The city mails Roger his property tax bill on July 1.

Man stands outside front door at mailbox, reading letter in envelope.

But what if Roger can’t pay the whole tax bill by the end of the year?

Man sitting at table covered in bills, receipts, and papers, looks concerned while listing expenses.

In February, the city mails Roger a final bill. He owes $750 plus monthly interest charged by the city.

Older man looks at envelope in hand labeled "Final." In background, a huge check for $750, plus one month of interest, squeezes down on top of row house.

But suppose the sewer backs up into his basement, and Roger has to pay the emergency plumber instead.

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Older man and plumber at bottom of stairs, looking at overflowing utility sink. Price tag in corner says $500.

By mid-May, Roger still can’t pay, so the city auctions his tax debt to investors at the annual tax sale.

Man at auction block with gavel points at arm wearing suit jacket sticking up in foreground, holding auction number.

Investors buy Roger’s debt, called a “tax certificate,” and begin charging 12% annual interest.

Investor in suit jacket and sunglasses holds $750 check with five months of interest, pulls down shade that says 12% annual interest.

To save his property, he has to pay the investor the $750, plus accrued interest and attorneys’ fees.

Older man looks in shock at letter, while $750 check with five months interest, plus 12% annual interest squeezes row house smaller.

Roger still can’t pay by July 1, and another year of property taxes are added to his bill.

Older man overwhelmed by $2000 property tax bill that piles on top of $750 check and accrued interest. Row house is completed squashed underneath bills.

Nine months after they buy Roger’s debt, the investors can file a lawsuit to foreclose on his property.

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Older man surprised by investor in suit jacket who throws a net over row house. In background there are 9 pages from a monthly calendar, June through February.

To stop from losing his house, Roger has to pay the full amount he owes to the investors.

Older man pushes property bill, $750 check, and accrued interest off of row house.

If Roger can’t scrape the money together, he will lose his house and all of its equity to the investors.

Dejected older man holds suitcase, stands next to boxes with row house in net behind him.

Laila Milevski is a news designer and illustrator working to develop and strengthen the Banner's visual storytelling. She has joined the Banner after making illustrations and comics at ProPublica to support their investigative reporting.

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