Why you should request information about your property tax assessment

May 09, 2012|Jamie Smith Hopkins

What the state doesn't know about your property could hit you in the tax bill.

That's why it's a good idea to call the state Department of Assessments and Taxation and request your property "worksheet," which gives details about the land and improvements that assessors use every three years to revalue your home or business property. Once you have it in hand, you can take a look and see if anything's amiss.

A nonexistent building, say.

That's what happened to one of Tom Kimmitt's clients. The attorney, a partner with Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, said they'd applied for a permit to construct a building on property in Baltimore County but didn't end up going through with it. Assessors apparently relied on the permit to update the property record with a new building, and the owners didn't catch it because they -- like many owners -- never requested their worksheet.

It came to light eight years later when falling market values prompted the owners to appeal. Kimmitt requested the worksheet and sent it along.

“The client said, 'There's a building there we don't own -- we don't have,'" he recounted. "I said, 'What do you mean you don't have it? You tore it down? They said, 'No, we never built it.'"

They were able to get refunds -- but for three of the years, not all eight. So it could pay to request your worksheet occasionally to make sure everything's OK.

"It does make a difference," Kimmitt said.

Sometimes worksheets aren't up to date the other direction -- saving the property owner money and costing the local jurisdiction. A property-tax activist in Montgomery County complained that he kept finding examples of massively renovated homes still on the books with pre-rehab characteristics.

You can request your property's worksheet for free by calling the local assessment office, said Robert E. Young, director of the state assessments department.

"You do not have to appeal your assessment in order to get your own worksheet," he said in an email.

You do, however, have to appeal to get other owners' worksheets. When you contest your assessment, you can then request comparable property data at $1 a pop.

Got a housing news tip or experience to share? (Or just want to tell me something?) Email me at jhopkins@baltsun.com.

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