Hundreds of South Florida property owners who wanted to appeal their tax bills are out of luck because they didn’t pay first.
Rejection letters have been sent to nearly 1,200 property owners in Broward County because they didn’t pay most of their taxes before March 31 – even though they thought their bills were too high. Now they’re stuck paying the full amounts, plus interest.
Under the law, which took effect July 1, owners who want to appeal their tax bills must pay 75 percent of their property taxes and all of their special assessments, or non-ad valorem taxes, before April 1.
In the past, property owners didn’t have to pay until appeals were heard.
Broward received more than 22,000 petitions for appeal, so the vast majority of homeowners complied. Still, the new rule is creating confusion, said Lynda Phillips, supervisor of Broward’s Value Adjustment Board.
Linda Varisco wanted to question the $1.34 million assessment on the 15,000-square-foot office building she owns in Sunrise, only to be denied because she didn’t pay her taxes in time.
Varisco, who’s adamant that the county’s appraisal is too high, said she never heard about the law. She ended up paying $32,800 in taxes, including interest.
“My life is kind of hectic,” said Varisco, 49, a chiropractor. “I never even got a bill under my nose to even think about it.”
Property tax bills are mailed in November and due by March 31 of the following year, with discounts available for paying early.
Owners can appeal their assessments to the Value Adjustment Board in individual counties. The boards are holding hearings now, and special magistrates make the final decisions.
Notices of the new rule have been posted in the Value Adjustment Board’s office and on its website since last year, Phillips said.
“It sort of jumps up on you, and a lot of people are confused by this,” she said. “Hopefully it will go smoother next year.”
For owners who win their appeal, the county sends a refund and 12 percent interest of the refund amount from April 1.
Property owners who have the means to pay most of their taxes upfront stand to benefit from the law, said Mason Sharpe of the Property Tax Appeal Group, a Hialeah-based company. He advises clients to pay the entire tax bill because they can make more money in interest if they win the appeal.
But other owners who aren’t as financially stable may not be able to take advantage, Sharpe said.
Lawmakers passed the measure to help local governments improve their cash flow amid delays that can extend the appeals process to a year or more. Some owners were not paying taxes until after counties completed their hearings, according to an analysis by the state House of Representatives.
Palm Beach County resident Peter Krenzer said he appealed his $4,950 tax bill in December, and the county agreed to reduce his taxes. He said officials told him to wait for a lower tax bill that would have been about $1,500 cheaper.
Instead, Krenzer, 49, received a letter, telling him that his appeal was denied because he didn’t comply with the law. He was stuck paying the full amount, plus late fees.
Had he known, he said, he would have paid the taxes before the deadline.
“It was never brought up that there was this new law,” he said. “People were not talking about that.”
Teri Wambach, a manager in the county’s Tax Collector’s Office, told Krenzer in an email that he and other property owners were given information about the new rule when they signed up to appeal. It’s unclear why the county heard Krenzer’s appeal even though he hadn’t paid his taxes.
Other residents may face the same problem as Krenzer, said Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who chairs the county’s Value Adjustment Board.
He says state lawmakers should have allowed for more of a transition period.
“This is concerning,” Abrams said. “But the legislature made the law. We didn’t.”
Source: the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Paul Owers. Distributed by MCT Information Services.