How we reported on Fulton County's tax auctions

WABE analyzed eight years of records to show the impact of delinquent tax collection in Fulton County. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

The Fulton County Tax Commissioner’s practice of selling liens to investors has received significant scrutiny. In the past two decades, journalists have examined several different consequences of the system. But none of these pieces explored the full effect on vulnerable homeowners in the county, particularly those in the city of Atlanta.

To examine this, WABE made several requests under the Georgia Open Records Act. 

From the Fulton County Tax Commissioner, we obtained records of tax liens sold to investors over nearly eight years between 2015 and mid-2022. From the Fulton County Sheriff’s office, we received eight years of legal notices, in the form of Word documents, that showed properties set to go up for auction between 2015 and 2022. Then we also gathered records from the sheriff detailing all properties ultimately auctioned at the tax sale in that same time period. 

We then requested the same auction result records from three other counties, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb Counties.

We cleaned and standardized the data, then created this analysis using publicly available county parcel data and Census demographic information from the five-year American Community Survey for 2015, the beginning of the time period analyzed.

To understand the stories behind the data, we reviewed more than 300 cases of tax auctions, using Superior Court records, eviction filings and property sale documents. Through dozens of cold calls and messages through social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, we reached the former homeowners featured in our story. 

This investigation is supported by the Data-Driven Reporting Project. WABE is also making the data behind the analyses available. We are removing identifying information for the properties to protect the identities of the former homeowners. The data includes the corresponding Census tract for each parcel. Find the data for the tax lien transfers, tax auction notices and tax auction results here.