Avoiding Common Property Tax Pitfalls
By Cassie Gresham, Principal, Attorney & Counselor
My work on behalf of landowners often involves helping them fix a problem or get out of a bind with their local appraisal district. Through the years, I have seen some common mistakes that can lead to big problems:
- Be aware of the deadline to file your annual report
Did you know that there is no state statute setting a deadline for annual reports? Therefore, many appraisal districts set their own deadlines for filing annual reports. You should know exactly what the deadline is each year in your particular county.
- Be able to document your use of your property for open space
Landowners should have a written lease for their property to document who is using their property and how their property is being used for agricultural use. If you are using your property for wildlife management, then you should have an up to date wildlife management plan that you are following. When you implement the wildlife management activities on your property, you should document (take pictures, keep a journal, etc.) your work.
- Was there an ownership change? You must re-file your application
You need to re-file an application in your own name if you have recently purchased a property. But, you also need to re-file an application even if you are just transferring the property into a new entity that you still own (i.e. LLC, LLP, Trust). Failure to file a new application will result in the loss in your open space valuation.
- Always review your Notice of Appraised Value
The Notice of Appraised Value usually arrives in April/May each year. It shows you not only what the market value of your property will be for that year, but it also indicates whether or not your property will qualify for an open space valuation. Many appraisal districts consider the Notice of Appraised Value as the notice they provide if there is a problem.
- Make sure to protest
You should protest each year if your property value has increased above the market value or is not being taxed in a similar manner to your neighbors. You should also protest if your ag or wildlife management valuation has been removed. You typically have 30 days to protest from the date that you receive notice that your ag or wildlife management has been removed. Or you should file a protest no later than May 15th, whichever is later. You can file a late protest, but you should file it before the appraisal district certifies their tax rolls. The certification usually occurs in late July.
- Make sure to pay your taxes by January 31st
You should pay your taxes by January 31st of each year, even if you have filed a protest and are waiting on a hearing or waiting on a lawsuit to be resolved. If you have lost your ag or wildlife management valuation and have filed a timely protest, then you at least need to pay the amount not in dispute or the amount of taxes you paid last year when you had an ag valuation. Failure to pay the taxes (even the undisputed amount) will result in a forfeiture of your protest or lawsuit.
- Know the agricultural history of a property you are purchasing
Ask the seller to provide documentation of approval of the ag or wildlife management use before you purchase the property. You want to obtain any written leases or evidence of practices that have been implemented on the property prior to closing. When you make an application in your own name, you might be asked by the local appraisal district to demonstrate the history of use of the property. You will only have this information if you have previously requested it from the seller as part of your due diligence in purchasing the property.
- Continue your use of the property for ag or wildlife management, even if you don’t qualify
Even if your property didn’t qualify for ag or wildlife management in a particular, you should continue the use of the property for ag or wildlife management use. This will allow you to avoid rollback taxes by demonstrating that there is no change in use in the property.
- Additional Notice is required to landowners who are over 65
In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed a law that requires additional notice to landowners who are over 65. If a chief appraiser believes there is a change in use of the property, then they are required to provide notice to the over 65 landowner. If the chief appraiser doesn’t receive a response within 60 days, then they are required to follow up with the landowner. This new law provided additional protection for landowners and a higher standard for appraisal districts. Most appraisal districts are not aware of this additional notice and fail to provide it.
- Communicate your local appraisal district
Haven’t heard from your local appraisal district by April 1st? Call them. Many of the problems that we have to solve are due to lack of notice. If you are talking to your local ag appraiser, you are more likely to know if there is a problem. Why do I suggest the date of April 1st? Because it still gives you time to solve any problems that need to be addressed (i.e. file a new application, annual report or a protest).
If you have questions or concerns about your property tax status, bill, or filing a protest, Braun & Gresham can help. The attorneys at Braun & Gresham are not only experts and innovators in ways to utilize property tax incentives and how to reduce your property taxes, but we also serve as your advocates when you are unfairly taxed. We know the rules and how to use them. We also make sure the taxing authorities follow those rules. Please contact us at (512) 894-5426 or email [email protected].