March 19, 2009

Bill Might Reduce Property Tax Scams

THE DEPRESSED housing market is causing a lot of real estate scams and homeowners are getting ripped off. For instance, property owners in California have been receiving official looking letters from private companies that solicit fees of between $89 to $209 to file a "Request for Property Tax Reduction."

The fact is that this same service is free from your local Assessor's office. So why pay when something is free? Good question - but lots of people have taken advantage of the offer. To address this unfortunate situation, California Assembly Member Lieu has introduced AB 992. That bill attempts to tighten up the solicitation part of this rip off by mandating the following language is included on the top of each page of such promotional material - and in 12-point boldface type enclosed in a box formed by a heavy line:

"THIS ASSESSMENT APPEAL APPLICATION FILING SERVICE IS NOT ASSOCIATED WITH ANY GOVERNMENT AGENCY. IF YOU DISAGREE WITH THE ASSESSED VALUE OF YOUR PROPERTY, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN INFORMAL ASSESSMENT REVIEW, AT NO COST, BY CONTACTING THE ASSESSOR'S OFFICE DIRECTLY. IF YOU AND THE ASSESSOR CANNOT AGREE TO THE VALUE OF THE PROPERTY OR IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO CONTACT THE ASSESSOR YOU CAN OBTAIN AND FILE AN APPLICATION, AT NO COST, ON YOUR OWN BEHALF. AN APPEALS BOARD HAS THE AUTHORITY TO RAISE PROPERTY VALUES (BUT IN NO CASE HIGHER THAN THE PROPOSITION 13 PROTECTED VALUE) AS WELL AS TO LOWER PROPERTY VALUES."

In my opinion this might help solve the problem but I would respectfully suggest taking it another step forward and requiring the name, address, web site and phone number of the local Assessor that could be contacted for questions. This way the taxpayer will have a hassle free way to contact the Assessor for those nagging questions.


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