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Apr
18

PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS TO PROTEST TAX ASSESSMENTS IN TEXAS

Learn best practices for meeting property tax deadlines and handling property tax appeals.

Beset by ever-increasing tax assessments, Texas property owners are allowed to seek a remedy by protesting taxable property values set by appraisal districts. The property tax system can be intimidating, however, and the process is complex and fraught with pitfalls.

To maximize results, taxpayers must understand the assessment process and the deadlines governing filings and protests. What follows are best practices for protecting the right to protest in Texas, along with some tips for meeting key deadlines. And remember, deadlines are subject to exceptions and may change for specific properties, so consult the Texas Property Tax Code or a property tax professional to verify applicable dates.

Learn the appeal timeline. 

Strict filing deadlines govern renditions, protests, litigation appeals and tax payments. Failure to comply with these deadlines may be devastating, resulting in forfeiture of the taxpayer's appeal rights and incurring substantial penalties and interest.

Meet protest deadlines.

Texas appraisal districts value real and personal property annually, usually as of Jan. 1. For commercial real estate, appraisal districts are required to deliver notices of appraised value by May 1 or as soon thereafter as practicable. Taxpayers in most jurisdictions can expect to receive notices of appraised value sometime in April. The deadline for protesting an appraised value is the later of May 15 or 30 days after the date the notice was delivered to the property owner.

In certain situations, appraisal districts are not required to send notices of appraised value, such as when the appraised value of the property did not increase from the prior year. A best practice is to track all documents and follow up with the appraisal district if you have not received a notice by late April to ensure you have the relevant information prior to the May 15 protest deadline. Keep in mind that it is the taxpayer's responsibility to inform the appraisal district of the taxpayer's current address.

When is the business personal property rendition deadline? 

Taxpayers are required to render information regarding their business personal property to appraisal districts annually, generally by April 15. Appraisal districts may extend the deadline until May 15 upon written request by the property owner, a common practice. This deadline can vary, however, depending on whether a Freeport exemption for the property is allowed.

Determining rendition deadlines can be complex and property owners should make sure to communicate with appraisal district personnel about deadlines early on in order to avoid penalties for late reporting. Penalties generally equal 10 percent of the total tax due.

Prepare for hearings. 

After filing a protest on time, property owners are scheduled for a formal hearing before the Administrative Review Board. Often the appraisal district will schedule an informal hearing with an appraiser prior to the formal hearing. Most formal and informal hearings take place between April and July of the tax year in question, and many protests are resolved during this process. Preparation is the key to success.

More deadlines: 

The review board will determine a property value and issue an "order determining protest." Document the date the order is received and follow up with the appraisal district if you do not receive appropriate documentation within a few weeks of the formal hearing date. A property owner has 60 days from receipt of the order to file suit in district court appealing the review board's results.

Taxing entities are required to mail tax bills by Oct. 1 or as soon thereafter as practicable. Taxes become delinquent if not paid before Feb. 1 of the year following the property valuation. That is, for the 2019 tax year, taxes are due on or before Jan. 31, 2020. An active protest or lawsuit does not excuse a property owner's obligation to pay taxes prior to the delinquency date, and failure to pay taxes in a timely manner forfeits the right to proceed with an appeal in court. If an owner prevails in its appeal, the overpayment will be refunded.

Best practices for appeals

Regardless of appeal status, communicate early and often with the appraisal district and provide requested documentation and information. Informal settlement conferences are good opportunities to get to know the appraiser assigned to the protest and to understand the assumptions supporting his or her analysis.

Be prepared with all required documentation including hearing notices, property-specific information and any appointment-of-agent forms. Consider further protecting appeal rights by filing an affidavit stating the taxpayer's position in advance of the formal hearing date. An affidavit on file protects the taxpayer in the event that they are unable to attend the hearing.

What if I miss my deadline?

Let's assume a taxpayer purchased a retail center for $2 million in December 2018. The appraiser valued the property at $3.5 million for 2019, but the owner believes the purchase price reflects market value. The taxpayer missed the May 15 protest deadline, however.

Fortunately, there is an additional, backstop remedy. Property owners may file a motion to correct the appraisal roll, provided that the assessor's value exceeds the correct appraised value by more than one-third. For our hypothetical retail center, the correct appraised value would need to be less than $2.625 million for the motion to succeed.

The motion to correct the appraisal roll can be filed through the date that the property taxes are due, which in this scenario would be Jan. 31, 2020. Like other protests, the review board's ruling on a motion to correct the appraisal roll may be appealed to district court.

Taxpayers should pay attention to the details of protest procedures and deadlines or hire the right team with the expertise and experience to do so. Otherwise, the owner may get burdened with an excessive appraisal due to missed deadlines or mismanaged internal procedures. Protecting appeal rights is essential to properly managing property tax expense.


Rachel Duck, CMI, is a senior property tax consultant at the Austin, Texas law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC and Kathy Mendoza is a legal assistant at the firm. Popp Hutcheson devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax matters and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Dec
03

Texas Hotel Owners: Proceed with Caution

Confusion Regarding Tax Code's Rendition Requirements Creates Penalty Trap

A provision in the Texas Property Tax Code requires hotel assessments based on an income analysis to include personal property. However, misunderstanding associated rendition requirements can cause unexpected penalties for hotel owners.

In Texas, both real and personal property are taxed at 100 percent of assessed value. Prior to 1999, a hotel's real and personal property were valued under separate accounts. A hotel's income and expense stream, however, incorporates value generated by both real and personal property.

For instance, a nightly hotel room rate covers the rent for the real property (the room itself) as well as personal property (the furniture and fixtures in the room). This blended income formerly created unique challenges when using the income approach to value hotels for property tax assessments.

In a move toward simplification and to protect against potential double taxation, lawmakers added Section 23.24 to the tax code in 1999. This provision prevents furniture, fixtures and equipment included in a real property valuation from being taxed a second time under a separate, personal property account. The statute was amended in 2009 to stipulate that, for properties such as hotels, the value of real and personal property must be combined into one assessment if the assessor uses an income analysis.

Specifically, Section 23.24(b) states that "in determining the market value of the real property appraised on the basis of rental income, the chief appraiser may not separately appraise or take into account any personal property valued as a portion of the income of the real property, and the market value of the real property must include the combined value of the real property and the personal property."

Section 23.24 simplifies the valuation process for hotels valued under an income analysis, presuming that total income reflects the contributory value of the real and personal property and that separating the two is an unnecessary step when both portions are taxed at a 100 percent assessment ratio.

The legislature amended Section 22.01 in 2011 to include subsection "m," which provides that "a person is not required to render for taxation personal property appraised under Section 23.24."

Taxpayer pitfall

As a result of these provisions, many hotel owners assume that their personal property will be included in the real property assessment and do not submit annual renditions to county appraisal districts. But what happens if a jurisdiction does not value a hotel using the income approach?

The caveat in Section 23.24 is that the property is valued "on the basis of rental income." Because the income approach is just one of three recognized approaches to value, this statute does not eliminate the independent consideration of personal property in ad valorem taxation for hotels in Texas.

Although assessors value most hotels based on income, there are several common scenarios in which they may use an alternative method, triggering the creation or continuation of a separate personal property account.

Jurisdictions often value newly constructed hotels using the cost approach during the first one to two years of operation, prior to stabilization. Harris County almost exclusively values hotels on the cost approach for the first year following construction.

Hotels that have been in operation for some time but have reached a point of significant renovation or decline in value may also be valued using the cost approach. In such scenarios, the assessor will value personal property under a separate account, and may require the property owner to submit a personal property rendition report.

Failure to render in a timely fashion results in a penalty equivalent to 10 percent of the total taxes due. Unfortunately, the hotel owner is often unaware of rendition requirements until they are penalized for a late rendition.

Rendition required

The following example illustrates how incorrect assumptions about an assessor's valuation methodology can result in unexpected rendition penalties.

Let's assume the assessor has valued a hotel under an income analysis since the taxpayer acquired it in 2010. Based upon this history and prior interactions with the assessor, the owner did not file a personal property rendition with the county appraisal district for tax year 2018.

The property had suffered a significant decline in performance over the past few years despite dramatic increases in land value in the area. After reviewing the documentation provided, the assessor decides to value the hotel at land value, with a minimal contributory value assigned to the improvements.

Since this approach is based upon a cost analysis and not an income approach as in prior years, Section 23.24(b) no longer applies. The switch in methodology triggers the creation of a separate business personal property account for the hotel.

Because the taxpayer's discussions with the assessor begin at an informal hearing after the rendition deadline, the owner does not learn of the change in methodology or resulting new personal property account until the opportunity to comply has passed. Consequently, the taxpayer incurs a 10 percent penalty for failure to file a timely personal property rendition.

An ounce of prevention

It can be challenging to establish complete clarity on an assessor's methodology prior to the rendition deadline. As in the previous example, scheduled discussions with assessors often occur after the deadline. A hotel owner may choose to file a protective rendition to avoid the possibility of unexpected penalties.

In any case, the key to avoiding unnecessary penalties is to communicate as early and often with the county assessor as possible, or hire someone who is able to do so on the taxpayer's behalf. With a thorough understanding of the property tax code and clear communication with county assessors, hotel owners in Texas may bypass the penalty trap.

Rachel Duck, CMI is a tax consultant at Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which represents taxpayers in property tax matters and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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