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Don't Miss a Property Tax Deadline

Here are five of the most important dates and timelines to be aware of.

Local governments impose a staggering property tax levy on Texas' commercial and residential property owners, who are their primary source of operational funding. Property tax revenue totaled more than $73.5 billion for the 2021 tax year and represented 50.6 percent of all taxes levied by state and local governments, according to the state Comptroller's Office.

Property owners wanting to pay only their fair share of this immense burden must understand tax code deadlines or risk losing their opportunities to contest the values on which property taxes are based. 

Although the number and nature of key tax dates are nuanced and can be difficult to navigate, the following paragraphs offer a high-level overview of the most important deadlines to remember. 

Tax Lien Date 

The tax lien date is a crucial tax code milestone, even though it is not technically a deadline. For any given tax year, the lien date is Jan. 1 of that year. 

County appraisal districts determine the market value of all real estate on this date and establish the legal owner responsible for paying the taxes on each property that tax year. Property owners should understand that the timing of selling or buying properties has tax implications according to the lien date. 

Property taxes are a personal liability. That means that even if the Jan. 1 owner sold the property on Jan. 2 (or any other day that year), the Jan. 1 owner is still on the hook to pay the taxes for the entire year. 

One key exception applies when buying a property that carries an exemption: In that instance, unless the new owner is also eligible for an exemption on the property, the new owner will be responsible for property taxes prorated from the date of purchase to Dec. 31. 

Protest Deadline 

The protest deadline is the chief cutoff date for a property owner to actively meet in filing a protest. 

Each spring, appraisal districts send a notice of appraised value to every property owner. If the property owner disagrees with the assessment, they must file a formal protest with the appraisal district by the later of May 15 or 30 days after the date the notice was delivered to the property owner. 

Under the "good cause" exception, a property owner can file a late protest up until the date the appraisal review board approves the appraisal records. The property owner must show good cause for missing the original protest deadline. 

Unfortunately, the tax code does not define good cause as it relates to missing a protest deadline. The appraisal review board determines whether the property owner had good cause, and since it is unclear what cause the board would consider good, it is best not to rely on this provision. 

A common misconception by property owners who fail to file a timely protest is that they can simply sue to contest the tax appraisal. On the contrary, Texas courts cannot hear a property tax case unless the property owner filed a timely administrative protest and received an order on the same. A lawsuit without the preliminary protest will be dismissed, at which point the property owner is likely out of options for that tax year. 

Section 25.25 

The late protest deadline relates to another backstop provision that property owners can use if they miss the protest deadline. 

Section 25.25 of the tax code offers several options to file a late protest under specific circumstances. A frequently used provision is Section 25.25(d), which allows a property owner to file a late protest any time prior to the delinquency date. The delinquency date for tax year 2024 is Feb. 1, 2025, so the protest would need to be filed no later than Jan. 31, 2025. 

A major drawback to this provision is that the property owner must prove the assessor's value exceeds the correct appraised value by at least one-fourth for residences and one-third for all other property types, which is a difficult threshold to meet. 

Additionally, if the property owner successfully reduces the value beyond the threshold, the owner must pay a 10 percent correction penalty based on the amount of the correct appraised value. Although a viable option, this is not the ideal way to file a protest. 

Litigation Deadline 

The litigation deadline gives the property owner a window to file suit in district court following the appraisal review board's decision on an initial protest. 

The property owner must file no later than 60 days after they receive notice that the appraisal review board has entered a final order. If the property owner misses that deadline, they lose the ability to further contest the value for that year. 

Tax Payment Deadline 

The tax payment deadline is the final day owners can pay annual property tax bills without incurring penalties and interest. Bills are typically sent out starting in October, and owners must pay no later than Jan. 31 of the following year. The payment deadline for the 2024 tax year is Jan. 31, 2025. 

If a property owner fails to pay the tax by Jan. 31, the tax bill begins accruing penalties and interest on Feb. 1. Moreover, the owner could be subject to a delinquent tax lawsuit filed by the taxing authorities, and the owner's property could be foreclosed upon and sold to satisfy the delinquent tax. 

Taxing authorities may send a tax bill late, which creates a new payment deadline. Depending on when the late bill is initially sent, the property owner may have a new deadline after Feb. 1. However, to avoid the repercussions of late payments, property owners should set reminders to confirm that on-time tax payments have been made for the prior tax year on all real estate they own. 

The five critical dates presented here only scratch the surface of the many deadlines in the Texas tax code and do not explore the nuances that can alter those deadlines. That's why it is essential for property owners to consult with their property tax advisors early in the year and safeguard against missing any important deadlines associated with annual property tax notices, appeals and payments. 

Property owners who wait too long may forfeit the right to contest the assessed value or any other issues, even if that leaves them with an unfair tax burden.

Andrew Albright
Andrew Albright is an attorney and manager at the Austin, Texas law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC. The firm focuses its practice on defending owners in property tax disputes.
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