Elderly woman deprived

The Park Street home in Missoula that Betty Museus lived alone in for decades sold in November. But the elderly woman has not collected any money from the sale.

When it became clear that the former music teacher was unable to manage her finances, a state court appointed the Western Montana Chapter as her conservator. By then, her tax bill was already delinquent. According to county records, Museus stopped paying property taxes in 2004.

Her failure to pay the outstanding $5,822.09 on the home, valued at $264,700, enabled the Virginia-based Mooring Tax Asset Group to take ownership of Museus's home. MTAG used what's called the "tax-deed process," a legal mechanism that allows a third party to pay a tax bill and take ownership of a property.

In 2006, MTAG paid the outstanding tax debt and asked Missoula County for the deed on the house, as state law allows. As the Independent reported in October, MTAG evicted Museus last year.

She now lives in an East Missoula assisted living facility. Kevin Brown, of the Western Montana Chapter, says that facility is giving her a discount because she does not have the funds to pay for room and board.

The eviction triggered considerable outrage among Museus's former neighbors, including Missoula City Councilman Jon Wilkins and City Attorney Jim Nugent.

"This type of thing should not happen," Nugent says. "Entities, especially out-of-state entities, should not be able to prey on the vulnerable amongst us."

In the face of that outrage, MTAG president Jim Meeks in October told the Independent and Museus's conservator that the company would volunteer a portion of the proceeds generated from the sale of the home to Museus. "They indicated they'd be willing to contribute some amount," Brown says. The company has not. Nor did it return phone calls from the Independent this week seeking comment.

Missoula County Treasurer Vickie Zeier says during the past 19 years she's held office, she's seen similar tax-deed scenarios play out five times. "She's not the only person," Zeier says.

That leaves Wilkins and Nugent to brainstorm legal solutions to ensure what happened to Museus doesn't happen to others. They intend to ask the Montana Legislature to address the issue during its upcoming session.

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