bid in cash but rather an interest percentage on the taxes owed, from 0% to 9%. This is the amount of interest taxpayers will owe them when they pay their taxes back. The lowest bidder gets a tax lien on the property.

Step 3:

Redeeming the tax debt

After delinquent taxes are sold, property owners typically have 30 months to redeem their debt, which includes the property taxes, interest and other fees. Tax buyers must meet a deadline to prepare a notice to property owners that there's a tax lien on their property and the last day to pay the taxes and penalties.

Step 4:

Tax deeds

If a property owner does not redeem the property taxes, the tax buyer can ask the county court for a tax deed, which makes the tax buyer the legal owner of the property. Tax buyers have one year within the redemption period expiring to ask for the deed but can ask the court for an extension since they are often more interested in making money from the taxes and interest, not the burden of owning a property.

Step 5:


Once the tax buyer has the deed to a property, the buyer can file a motion with the court to get the necessary paperwork to evict the homeowner. Evictions are handled by the Cook County sheriff's department.

Step 6:

Indemnity Fund

After an eviction, homeowners have five years to file a lawsuit against the county treasurer seeking money from the indemnity fund to recoup their financial losses, if they can show a court they weren't aware they could lose their property or were unaware of the owed taxes. Indemnity cases can take months in the court system to reach resolution.