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San Luis Obispo County, California


Tax Sale

This brochure explains the sale of tax-defaulted real property by public auction.

When secured real property remains tax-defaulted for five years, it becomes subject to the Tax Collector's Power to Sell, and may be sold at a public auction.

The purpose of offering tax-defaulted property at auction is to collect the unpaid taxes.

There are two different types of public auction. One type is the "In-Person" Public Auction; the other type is an Internet Public Auction.


How often are public auctions held?

Currently, San Luis Obispo County does not hold "in-person" public auctions. All public tax sale auctions are conducted on the internet. Internet Auction tax sales are typically conducted once a year, in May. A "re-offer" tax sale of properties that remain unsold may be held in June, at the Tax Collector's discretion.

The law requires that a public auction tax sale, either "in-person" or "internet," be held at least once every four years.


Are tax sales publicly advertised?

Yes. State law dictates that a notice of a tax sale must be published once a week for three successive weeks beginning approximately one month prior to the start of the sale in a newspaper of general circulation published in the county. Advertisements may also appear on the radio or on the Internet.


How can I obtain a list of properties which will be offered for sale at public auction?

After the Public Auction is approved, the list of available properties is posted on the Tax Collector’s website. Click here to go to the list of properties on-line. A list can also be requested by e-mail or by calling the County Tax Collector’s Office, Redemption Division, at (805) 781-5836. 


Can I obtain property available at the tax sale by paying the delinquent taxes prior to the tax sale date?

No. Legal title to a tax-defaulted property subject to the Tax Collector's Power to Sell can be obtained only by becoming the winning bidder at the public auction. Paying the taxes prior to the auction will redeem the property for the assessed owner.

Does the County sell Tax Lien Certificates?

No counties in California sell Tax Lien Certificates at this time.


When is the last day the property owner may redeem a tax-defaulted property to prevent its sale at public auction?

The right to redeem a tax-defaulted property subject to the Power to Sell ceases at the close of business on the last business day prior to the sale. The right to redeem revives if the property does not sell at the public auction.


How do I find or see property on which I want to bid at the tax sale?

Improved properties frequently will have a "situs" (street) address, making it easier to determine its general location. However, vacant land, which accounts for most properties offered at auction, usually has no address. The approximate location of any parcel can be determined by parcel maps obtainable through the County Assessor's Office, at (805) 781-5643. Exact boundary lines of a property can be determined only by a survey of the property, initiated at the prospective purchaser's expense.

San Luis Obispo County offers a helpful service for parcel research at its PermitView website. PermitView can be used to explore property information and view maps for researching parcels. Link to PermitView by clicking here.


How can I determine what use I can make of a tax sale property before I purchase it?

The Tax Collector does not guarantee access or use of any parcel. Prospective purchasers should conduct an appropriate review to determine property use and value before bidding. This review may include, but is not limited to, 1) consulting with the zoning department of the city or the zoning section of the County Department of Planning and Building, 2) examining the County Recorder’s records for any recorded easements on the property, 3) viewing the property.


Who qualifies as a potential bidder at public auction?

In-Person Public Auction:

  • All bidders must be at least 18 years of age.
  • Bidders must register and receive their Bidder’s Packet and Registration Number prior to placing any bids. For EXPRESS REGISTRATION, complete the registration form available in the Tax Collector’s Office or click here (this link will become active when bidder registration is opened for the next sale) to go to the form on-line, and return it by fax or mail to the Tax Collector prior to the day of the auction.
  • A picture identification must be presented when registering to bid.
  • If you will be acting as an agent, a notarized letter from the individual for whom you will be bidding, stating the manner in which title is to be vested, is required.

Internet Public Auction:

  • All bidders must be at least 18 years of age. Click here to link to the Bidder Instruction page.


How is the minimum bid amount determined?

When a property first becomes eligible for public auction, the minimum bid cannot be less than the total amount to redeem the property, plus costs associated with offering the parcel for sale. If any property is not sold due to lack of interested bidders, the minimum bid for those particular properties may be reduced at a subsequent sale.


How and when does the successful bidder pay for a property at the tax sale?

In-Person Public Auction:

Payment must be made by cash or cashier’s check, immediately following the final bid for each parcel. No other method of payment will be accepted.

Internet Public Auction:

Payment must be received by cash (do not mail), cashier’s check, or electronic funds transfer by the Tax Collector within 72 hours of the award of the property to the winning bidder.


Do liens or encumbrances on tax-defaulted property transfer to the new owner after the purchase of the property at public auction?

Section 3712 of the California Revenue and Taxation Code states in relevant part:

Title conveyed. The deed conveys title to the purchaser free of all encumbrances of any kind existing before the sale, except:

(a) Any lien for installments of taxes and special assessments, which installments will become payable upon the secured roll after the time of the sale.

(b) The lien for taxes or assessments or other rights of any taxing agency which does not consent to the sale under this chapter.

(c) Liens for special assessments levied upon the property conveyed which were, at the time of the sale under this chapter, not included in the amount necessary to redeem the tax-defaulted property . . . .

(d) Easements constituting servitudes upon or burdens to the property; water rights, the record title to which is held separately from the title to the property; and restrictions of record.

(e) Unaccepted, recorded, irrevocable offers of dedication of the property to the public or a public entity for a public purpose, and recorded options of any taxing agency to purchase the property or any interest therein for a public purpose.

(f) Unpaid assessments under the Improvement Bond Act of 1915 (Division 10 (commencing with Section 8500) of the Streets and Highways Code) which are not satisfied as a result of the sale of proceeds being applied pursuant to Chapter 1.3 (commencing with Section 4671) of Part 8.

(g) Any federal Internal Revenue Service liens which, pursuant to provisions of federal law, are not discharged by the sale, even though the tax collector has provided proper notice to the Internal Revenue Service before that date.


Are there any guarantees which accompany property acquired at public auction?

No. All parcels sold at public auction are sold "as is." No warranty is expressed or implied in any manner regarding property sold at the public auction, including, but not limited to, the following: no claims are made to guarantee access to, or building permits for, any of the parcels involved in the sale. Prior to bidding, it is the bidder’s responsibility to adequately research properties to know what is being purchased. Lack of adequate research may result in the purchase of unusable property, with no entitlement to a refund.

Be sure you want the property before you bid. THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO REFUNDS. If you renege on your winning bid, under California State Law the County cannot resort to the second highest bidder and will be required to take legal action against you. Failure to consummate the sale within the specified time shall result in the forfeiture of any deposit made and all rights that the purchaser may have had with respect to the property. Failure to consummate the sale will also bar the bidder from participating in future tax sales for San Luis Obispo County.

BEWARE: Per Revenue and Taxation Code, the validity of the tax sale may be challenged within one year after the execution of the Tax Sale Deed. During this one-year challenge period, it may not be possible to obtain clear title from a title company. Occasionally, a quiet title action is necessary if there has been an irregularity in the title prior to the tax sale. In the event the sale is successfully overturned, the sale price would be returned to the purchaser, but any improvements made to the property post-sale would not be reimbursed to the person who made them.

In addition, if the property purchased has an Internal Revenue Service lien against it, the IRS has the right to claim the property and reimburse the winning bidder for the full purchase price for up to 120 days after the date of the tax sale. Unlike most other liens, IRS and other federal tax liens may not be extinguished by the Tax Sale Deed.



How will title to the property be vested?

Title will be vested in the name of the actual purchaser present at the sale. If you are acting as an agent, and title is to be vested differently, a letter is required from the individual for whom you are acting as an agent, stating the manner in which title is to be vested. The signature of the individual must be acknowledged by notary according to California law.


How soon can I take possession of a property after my purchase at the public auction?

The winning bidder may take possession of a property immediately after making payment in full. However, the validity of the Tax Collector’s deed to the purchaser may be challenged within one year after the execution of the deed. In addition, if the property purchased has an IRS lien on it, the Internal Revenue Service has the right to redeem the property from the purchaser, up to 120 days from the date of the sale.


For more answers to frequently asked questions about taxes or other office services, click here.