CHICAGO (WLS) --Thousands of property owners in Cook County are surprised by a change in the property tax grace period.
The grace period is now four months shorter than it has been in the past.
Many say they were unaware of the change, which was made last year, until they received notice that their tax bills could be sold at auction.
The grace period for taxes due in 2016 has been shortened from 12 to eight months. And that's catching thousands of property owners off guard.
If you don't pay up by April 1, there is another ominous deadline - April 3 - that could have a tremendous impact on you.
"Scared, can't sleep, can't eat," said Josephine Wade, who runs Captain Hard Times. "And I'm trying to keep from crying with you now."
Wade is a community activist and well-known cook behind Captain Hard Times on the South Side. And now, she's facing hard times - unable to pay thousands on property taxes because, by law, the grace period is shorter.
"If we could pay them, wouldn't you think we would pay them?" Wade said.
Property taxes for 2016 are due now.
And there are 48,000 properties, with owners like Wade, who must pay their taxes by April 1.
"Hello, it's 2017," said Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.
Pappas has warned property owners who haven't paid; there are legal notices and fliers about an April 3 tax sale.
This is how a tax sale works. If you have not paid taxes due in 2016, your "tax bill" is delinquent. By law, your unpaid "tax bill" can be sold at auction. The auction is April 3 and lasts three days. A tax buyer purchases your tax bill. Let's say the bill is $500, this is what happens next.
"You add on penalties, and interest, and costs, and fees, and publication costs... it could be $1,500, it could be three times that amount," Pappas said.
"All we're doing is making tax buyers rich," Wade said.
And 6,400 taxpayers have no idea they are listed. Pappas sent them tax bills and seven late notices, but all of them were returned by the U.S. Postal Service.
Wade says that was the case for her. Now, she hopes to spread the word.
"If I can't save me, at least I feel good knowing I saved somebody else and made them be aware," Wade said.
If you're concerned about your property taxes, contact the Cook County Treasurer's Office. You will need your address or your property index number to check the status of your tax bill. You can either go online or call the office's phone number below.
COOK COUNTY TREASURER: http://www.cookcountytreasurer.com/
COOK COUNTY TREASURER PHONE NUMBER: 312-443-5100