Category Archives: Property Tax

Ethics in Property Tax Administration

Each person registering with the state must sign a pledge to uphold a Code of
Ethics. The following are specific ethics requirements found in the Texas Administrative
Code (TAC).
Improper Influences (Sec. 628.3)
This section bars any person registered with TDLR from accepting any benefit in
return for favorable treatment. The section applies to decisions regarding property
valuation, an exemption from taxation, or property tax collection. Further, a registrant
cannot accept any benefit with the understanding that he or she will testify
falsely or withhold information in an adjudication proceeding, or promise a benefit
to another to do so.
Conflicts of Interest (Sec. 628.4)
This section prohibits a registrant from engaging in activities that could result in
a conflict of interest. Specifically, a registrant cannot engage in any activity outside
of the appraisal or tax office that adversely affects the person’s impartiality in officially
assigned duties. For example, a registrant must disclose any financial interest
he or she possesses in any firm operating in the real estate industry. In addition,
a registrant may not invest in a property within the jurisdiction if it creates a conflict
of interest. Finally, a registrant may not serve as a tax agent, unless such service
focuses on properties not in the appraisal district or tax office that employs the
registrant.

Unfair Treatment and Discrimination (Sec. 628.5)
This section details when registrants provide unfair advantages to other persons.
For example, a registrant cannot provide information to any private party when the
information is not provided to everyone. In addition, a registrant cannot use different
appraisal techniques for similar properties to arbitrarily raise or lower appraised
values of particular properties. Further, a registrant may not use collection procedures
that discriminate to the advantage or disadvantage of any taxpayer. A registrant
also must not provide information on the delinquent tax status of any property
for a fee, except under a limited number of circumstances. Finally, a registrant may
not predetermine the value or value range of a property and then manipulate the
data to arrive at the predetermined value.
Abuse of Powers (Sec. 628.6)
This section prohibits acts where a registrant uses his or her power in an unethical
manner. For example, a registrant cannot use agency resources for personal
benefit. Further, in his or her capacity as a property tax professional, a registrant
may not endorse any services. Also, unless otherwise permitted by law, a registrant
cannot collect money from a private person or firm under the guise of official
action.
Use of Titles (Sec. 628.7)
This section bars the use of the titles Registered Professional Appraiser (RPA),
Registered Texas Collector/Assessor (RTA), or Registered Texas Collector (RTC)
unless the individual is an active, certified registrant with TDLR. Further, registrants
may only use the above titles in connection with official duties.

 

Legislative Updates Regarding Property Taxes

House Bill 394
Amends Tax Code Section 25.027
Effective September 1, 2015
Relating to the information in ad valorem tax appraisal records that may not be
posted on the Internet by an appraisal district.
Prohibits appraisal districts from posting information on the Internet that would
indicate a property owner’s age, including information that a property owner is 65
or older.
House Bill 992
Amends Tax Code Section 11.131
Effective January 1, 2016, but only if the applicable constitutional amendment
passes in November elections.
Relating to the exemption from ad valorem taxation of the total appraised value
of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled
veteran.
A disabled veteran’s surviving spouse is entitled to continue to benefit from the
special disabled veterans’ ad valorem homestead exemption after the disabled
veteran dies if the spouse has not remarried, the property was the surviving spouse’s
homestead when the disabled veteran died, and the property remains the surviving
spouse’s homestead. This bill extends this benefit to surviving spouses of disabled
veterans who died before the disabled veterans’ special exemption was created.
House Bill 1022
Amends Tax Code Section 11.13 Effective January 1, 2016
Relating to the eligibility for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of the residence
homestead of certain persons with a life estate in the homestead property.
Extends the standard homestead exemption to an owner’s surviving spouse if he
or she has a life estate in the property.
House Bill 1463
Amends Tax Code Sections 1.07 and 11.43
Effective September 1, 2015
Relating to the procedure for canceling an exemption from ad valorem taxation
of the residence homestead of an individual who is 65 years of age or older.
Requires that before an appraisal district cancels a residence homestead exemption
for someone 65 or older, the appraiser must first give written notice to the
owner with a form on which the owner may verify his or her qualification for the exemption (with a postage prepaid return envelope). If no response is received in 60 days, the appraiser may cancel the exemption after another 30-day waiting period but only after making reasonable effort to locate the owner and determine his or her qualification for the exemption. A second notice with a bold font notice of the potential cancellation (meeting requirements set forth in the bill) constitutes reasonable efforts.

House Bill 1464
Adds Tax Code Section 23.551; Amends Tax Code Sections 1.07, 23.43, 23.46,
23.54, and 23.55; Amends Transportation Code Section 521.049
Effective September 1, 2015
Relating to the procedure for determining that certain land is no longer eligible
for appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes as agricultural or open-space land.
Requires that before an appraisal district cancels an agricultural or open-space
exemption for land owned by someone 65 or older, the appraiser must follow procedures
substantially similar to those required under House Bill 1463 with respect
to homestead exemptions for persons 65 or older.
House Bill 3951
Adds Tax Code Section 34.011; Amends Tax Code Section 34.015; Amends Civil
Practice and Remedies Code Section 34.0445
Effective January 1, 2016
Relating to the eligibility of persons to participate in an ad valorem tax sale of real
property; creating a criminal offense.
Allows a county commissioners court to require that, for a person to be eligible
to bid at a tax foreclosure sale of real property the person must be registered as a
bidder with the county assessor-collector before the sale begins. The county assessor-collector
is empowered to adopt rules governing such registration, requiring a
registrant to
* designate the person’s name and address;
* provide valid ID;
* provide written proof of authority to bid on another person’s behalf, if
applicable;
* provide any additional information the assessor-collector reasonably requires;
and
* execute, at least annually, a statement on a form provided by the assessor-collector
that there are no delinquent ad valorem taxes owed by the registrant to
the county or any taxing unit in the county.
If the county commissioners court adopts this requirement, then a person may
not bid at a tax foreclosure sale unless the assessor-collector has issued the person
a registration statement.

House Joint Resolution 75
Amends Section 1-b of Article VIII of the Texas Constitution.
Effective January 1, 2016, if passed by Texas voters in November 3, 2015,
election.
Proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for
an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the
residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled
veteran who died before the law authorizing a residence homestead exemption for
such a veteran took effect. Would amend the Texas Constitution to enable the extension of homestead exemption rights to spouses of disabled veterans as contemplated in House Bill
992

Senate Bill 46
Amends Government Code Sections 552.155 and 552.222
Effective September 1, 2015
Relating to the confidentiality of certain property tax appraisal photographs.
Exempts photographs of the interior of real property improvements from disclosure
under public information laws and makes the same confidential. (One fear
being that thieves may use public information requests to scope buildings.) The government
must still disclose the photograph, however, to a person who had an ownership
interest in the improvement at the time the photograph was taken and to the
parties to a tax appraisal protest (though the photograph remains confidential in the
parties’ possession and may not be disclosed or used for any other purpose).

Senate Bill 833
Amends Tax Code Section 11.13
Effective June 19, 2015
Relating to the continuation of a residence homestead exemption from ad
valorem taxation while the owner is temporarily absent because of military service.
Texas law protects a person from losing a residence homestead exemption due to
temporary absence for less than two years if the person does not establish another
homestead and is absent due to military service in the U.S. armed forces. Prior to
this bill the military service causing the absence had to be outside the U.S. This bill
extends this military service protection to absences for service within the U.S.
Senate Bill 1420
Amends Tax Code Section 25.19
Effective January 1, 2016
Relating to notices of appraised value sent to property owners by the chief
appraisers of appraisal districts.
Requires an appraisal district to give notice to a homeowner if “an exemption or
partial exemption approved for the property for the preceding year is canceled or
reduced for the current year.”

 

Parker County Appraisal District v. James D. Francis, No. 02-13-00182-CV (Second Court of Appeals – Fort Worth) 
(June 19, 2014)


In this case, the Parker County Appraisal District appealed a decision of the trial court in favor of James D. Francis, the property owner. The principal issue in the case was “whether under the Tax Code a tract of property may qualify for the residence homestead exemption and the open-space land valuation at the same time.” Francis owned three contiguous tracts of land: a three acre tract (which had been granted an open space land valuation), a one acre tract (on which Francis’ home is located), and a nine acre tract of land. In 2010 and 2011, Francis applied for the residence homestead exemption on the three acre tract. The applications were denied by the appraisal district and the appraisal review board. On appeal to the district court, the court ruled in favor of Francis applying the residence homestead exemption to the three-acre tract and also valued the tract as open-space land for 2010 and 2011. The appraisal district appealed the trial court ruling in favor of Francis claiming that the trial court erred as a “matter of law by holding that the three-acre tract qualified for both open-space land valuation and also a residence homestead exemption.” After describing the relevant Tax Code provisions, the court states: “…Francis argues, and we agree, that juxtaposing section 23.25 [Appraisal of Land Used for Single-Family Residential Purposes That Is Contiguous to Agricultural or Open-Space Land with Common Ownership] and Section 23.01(d) [market value of a residence homestead] , the tax code implicitly contemplates that under the circumstances existing here, a parcel of land may qualify for both the residence homestead exemption and the open-space land valuation.” The appellate court also agrees with Francis’s contention that “had the legislature intended to preclude open-space land from also being used as a residence homestead, it could have utilized the phrase “designated for agricultural use” in setting the criteria for open-space land as it did in setting the criteria for agricultural-use land.” The appellate court also agrees with Francis’s argument based on Sec. 23.55(i) “that if the ‘use’ of the open-space land does not change when the residence homestead exemption is claimed on the open-space land, then the use is still principally agricultural, and the open-space land is still qualified to be open-space land and to receive the open-space land valuation.” Consequently to hold that qualified open-space land may not subsequently and simultaneously be claimed as part of a residence homestead would render Sec. 23.55(i) meaningless. Based on these arguments the appellate court affirms the trial court judgment and holds that Francis’ three-acre tract qualified for both the residence homestead exemption and the open-space land valuation of the years 2010 and 2011.

KMR Minden, L.P. v. Harris County Appraisal District, No. 01-13-00152-CV (First Court of Appeals—Houston) 
(June 24, 2014)


The case deals with the trial court’s grant of the Harris County Appraisal District’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissal of the case based on the failure of the property owner to substantially comply with Tax Code Section 42.08 regarding payment of taxes. The property owner owed over $13,000 in taxes for 2011, paid them in full on April 19, 2012, after the jurisdictional plea was filed by the District, and then filed an oath of inability to pay. The court of appeals reaffirmed that compliance with section 42.08’s prepayment requirement is a jurisdictional prerequisite to subject matter jurisdiction. It held that the property owner failed to prove that it was unable to pay the taxes before the delinquency date. “We conclude that the trial court’s findings and conclusions that KMR Minden failed to demonstrate an inability to pay its taxes and that section 42.08’s prepayment requirement did not constitute an unreasonable restraint on its access to the courts were supported by evidence on the record. We therefore hold that the trial court did not err in granting HCAD’s plea to the jurisdiction.”

William J. Sonne v. Harris County Appraisal District, No. 01-12-00749-CV (First Court of Appeals—Houston) 
(June 26, 2014)


This memorandum opinion upheld the dismissal of the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction due to the property owner’s failure to tender taxes for the years in dispute (2009 and 2010). The property owner claimed that governmental and administrative restrictions on his property made it worthless and therefore no taxes should be due. The Court upheld the jurisdictional nature of Tax Code Section 42.08, as well as its constitutionality. In response to the property owner’s argument that because the property was worthless the amount of taxes not in dispute would be zero, the Court opined: “Subsection 42.08(b)(1), however, only applies when the property owner ‘elects to pay the amount of taxes described by Subsection (b)(1)’ and the property owner’s suit for judicial review is ‘accompanied by a statement in writing of the amount of taxes the property owner proposes to pay’ before the delinquency date, as allowed by subsection 42.08(b)(1). If he does not make the election, the property owner will be required to pay the full amount of taxes unless he substantially complies with section 42.08 pursuant to subsection 42.08(d). If he does neither, the property owner forfeits his right to judicial review.”

Charles P. Curry and Jennifer Curry v. Harris County Appraisal District, No. 14-12-00898-CV (Fourteenth Court of Appeals—Houston)
(June 5, 2014)


The property owners protested the value of their property, and the Harris County Appraisal Review Board reduced the value based on the property owners’ agent’s sworn testimony at the ARB hearing and a hearing affidavit. The property owners timely appealed the ARB order, and the district court granted the Harris County Appraisal District’s motion for summary judgment. “In reviewing the summary judgment in favor of the appraisal district, we consider whether the doctrine of judicial estoppel precluded the property owners from asserting on appeal in the district court that the appraised value of the property should be less than the value to which the property owners’ agent testified before the appraisal review board. We conclude that the district court had jurisdiction over the appeal, and that the property owners exhausted their administrative remedies and have standing to appeal. Because the summary-judgment evidence does not establish as a matter of law the appraisal district’s entitlement to summary judgment based on the sole ground asserted, judicial estoppel, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand.” The court of appeals stated that a trial de novo is permitted in the Tax Code and “any statement in the Hearing Affidavit or at the Formal Hearing cannot be a basis for application of the judicial-estoppel doctrine in the district court.”