They don't call it the "upset" sale for nothing.
It's the event every September at which Blair County tries to sell properties that are two years tax-delinquent, with all liens still attached.
Dan Stehley of Altoona remains the legal owner of one of those properties exposed to the sale Sept. 20, and last week he was plenty upset when he allegedly heard that someone connected with the successful bidder on his property had removed $10,000 worth of uninstalled materials, equipment and tools inside the building, and when police threatened to arrest him if he tried to retrieve the stuff.
A couple days later, police relented, admitting their error, and the bidder proved that at least most of the stuff was still in the house on the 100 block of East Walnut Avenue.
The story can serve as a "cautionary tale," Stehley's lawyer, Andy Blattenberger said.
Stehley hadn't been paying taxes on the property because of a dispute with a company that had bought the mortgage and was collecting the same payments - but without paying his taxes, like the previous mortgage firm.
He knew the property was going to the upset sale, but figured no one would buy it, because the $53,000 mortgage lien was outstanding, and the house - which he'd gutted in preparation for remodeling - was worth only about $10,000.
He didn't even know there had been a successful bid until a neighbor told him several days after the sale that someone had cut a tree down in the yard and were on the roof of the house.
So he went to the property, met Ed Reilly, a neighbor and the father of the bidder, Christine Reilly, and called police.
When police arrived, they saw that Reilly had a receipt for the purchase.
At that point, things were still amicable.
Stehley said he needed to get his stuff out, and Reilly agreed to that.
Stehley then said that when Reilly needed to get inside, he would give him his keys.
That's when Stehley found out Reilly had changed the locks, he said.
That bothered Stehley.
Nevertheless, he arranged to borrow a trailer the next day to retrieve his possessions.
But when he came the next day, Reilly told him he would need to contact his daughter, Stehley said.
So the following day, he went again, and Reilly said he'd talked to his daughter and learned that a friend of hers had taken out all the stuff.
"I sulked for a day," Stehley said.
But then he got over it, contacted the tax claims office, and learned he still had a right to go on the property, he said.
So he called police, hoping for their support.
But when they arrived, they told him he wasn't allowed in.
On Monday, he was at the police station to argue his case.
While waiting for officers to meet him in the lobby, he encountered a reporter there on other business, and began telling his story.
When police came out, they told him they'd spoken with Blair County Judge Tim Sullivan and that Stehley couldn't go on the property.
He'd be charged with trespassing and harassment if he went on and breaking and entering if he tried to go in, according to Blattenberger's petition.
So Stehley left.
As he went, one of the officers said, "He's in this predicament because his taxes are not paid."
In the upset sale, successful bidders don't have ownership rights until a county judge's "final decree" ratifying the sales, said county solicitor Nathan Karn, who didn't comment on Stehley's case specifically.
That decree can't happen until at least 30 days after the county files a consolidated return with the court listing all the successful bids, Karn said. That 30 days is the waiting period for objections to sales, he said.
Karn filed the return Oct. 2.
Until the final decree, "there's not any change" with respect to ownership, he said. Moreover, personal property left behind by the owner is not part of the sale - although if it's ultimately left behind, the new owner would be entitled to it, he said.
Even after the final decree, the new owners don't get their deeds until the county produces them, which can take 30 days, he said.
The county explains the process to the assembled potential bidders before the sale, Karn said.
Blattenberger got the case turned around - for now - in Stehley's favor with a preliminary injunction signed by Judge Dan Milliron ordering Reilly to stay off the premises - although Milliron refused to grant explicit permission for Stehley to enter.
There's a hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Blair County Court.
Stehley went into the house mid-week with the help of Christine Reilly and found an air conditioner laying on the floor of an upstairs room, indicating the Reillys had gotten in by pushing it out of a nearby window, he said.
Ninety-five percent of his stuff was there, including uninstalled siding, windows, doors, a furnace and a hot tub, he said.
But there were tools missing, including a miter saw, circular saw, impact wrenches and accessories for an air compressor, he said.
Christine Reilly said nothing was removed from the house.
Police Chief Janice Freehling blamed the police error on a misunderstanding.
"At the time it was going in, we didn't have any information," Freehling said. "Other than that, the successful bidder had a receipt."
Sullivan said he told police to encourage the parties to work something out, and that if they couldn't work something out, they should speak with their respective attorneys. He didn't know the underlying circumstances of the case at the time, he added.
Christine Reilly said there's a history between the families.
She blamed Stehley.
"When he knew he was going to lose this place, he should have gotten all his stuff out," she said. "Instead of waiting and causing all this chaos."
She blamed conflicting messages between agencies - the tax claims office, which told Stehley he could go on the property, and the police, which told him otherwise.
And she blamed the tax sale process itself.
"Nothing is made clear to these bidders," Reilly said. "You pay for it, then they tell you it's still not yours."
The process is "a mess," she said.
Reilly's father changed the locks on the doors only because the house was unsecured, kids had been seen going in, the Reillys didn't have keys to the existing locks and didn't know how to get hold of Stehley for the keys, Reilly said.
"As for the belongings in the house, there was no plan," she said. "We were waiting for the deed to be transferred over to me before we took any further action."
The house was locked, Stehley said.
But "right now, I just want my stuff," he said.
"People need to be very careful when they buy things at upset sales," Blattenberger said. "You're not the rightful owner until you have the recorded deed."