As appraisal districts across the state of Texas put the screws to homeowners this summer, some interesting things are happening behind the scenes in the operationally corrupt system known as uniform and equal appraisal. The predators are starting to eat each other as the system comes unglued. I am not surprised this is happening. It’s something I fully expected because the Texas property tax system is mired in conflicts of interest and dysfunction, rotten to its very core.
“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” George Orwell
“From the least to the greatest, all of them are greedy for unjust gains; and from prophet to priest they all deal falsely. They have treated the suffering of my people carelessly, saying, ‘all is well’ when there is no safety. They act shamefully, they commit terrible offenses; and yet they are not ashamed, and do not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall.” Jeremiah 6:13-15
The Travis County Appraisal District is currently involved in a rather interesting lawsuit in which two property tax consulting firms and 159 of their clients are suing the Travis County CAD and its chief appraiser, Marya Crigler. According to the suit, the Travis County CAD allegedly suppressed the rights of property owners and participated in “unlawful manipulation and corruption of the 2018 tax appraisal protest process in Travis County that leaves property owners without the Appraisal Review Board hearing to which they are entitled by law.”
If this turns out to be true, it wouldn’t be the first time a Texas Appraisal district retaliated against homeowners or property tax consultants. Fort Bend County has already seen its share of malfeasance in this regard, where citizens watched during a Senate hearing as the chief appraiser at the time admitted to having a blacklist of arbitrators it didn’t want hearing cases. (aka arbitrators who might actually rule in favor of homeowners).
The latest case in Austin is apparently only heating up. Back in December the chief appraiser in Travis County filed for a motion to dismiss the suit claiming it was a meritless SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) designed to suppress the right to free speech. This month it was revealed that the Travis Central Appraisal District may have received “unauthorized access” to the MLS system run by the Austin Board of Realtors. Apparently ABOR has told CoreLogic to stop sending data to the appraisal district.
In a related twist, the outgoing mayor of Forney, Rick Wilson, filed a class-action lawsuit against the Kaufman County Appraisal District and its chief appraiser, Sarah Curtis. Apparently the 2019 initial notice values in Kaufman County have gone through the roof, pun intended. Mayor Wilson even notes that the 2019 valuations in Kaufman County are “not equal and uniform as required by the Texas Constitution”. Regardless of the outcome of the suit, I can tell you he is spot on with that assertion. Virtually no CAD in Texas make make a legitimate claim that their values are, because the Texas property tax system is structured to prevent that from happening.
Note to ABOR: The CAD already has mounds of data on residential home sales. It’s the commercial sales data that the CAD has a hard time getting their hands on. This is why more and more commercial property owners are utilizing Texas’ two-tiered setup and head to district court. Big commercial property owners are having a field day with the appraisal districts. The Harris County Appraisal District has seen the number of annual lawsuits soar in recent years, along with their annual cost of litigation to fight the cases. 2019 should be a banner year for lawsuits against various Texas appraisal districts, and the tax consulting firms stand ready to profit from it.
This would all be comical enough by itself, but we also have the Dallas Morning Snooze giving air time to property tax consultants who profit from the annual circus. Apparently you only need a customer review rating average of two and half stars to garner a recommendation from Dallas’ largest paper. So much for standards. This is apparently where we are now in the Lone Star state.
The Texas legislature still hasn’t come up with any bills in the latest session that will actually lower your property taxes, but this really isn’t a major concern for the folks pushing the latest bills in Austin. The business-friendly establishment in Austin knows that commercial players can still buy huge property tax reductions at their local CAD, regardless of what happens during the 86th Legislature. It is truly ironic that the Texas Constitution requires all taxation to be equal and uniform, and in accordance with a property’s value, yet the Legislature has prevented this from actually happening since 1997 when the “equity” appeal loopholes were carved into the Texas property tax code at the behest of wealthy businesses and lobbyists.
“There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.” Winston Churchill
If you sense that something isn’t right with the Texas property tax system, you are correct, more than you probably imagined.
Update May 23-2019: Sometimes you come across a story that just makes your blood boil, and this is certainly one of them. The Denton Record Chronicle has been following the story of a local landlord who has apparently let his apartment property fall into disrepair. Apparently the landlord, one Bahman “Bobby” Naderi has chosen to evict dozens of tenants at the corner of Oak and Fry streets in Denton Texas rather than make improvements to address some of the more egregious maintenance issues noted at the property.
The situation at W Oak Street apartments is appalling on many levels. It’s a humanitarian tragedy for sure. The situation is compounded by the fact that we have a property tax system in Texas which perpetuates the wealth and housing inequality demonstrated in this story. The Denton Appraisal District valuation history for both Naderi’s apartment building and his 4722 square foot residence provide some insight into how the two-tiered property tax system can be quite profitable for a lucky few…
This is the Denton CAD history for the apartments showing more than 18,000 square feet of living space on 0.43 acres of commercial real estate…
Since the paper listed the landlord’s actual residence, I took the liberty of pulling that Denton CAD record as well. I was also able to pull the actual sales in this section of southern Denton. Turns out this landlord has enjoyed some very favorable treatment from the Denton Appraisal District, particularly during the period from 2014 to 2016. The “appraisals” issued by DCAD during this time frame are utterly laughable based on the actual sales data for this section of town. We’re talking about a 4722 square foot home with a pool sitting on almost a half acre of land, and yet the Denton CAD only valued this property at $400,000 in 2016.
“Well I don’t know why I came here tonight, I got the feeling that something ain’t right. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” Stealers Wheel