August 14, 2008
Appraisal lawsuits

HCAD wants more money to do battle with those who don't like their tax bills.

Skyrocketing commercial property values have led to costly court battles for the Harris County Appraisal District, prompting its leaders to propose increasing its budget to nearly $65 million next year.

If approved by the district's board of directors next week, the budget will have increased 35 percent from a comparatively modest $48 million just last year.

News of yet another increase prompted calls for belt-tightening from officials at the Houston Independent School District, which funds a portion of the appraisal district's budget along with about 900 other taxing jurisdictions whose property values are set by its appraisers. The school district's bill would increase more than $1 million to about $10 million under the proposed budget.

"It's quite a chunk of change for us," said Melinda Garrett, the school district's chief financial officer. "It's taking $1 million out of our classrooms."

Chief appraiser Jim Robinson said he has little choice but to ask for more money as the number of lawsuits filed by unhappy property owners increases yearly, and the state comptroller continues to fight for even higher commercial property appraisals.

"Certainly, I appreciate their concerns. The jurisdictions have to pay the bill. But, by that same token, we have to do what the law requires us to do," Robinson said Tuesday.


At least a dozen of those lawsuits will involve significant litigation expenses, Robinson said. For example, fighting one company over one year's appraisal for its downtown Houston office building already has cost the district $400,000.

"You either try the lawsuits or you settle them and give the people that brought them an unfair tax break," Robinson said, adding the number of lawsuits filed increased 70 percent from 2005 to 2006 and another 60 percent the following year.

I sympathize with HISD, but I think you have to give HCAD the money to deal with this. Then fight like hell for sales price disclosure legislation next year, which I think will kick the legs out of some of these suits. It's harder to argue your property is worth less than what it was appraised for if everyone knows how much you just paid for it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 14, 2008 to Local politics

Yes, but who pays for my lawsuit when HCAD was in the wrong with its appraisal? Right now I pay for my case and their defense. Wonderful.

Posted by: Harris County Taxpayer on August 14, 2008 12:09 PM

HCAD will level off when the overall policy of the cost of litigation equals the incremental valuation increase. My gut feel is they're not even close yet and still plotting the curve.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on August 14, 2008 1:39 PM

Our appraisal system is probably one of the most corrupt in the country and reality is the property owner usually doesn't have much in the way of recourse even in the courts since the courts overwhelmingly side with the appraisal districts.

Insiders always get a lower valuation. Everyone else is just stuck with whatever the appraisal district agrees to be it in hearing or in court.

The rationale, if you can call it that, is simply that to lower appraisals is to cut off the tax base.

With regard to commercial appraisals, most were undervalued for years. Most are now being overvalued.

There is no happy medium with HCAD. They in essence have to raise the money that county commmissioners and city council and the various other taxing entities including the school districts have already spent.

Eventually there will be no tax base since most businesses will have gone out of business because they couldn't afford the taxes and most homeowners will have been forced out of their homes not because they couldn't afford the mortage but simply because they couldn't afford the taxes.

The banks will sell the houses for half the appraised value which in many cases is becoming the actual market value. But of course HCAD will claim it doesn't matter. The new owner just made a good deal.

Not sure the Democrats will change anything, but let's hope they at least get the opportunity to try!

Posted by: Baby Snooks on August 15, 2008 10:51 AM

HCAD is certainly the most corrupt appraisal district I have ever seen. Every property is in "average condition", even if it needs $30,000 in repairs, roof, etc. They are committing fraud on a massive scale and it is killing the old people and the disabled, and those that have lost their jobs.

Posted by: B. Cox on December 11, 2008 3:18 AM
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