So you get an information request from the tax assessor. Should you respond or ignore it? If you ignore it, you may end up with higher taxes.
By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin
Q: I have a question about a letter I received from my county assessor’s office. I live in Maricopa County, Arizona. The form asks how many people live in our home and what we’re doing with the home. Also, the form states that if we don’t respond, they will fine us.
My take is that it’s none of their business how many people live in my home. They’ve also threatened to reclassify my property if we don’t respond. I’m wondering what they mean by reclassification. Can they try to reclassify our property as abandoned and take over the home? We live in a normal suburban area.
Why does a tax assessor request information?
A: Our first thought is, why wouldn’t you just answer the information request from the tax assessor and mail in the form? We also know that the right to privacy in housing runs strong for many homeowners. It’s the “Your home is your castle” mentality. Except that in practice, it’s tough to disengage from the surrounding community completely.
Let’s think about why the assessor’s office or other taxing authority would have an information request about your home or its occupants. Where property owners pay real estate taxes, the taxing bodies in those areas always use a formula to determine how much to bill each property. The key to your question is figuring out what that formula is. And then whether the information the assessor needs will help reduce your real estate taxes.
In many areas of the country, homeowners who live in those homes as their primary residence receive a huge discount on their real estate taxes. For example, if your primary home is in Michigan and you pay state income taxes as well as property taxes. Some of the state income taxes you pay will filter down to your local municipalities and school districts.
Primary vs vacation home can affect your real estate taxes
In one situation, if the property is a vacation home (and not a primary residence), and you don’t pay state income taxes, the taxing authorities will charge you higher taxes. In this example, you pay more in real estate taxes to help cover tax revenue loss. And this results in a revenue loss for the local municipalities and school districts. They then must increases real estate taxes to get the revenue they need.
That’s only one example of how an owner’s use of a property can affect the amount paid in real estate taxes. In other areas, homeowners receive a reduction in their real estate taxes on primary residences. Now, in other situations the discount is for senior citizens, veterans or disabled veterans.
Some counties in Illinois grant members of the armed forces returning from active duty or veterans a reduction in the amount owed for real estate taxes. Moreover, the taxing authority may even eliminate all real estate taxes (up to a certain amount) for veterans with disabilities.
Maricopa County grants personal exemptions
In Maricopa County, your local tax assessor’s office offers personal exemptions offered to widows, widowers, and disabled residents. According to the website, “The purpose is to reduce the assessed value of property with a corresponding reduction in tax($). The exemption is based on income, value of property, residency and number of family members 18 years of age or older residing in the household (per state statute.)”
Maricopa County offers a Senior Value Protection Program. This program allows senior citizens the opportunity to “freeze their property value for a period of time, primarily based on income, age, and residence (primary residence).” The “Senior Freeze” does not “freeze your property TAXES, it freezes the taxable portion of your property value…”
Clearly, the personal exemption is based on a variety of criteria. Some of the criteria may be based on the number of people living in your home. Hence one of the questions on the form you received. If you fail to return the form, it’s possible that your real estate tax bill could go up, perhaps substantially. This is why you may have received an information request from the tax assessor.
Call the tax assessor to get more information
You should call the county tax assessor to review your most recent real estate tax bill. Then you can determine what exemptions are on the tax bill. And, also figure out what other exemptions you might be entitled to take.
Finally, we don’t advise tossing the form. Even if you think it’s “none of their business.” You might be throwing away an opportunity to save yourself some hard-earned cash.
©2021 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin