Property Tax Basics
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Texas Property Tax
Texas has no state property tax Local governments set tax rates and collect property taxes that are used to provide local services including schools, streets, roads, police, fire protection and many other services.
Texas law requires property values used in determining taxes to be equal and uniform, and establishes the process to be followed by local officials in determining property values, setting tax rates and collecting taxes Exhibit 1 includes some basic property tax rules set out in the Texas Constitution
Texas Constitution Basic Property Tax Rules Taxation must be equal and uniform.
• All property must be taxed equally and uniformly.1
• No single property or type of property should be taxed more than its fair market value.2
Generally, all property is taxed in proportion to its value.
• Unless constitutionally exempt, property must be taxed in proportion to its value.3
• The Texas Constitution provides certain exceptions to market valuation, such as taxation based on productive capacity for agricultural and timberland.4
• All exemptions from taxation must be constitutionally authorized.5
Taxpayers must be given notice of an estimate of taxes they owe.
• Notice must be given of the reasonable estimate of the taxes that will be imposed on a taxpayer’s property.6
• Notice must be given of intent to consider tax increases.7
Several types of local governments may tax property Texas counties and local school districts tax all nonexempt property within their jurisdiction Cities and special purpose districts such as hospitals, junior colleges or water districts, may also collect certain property taxes The Comptroller’s office is committed to ensuring that taxpayers have the information needed to preserve their
rights and pursue appropriate remedies In keeping with this commitment, the Comptroller’s Property Tax Assistance Division (PTAD) created the summary of property tax rights in Exhibit 2
Property Taxpayer Bill of Rights
1. You have the right to equal and uniform taxation.8
2. You have the right to ensure that your property is appraised uniformly with similar property in your county.
3. You have the right to have your property appraised according to generally accepted appraisal methods and techniques and other requirements of law.9
4. You have the right to receive exemptions or other tax relief for which you qualify and apply timely.10
5. You have the right to notice of property value increases, exemption changes and estimated tax amounts.11
6. You have the right to inspect non-confidential information used to appraise your property.12
7. You have the right to protest your property’s value and other appraisal matters to an appraisal review board composed of an impartial group of citizens in your community.13
8. You have the right to appeal the appraisal review board’s decision to district court in the county where the property is located.14
9. You have the right to fair treatment by the appraisal district, the appraisal review board and the tax assessor-collector.
10. You have the right to voice your opinions at open public meetings about proposed tax rates and to ask questions of the governing body responsible for setting tax rates.15
11. You have the right to petition a local government to call an election to limit a tax increase in certain circumstances.16
12. You have the right to receive a free copy of the pamphlet entitled Property Taxpayer Remedies published by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts prior to your protest before the appraisal review board.17
Property Tax Administration
Many parties play a role in administering the property tax system, including property owners, appraisal districts, appraisal review boards, local taxing units, tax assessor-collectors and the Comptroller’s office. The property owner, whether residential or business, is responsible for paying taxes and has a reasonable expectation that the taxing process will be fairly administered The property owner is also referred to as the taxpayer The appraisal district in each county appraises the value of property each year 18 The appraisal district is administered by a chief appraiser hired by the appraisal district board of directors 19 Local taxing units elect the appraisal district board of directors based on the amount of taxes levied in each taxing unit 20 The appraisal district can answer questions about local appraisal processes, exemption administration, agricultural appraisal and protests.
The appraisal review board (ARB) is a board of local citizens that hears disagreements between property owners and the appraisal district about the taxability and value of property 21 In counties with a population of 120,000 or more, members of the ARB are appointed by the local administrative district judge in the county in which the appraisal district is located 22 In all other counties, the appraisal district board of directors appoints ARB members 23 For questions about how an appraisal district operates or who serves on an ARB, contact the appraisal district board of directors.
Local taxing units, including school districts, counties, cities, junior colleges and special purpose districts, decide how much money they will need to be able to pay for providing public services Property tax rates are set according to taxing unit bud gets Some taxing units have access to other revenue sources, such as a local sales tax School districts must rely on the local property tax in addition to state and federal funds Taxing units can answer questions about tax rates and tax bills.
In many counties, taxing units contract with the county tax assessor-collector to collect property taxes for other taxing units in that county 24 The assessor-collector then transfers the appropriate amounts of the collected levy to each taxing unit 25 Although some taxing units may contract with an appraisal district to collect their taxes, the appraisal district does not levy a property tax.26
PTAD’s role is primarily limited to monitoring services PTAD conducts a biennial Property Value Study (PVS) for each school district for school funding purposes The PVS is an independent estimate mandated by the Texas Legislature of property values within a school district 27 The Comptroller’s values do not directly affect local values or property taxes, which are determined locally
PTAD also performs Methods and Assistance Program (MAP) reviews of all appraisal districts every two years The reviews address four issues: governance, taxpayer assistance, operating standards and appraisal standards, procedures and methodologies 28PTAD reviews approximately half of all appraisal districts each year School districts located in counties that do not receive a MAP review in a year will be subject to a PVS in that year General information about the Texas property tax system can be found on the Comptroller’s website at comptroller texas gov/taxinfo/proptax/ or by calling PTAD’s Information Services Team at 800-252-9121 (press 2) Legal questions should be directed to an attorney.
Property Tax Cycle
The Texas property tax system has four main phases or sets of functions that occur within certain dates: appraisal, equal ization, assessment and collection Exhibit 3 indicates the dates and activities that typically occur within each phase
Tax Calendar Phases Appraisal Phase
(Jan. 1 through May 15) Jan. 1 – April 30 Property is appraised and exemption applications are processed 29 April – May 1 Notices of appraised value are sent 30 May 15 Appraisal record prepared and submitted to the ARB 31 Equalization Phase (May 15 through July 25) May 15 – July 20 Protests and challenges are heard and determined 32 July 20 Appraisal records are approved 33 July 25 Appraisal roll is certified 34 Assessment Phase (July 25 through Oct. 1) July 25 Appraisal roll received by taxing units 35 July 25 – Sept. 30 Tax rates are adopted and taxes are levied (calculated)36 Oct. 1 Tax bills begin to be sent to taxpayers 37 Collection
The tax calendar is a schedule of property tax activities with either legal deadlines or deadlines based on the occurrence of other events. If the last day for performing an act falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, the deadline is the next regular business day.41 The Comptroller’s office publishes a calendar of specific deadlines established by Texas property tax laws on its website at comptroller.texas.gov/taxinfo/proptax/taxcalendar/index.html. During the appraisal phase, property is appraised; determinations are made on exemption applications; appraisal notices are sent to property owners; and the appraisal records are submitted to the ARB. The ARB hears and determines property owner protests and taxing unit challenges and approves the appraisal record during the equalization phase. The assessment phase be gins when the appraisal roll is received by the taxing units from the chief appraiser. During the assessment phase, tax rates are adopted, levies are calculated and tax bills are sent. Taxes are collected and penalties and interest are applied on delinquent taxes during the collections phase.
Exhibit 4 depicts the general cycle of the property tax system including the overlap from one year to the next, indicating activities performed by appraisal districts, ARBs and tax offices.
Property Tax System
January 1 Appraisal districts are required to appraise property at its value on this date. A lien attaches to each taxable property to ensure property tax payment.
January 31 of the next year Taxes due to local taxing units (or county tax assessor-collector, if acting on their behalf).
February 1 of the next year Local taxing units begin charging penalty and interest for unpaid tax bills.
July 1 of the next year Local taxing units may impose additional penalties for legal costs related to collecting unpaid taxes.
January 1-April 30 Appraisal districts complete appraisals and process applications for exemptions.
April-May Appraisal districts send notices of appraised value.
May-July ARBs hear protests from property owners, make determinations and approve appraisal records.
August-September Local taxing units adopt tax rates.
Texas Property Tax
Each Texas county is served by an appraisal district that determines the value of all taxable property in the county 42 A board of directors appointed by the member taxing units presides over the appraisal district 43 Generally, a taxing unit that imposes property taxes, such as a county, city or school district, is a member of the appraisal district 44 The appraisal district is a political subdivision and must fol low applicable laws, including the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act 45 Meetings are generally open to the public and information generated by the appraisal district is, in most cases, also available to the public 46 The appraisal district board of directors hires a chief appraiser, approves contracts, sets policy, appoints ARB members in counties with populations of less than 120,000 and confirms members of the agricultural advisory board 47 In larger counties, it also names a taxpayer liaison officer who works directly under the board of directors and fields taxpayer questions.48 Each year the appraisal district compiles a list of taxable property in the county 49 The listing for each property must contain a property description and the owner’s name and address 50 The appraisal district must repeat its appraisal process for property at least once every three years 51
A rendition is a form property owners may use to report taxable property owned on Jan 1 to the appraisal district 52 Both real and personal property may be rendered The rendition identifies, describes and gives the location of the taxable property Business owners must report a rendition of their personal property 53 Other property owners may choose to submit a rendition By rendering property, the property owner ensures the appraisal district has the property owner’s correct mailing address for tax bills and places the owner’s opinion of the property’s value on record with the appraisal district 54 The chief appraiser must send a Notice of Appraised Value if he or she places a higher value on the property than the value the property owner lists on the rendition form 55 Renditions generally must be filed with the appraisal district after Jan 1 and no later than April 15 56 Different deadlines apply in certain appraisal districts A property owner may apply in writing for a mandatory extension to May 15 The chief appraiser may extend the deadline another 15 days beyond May 15 if the property owner can show good cause for needing an extension 57 Rendition statements and property reports for property located in an appraisal district in which one or more taxing units exempt freeport property under Tax Code Section 11.251 must be filed with the appraisal district no later than April 1 A property owner may apply in writing for a mandatory extension to May 1 The chief appraiser may extend the deadline another 15 days if the property owner can show good cause for needing an extension 58 Other rendition deadlines apply to property regulated by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the Railroad Commission of Texas, the federal Surface Transportation Board or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 59 Significant penalties are imposed for delinquent or fraudulent renditions 60 Check with the appraisal district for rendition forms and more information about rendering business personal property 61 If the taxable value of business personal property is less than $500 in any one taxing unit, the property is exempt in that taxing unit 62 No special application is required to receive the under-$500 exemption 63 Appraisal district staff may enter and inspect business premises to determine what taxable personal property is owned and its value 64 They must make such inspections during normal business hours or at a time agreeable to the business owner 65 Except in certain specific circumstances, renditions and in come and expense information filed with an appraisal district is confidential.66 Confidential information may be disclosed to:
• the person who filed the statement or report and their authorized representative;67 • the property owner and their authorized representative;68
• the Comptroller’s office and authorized Comptroller employees;69
• a taxing unit and its legal representative for delinquent tax collection purposes;70
•an agent or employee of a taxing unit responsible for auditing, monitoring or reviewing the operations of an appraisal district;71
•the employee or agent of a school district involved in preparing a protest of the Comptroller’s property value study;72 and
• other specified persons. Appraisal Methods Before appraisals begin, the appraisal district compiles a list of taxable property The list contains a description and the name and address of the owner for each property Appraisal districts determine the value of all taxable property within the county boundaries and are required to reappraise all property at least once every three years 73 Most taxable property is to be appraised at market value as of Jan 1 74 Market value is the price at which a property would transfer for cash or its equivalent under prevailing market conditions if: • it is exposed for sale in the open market with a reasonable time for the seller to find a purchaser;
• both the seller and the purchaser know of all the uses and purposes to which the property is adapted and for which it is capable of being used and of the enforceable restrictions on its use; and
• both the seller and purchaser seek to maximize their gains and neither is in a position to take advantage of the exigencies of the other 75
Three common approaches that the appraisal district may use in appraising property are the market data (sales) comparison approach, the income approach and the cost approach 76
Market Data (Sales) Comparison Approach
The market data comparison approach to value is based on sales prices of similar properties The appraisal district compares the property being appraised to similar properties that have recently sold and then adjusts the comparable sold properties for the differences between them and the property being appraised 77 A sale is not considered comparable unless the sale occurred within 24 months of the appraisal date, unless there are too few comparable sales within that time span to constitute a representative sample 78 For residential property in a county with a population of more than 150,000, a sale is not considered to be a comparable sale unless the sale occurred within 36 months of the appraisal date, regardless of the number of comparable sales within that time span 79 Comparable sales must be appropriately time-adjusted 80 and must be similar in factors such as location, lot size, improvements, age, condition, access, amenities, views, in come, operating expenses and occupancy 81 The existence of easements, deed restrictions or other legal burdens affecting a property’s ability to be sold also must be considered 82
The income approach is based on income and expense data and is used to determine the present worth of future benefits. It seeks to determine what an investor would pay now for a future revenue stream anticipated to be received from the property The income approach is most suitable for types of properties frequently purchased and held for the purpose of producing income, such as apartments, retail properties and office buildings 83 A chief appraiser must estimate the property’s gross income potential and operating expenses; estimate capitalization rates or rates of discount; and base projections of future rent or income potential and expenses on reason ably clear and appropriate evidence 84 In using the income approach, the chief appraiser may not separately appraise or account for personal property that is already included in the appraisal of real property. 85
The cost approach is especially useful for appraisal of property types for which sales and income data are scarce, unique properties and new construction 86 The cost approach is based on what it would it cost to replace the building (improvement) with one of equal utility A chief appraiser uses cost data obtained from generally accepted sources and makes any appropriate adjustment for physical, functional or economic obsolescence 87 Depreciation is applied and the estimate is added to the land value
Appraisal districts use a method called mass appraisal to calculate the value of a large number of properties 88 Appraisal districts must comply with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice if using mass appraisal and ensure that the same appraisal methods and techniques be used in appraising the same or similar kinds of property 89 In a mass appraisal, the appraisal district classifies proper ties according to a variety of factors, such as size, use and construction type Using recent property sales, income and expense, cost and depreciation data, appraisal districts deter mine the value of properties in each class 90 Appraisal districts consider differences such as age, location and use to appraise all the properties in each class 91 Each property is also appraised based on its individual characteristics 92 The market value of a residence homestead must be deter mined solely on the basis of its current use regardless of its highest and best use 93 For example, a homestead must be appraised as such, even if it is located where its highest and best use might be as the site for an office building or a parking lot for a mall In determining the market value of a residence, the chief appraiser must consider the value of other residential property in the neighborhood,94 even if the other property:
• was sold at a foreclosure sale conducted in any of the three years preceding the tax year in which the residence is being appraised, if it was comparable at the time of sale with other residences in the neighborhood; or
• has a market value that has declined because of a declining economy.
Limitation on Residence Homestead
Value Increases Texas law sets a limit on the amount of annual increase to the appraised value of a residence homestead to not exceed the lesser of:
• the market value of the property; or • the sum of:
° 10 percent of the appraised value of the property for last year;
° the appraised value of the property for last year; and
° the market value of all new improvements to the property 95 A new improvement is an improvement to a residence home stead made after the most recent appraisal of the property that increases its market value and was not included in the appraised value of the property for the preceding tax year It does not include repairs to or ordinary maintenance of an existing structure, the grounds or another feature of the property 96 A replacement structure for one that was rendered uninhabitable or unusable by a casualty or by wind or water damage is also not considered a new improvement if certain circumstances are met. 97
The appraisal limitation only applies to a residence home stead 98 It takes effect Jan 1 of the tax year following the year in which the homeowner qualifies for the homestead exemption It expires on Jan 1 of the tax year following the year in which the property owners no longer qualify for the residence homestead exemption 99 Notice of Appraised Value Texas law requires that a property owner be given notice of a revaluation of his or her property and a reasonable estimate of the amount of taxes that would be imposed on property if the total amount of property taxes for the subdivision were not increased 100 Chief appraisers are required to deliver a clear and understandable written notice to a property owner of the property’s appraised value if: • the property’s appraised value is greater than it was in the preceding year;
• the property’s appraised value is greater than the value rendered by the property owner;
• the property was not on the appraisal roll in the preceding year; or
• an exemption or partial exemption approved for the property in the preceding tax year was canceled or reduced for the current tax year.
This is done using a form called Notice of Appraised Value that must be sent by April 1 or as soon thereafter as practicable for a residence homestead, or by May 1 or as soon thereafter as practicable for any other type property 102
The notice must contain the following information:
1 a list of the taxing units in which the property is taxable;
2 the appraised value of the property in the preceding year;
3 the taxable value of the property in the preceding year for each taxing unit that taxes the property;
4 the appraised value of the property for the current year;
5 the kind and amount of each exemption, if any, approved for the prior and current year;
6 the amount of tax that would be imposed on the property on the basis of the tax rate for the preceding year, if the appraised value is greater than in the preceding year 103
If an exemption or partial exemption that was approved for the preceding year was canceled or reduced for the current year, the notice must include the amount of the exemption or partial exemption that was canceled or reduced 104 The form is also required to include the following statement in italic typeface: The Texas Legislature does not set the amount of your local taxes. Your property tax burden is decided by your locally elected officials, and all inquiries concerning your taxes should be directed to those officials.105 The notice must provide a detailed explanation of the time and procedure for protesting the value; the date and place the ARB will hear protests; and a brief explanation noting that the governing body of each taxing unit decides whether or not taxes on the property will increase and that the appraisal district determines the value of the property 106 The notice must also include certain information based on property type 107
Appraisal districts are free to develop their own form, but it must include all the information required by the Tax Code 108 If the appraisal district board of directors approves, the chief appraiser may dispense with the notice if the increase in the appraised value is $1,000 or less 109
Texas allows a variety of tax exemptions for property and property owners that qualify for the exemption An exemption removes part of the property’s value from taxation, which lowers the tax bill For example, if a home is valued at $150,000 and the property owner qualifies for a $25,000 exemption, he or she pay taxes on the home as if it were worth $125,000 Partial or total (absolute) exemptions remove part of a property’s appraised value used to determine local property taxes. A partial exemption removes a percentage or a fixed dollar amount of a property’s value from taxation A total (absolute) exemption excludes the entire property from taxation The state requires taxing units to offer certain (mandatory) exemptions and have the option to decide locally on whether or not to offer others Exemptions discussed in this guide apply to residence homesteads only Additional exemption information can be found in the Comptroller’s publication Texas Property Tax Exemptions. Property owners are required to apply for exemptions in most circumstances 110 The general deadline for filing an exemption application is before May 1 111 If a property owner fails to file a required application on time, the property owner usually forfeits the right to the exemption unless other application provisions exist in law 112 Certain property owners may late-file homestead exemption applications, as indicated below:
• A property owner may file an age 65 or older or disabled exemption application up to one year after the date on which he or she became age 65 or disabled 113
• A property owner may file a donated residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran exemption application for up to one year after he or she qualifies.114
• A property owner may file a homestead exemption application up to two years after the date the taxes become delinquent 115
• A property owner may file a disabled veteran’s exemption application up to five years after the date the taxes become delinquent 116 If a late-filed homestead exemption is granted, the property owner will receive a new tax bill with a lower amount If the taxes have already paid, the property owner will receive a refund 117
Exhibit 5 shows the steps that can be taken to file an application for a residence homestead exemption Once a property owner receives a homestead or disabled veteran’s exemption, he or she does not have to apply for it again unless requested by the chief appraiser or unless the property owner’s qualifications change:
• If a property owner moves to a new home, he or she must fill out a new application to receive most exemptions and to transfer any tax ceiling 118
• A property owner who becomes disabled may file a new application the year the he or she becomes disabled in order to receive more exemptions 119
• A property owner may file for the 100 percent or totally disabled veteran or the surviving spouse exemption in the middle of year on a new residence homestead for the remaining part of the year 120
A chief appraiser may not require a person allowed a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran exemption under Tax Code Section 11.131 to file a new application to determine the person’s current qualification if the person has a permanent total disability as determined by the U S Department of Veterans Affairs 121
Residence Homestead Exemptions
To qualify for residence homestead exemptions, the property owner generally must own and occupy the home as his or her principal residence on Jan 1 122 Typically, the exemption is applicable as of Jan 1 of the tax year in which it is approved 123 The residence itself can be a house, a condominium or a manufactured home, as long as the property owner owns the improvement 124 A residence homestead generally includes the land as well, not to exceed 20 acres, so long as the owner of the residence holds an ownership interest in the land upon which it sits 125 Generally, a property owner may not receive a residence homestead exemption for more than one property in the same year 126 If a property owner temporarily moves away, he or she can still receive an exemption as long he or she intends to return and does not establish another principal residence 127 Temporarily generally means an absence of less than two years 128 An absence for military service inside or outside
the U S or a stay in a facility providing services related to health, infirmity or aging may be longer.129
How to File an Application for Homestead Exemption
1. Obtain application form(s) at the local appraisal district office.
2. Return the form(s) to the appraisal district office after Jan. 1 but no later than April 30 and include other information as indicated on the application form.130
3. Provide all the information and documentation requested. For example, if a property owner is claiming an age 65 or older or disabled exemption, he or she may need to show proof of age or disability. Remember that making false statements on the exemption application is a criminal offense.131
4. If the chief appraiser mails a written request for more information, the property owner has 30 days from the postmark date to reply.132
5. The chief appraiser must notify a property owner in writing within five days if he or she denies or modifies an exemption.
This notice must explain how the property owner can protest before the ARB. Additional notice requirements exist before a chief appraiser can cancel an exemption for an owner who is age 65 or older.133
General Residence Homestead
There are no specific qualifications for the general home stead exemption other than that the owner has an ownership interest in the property and uses the property as his or her principal residence An applicant is required to state that he or she does not claim an exemption on another residence homestead in or outside of Texas 134 Texas law requires school districts to offer a $25,000 exemption on residence homesteads 135 Any taxing unit, including a city, county, school district or special purpose district, has the option of deciding locally to offer a separate residence homestead exemption of up to 20 percent of a property’s appraised value, but not less than $5,000 136 For example, if a residence homestead is valued at $20,000 and the city offers a 20 percent exemption from city taxes, the exemption amount is $5,000, the minimum, even though 20 percent of $20,000 is $4,000 Each taxing unit decides before July 1 whether to offer an optional exemption and at what percentage 137 This exemption is added to any other homestead exemption for which a homeowner qualifies.138 Counties are also required to offer a $3,000 exemption if the county collects farm-to-market roads or flood control taxes.139
Joint, community or successive owners may not each receive the same exemption for the same residence in the same year 140
Persons Age 65 or Older or Disabled
School districts are required to give persons age 65 or older or disabled an additional $10,000 residence homestead exemption 141 This exemption applies as of Jan 1 of the year in which the property owner becomes age 65 or disabled 142 If a property owner qualifies for both the $10,000 exemption for homeowners age 65 or older and the $10,000 exemption for being a person with disabilities, he or she must choose one or the other and cannot receive both 143
Any taxing unit, including a city, county, school district or special purpose district, has the option of deciding locally to offer an additional exemption of at least $3,000 for home owners age 65 or older or disabled 144 If a property owner does not claim another residence in the same year, he or she will receive the age 65 or older or disabled exemption for the full year 145 If the property owner claims another residence during the same year, he or she will no longer qualify for the exemption on the first home for the remaining portion of that year 146 Taxing units prorate taxes based on the number of days from when a property owner no longer qualifies for the exemption to the end of the tax year.147
Disabled Veteran or Survivor
All or part of a disabled veteran’s property (including a residence homestead) may be exempt from property taxation A surviving spouse or surviving child may also qualify for an exemption 148 Partial Exemptions Partial Exemptions and Total (Absolute) Exemptions should be subtitles under Disabled Veteran or Survivor Texas law provides partial exemptions for any property owned by disabled veterans and their surviving spouses and children 149 The amount of the exemption is determined according to the percentage of service-connected disability as shown in Exhibit 6150
Disabled Veteran Partial Exemption
An Exemption of Up to of the Appraised Value:
For a Disability Rating of at Least: But Less Than: $5,000 10% 30% $7,500 30% 50% $10,000 50% 70% $12,000 70% and over A disabled veteran is entitled to a $12,000 exemption of the value of a designated property if he or she:
• is age 65 years or older and has a disability of at least 10 percent;
• is totally blind in one or both eyes; or
• has lost the use of one or more limbs 151
If a disabled veteran who is entitled to an exemption dies, the surviving spouse is entitled to the same exemption as long as he or she remains unmarried 152 If the spouse does not survive the veteran, each of the veteran’s surviving children younger than 18 years of age and unmarried is entitled to an exemption on property they own 153
If an individual dies while on active duty as a member of the U S armed services:
• any surviving spouse is entitled to an exemption from taxation of $5,000 of the assessed value of the property the spouse owns and designates;154 and
• each of the individual’s surviving children younger than 18 and unmarried is entitled to an exemption to be computed by dividing $5,000 by the number of eligible children 155 A separate partial exemption is also available for residence homesteads donated to disabled veterans by charitable organizations which extends to surviving spouses who have not remarried 156 The deadline for filing for the partial disabled veteran exemptions is April 30 The residence homestead exemption application includes the donated homes exemption and may be filed up to two years from the delinquency date. The disabled veteran exemption application applies to all property types and may be filed up to five years from the delinquency date.157
Total (Absolute) Exemptions
Partial Exemptions and Total (Absolute) Exemptions should be subtitles under Disabled Veteran or Survivor A disabled veteran who receives 100 percent disability compensation due to a service-connected disability and a rating of 100 per cent disabled or of individual unemployability from the U S Department of Veterans Affairs is entitled to an exemption of the total appraised value of his or her residence home stead 158 Veterans who qualify for the exemption after Jan 1 of a tax year receive an exemption for the applicable portion of that year immediately upon qualifying for the exemption If the property no longer qualifies in a year, the exemption is removed for that portion of the year 159 The 100 percent disabled veteran exemption extends to a surviving spouse who was married to a disabled veteran who qualified or would have qualified for this exemption if it has been in effect at the time of the veteran’s death 160 To be entitled to this exemption, the surviving spouse must not have remarried; the property was the residence home stead of the surviving spouse when the veteran died; and the property remains the residence homestead of the surviving spouse 161
A surviving spouse of a member of the U S armed services killed in action is allowed a total property tax exemption on his or her residence homestead if he or she has not remarried since the death of the armed services member 162 The surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fa tally injured in the line of duty is entitled to a total residence homestead exemption if the surviving spouse is an eligible survivor as determined by the Texas Employees Retirement System under Government Code Chapter 615 and has not remarried since the first responder’s death.163 If a surviving spouse qualifies for one of these exemptions, he or she can take same dollar amount of the tax exemp tion on the former homestead to a subsequently qualified residence homestead The chief appraiser of the county in which the former residence was located must provide to the surviving spouse a written certificate so that the amount of the exemption on the subsequent qualified homestead can be determined 164
Tax Ceiling (Freeze)
An age 65 or older or disabled property owner’s homestead exemption qualifies him or her for a tax ceiling on the school district taxes; that is, the school district taxes on the property owner’s home cannot increase as long as he or she owns and lives in it 165 The ceiling cannot expire if the home is made uninhabitable 166 The tax ceiling is set at the amount paid in the year that the property owner qualified for the age 65 or older or disabled exemption 167 This provision allows for the school district taxes to fall below the ceiling 168 A tax ceiling can be raised if a home is improved unless the improvements are for normal repairs and maintenance or for a home built to replace one made uninhabitable and the replacement structure meets certain criteria 169 For example, if a property owner adds a garage or a room to the existing home, the tax ceiling may be raised It may also change if the property owner moves to another home 170 A tax ceiling does not expire if the property owner transfers the interest in the home to a trust, but still lives in the home 171 If a property owner buys another home in Texas, he or she may transfer the percentage of school tax paid based on the former home’s school tax ceiling to the new home 172 For example, if the property owner currently has a tax ceiling of $100, but would pay $400 in school district taxes without the tax ceiling, the percentage of tax paid is 25 percent If the taxes on the new home are $1,000, the new school tax ceiling would be $250, or 25 percent of $1,000 When a property owner who has been receiving the age 65 or older homestead exemption and tax ceiling dies, the ceiling transfers to the surviving spouse, as long as he or she is age 55 or older and the residence homestead was his or her homestead on the date of the spouse’s death 173 If the age 65 or older property owner dies in the year of his or her 65th birthday, but had not applied for the age 65 or older exemption, the surviving spouse may qualify for the ceiling 174 The exemption remains in effect for as long as the survivor owns and lives in the home 175 If a surviving spouse age 55 or older buys another home, he or she may transfer the percent age of tax paid based on the former home’s tax ceiling to the new home 176
A county, city or junior college district may freeze or limit a property owner’s taxes by adopting a tax ceiling 177 The ceiling goes into effect after the taxing unit adopts the limitation and the property owner qualifies the homestead.178 If a property owner purchases another home in the same county, city or junior college, he or she may transfer the former tax ceiling percentage to the new home.179 A property owner may request a certificate from the appraisal district for the former home to present to the appraisal district for the new home.180 When a homeowner who receives the age 65 or older or disabled homeowner exemption and tax ceiling dies, the tax ceiling offered by a county, city or junior college district transfers to the surviving spouse, if he or she is disabled or age 55 or older at the spouse’s death and the residence homestead was the surviving spouse’s residence on the date of death and remains his or her homestead.181
If land qualifies for agricultural appraisal, it typically lowers a property’s taxable value. The appraised value of qualified agricultural land is based on the land’s capacity to produce agricultural products, including timber, rather than its mar ket value, which often is higher.182 This appraisal method usually results in a lower property value for the land and a reduced property tax bill. Two different provisions of the Texas Constitution address qualifications for agricultural appraisal. Texas Constitution, Article VIII, Section 1-d, defining agricultural use, requires a property owner to show farming or ranching is his or her primary occupation and source of income. Very few property owners qualify under this provision. Nearly all land receiving agricultural appraisal falls under Texas Constitu tion, Article VIII, Section 1-d-1, also known as open-space valuation, as described below. Property owners are required to apply for special agricultural appraisal.183 The deadline for filing an application is be fore May 1, but the chief appraiser may generally extend the filing deadline for good cause.184 If a property owner fails to file a required application on time, the land is ineligible for special agricultural appraisal for that year.185 Exhibit 7 shows the steps that can be taken to file an application for agricultural appraisal
How to File an Application for Agricultural Appraisal
1. Obtain an application form at the local appraisal district office.186
2. Fill it out completely and return it to the appraisal district office after Jan. 1, but no later than April 30.187 Remember that falsifying statements on the application is a criminal offense.188
3. If more time is needed to complete the application form, the property owner may submit a written request to the chief appraiser before the April 30 deadline. The chief appraiser can grant up to 60 extra days if the property owner has a good reason for needing extra time.189
4. If a property owner misses the April 30 deadline, he or she may file a late application any time before the ARB approves the appraisal records,190 usually on or about July 20.191 A property owner is to be charged a penalty for late filing equal to 10 percent of the tax savings obtained through receiving agricultural appraisal for the land.192 After the ARB approves the records, a property owner can no longer apply for agricultural appraisal for that year.193
5. If the chief appraiser requests more information, a property owner has 30 days to reply.194 A property owner may ask for more time not to exceed 15 days but must have a good reason.195 If a property owner does not reply, the application is denied.196
6. If the chief appraiser denies an application for agricultural appraisal, he or she must notify the property owner in writing within five days.197 This notice must explain how the property owner can protest to the ARB and provide a full explanation of the reasons for the denial.198 This notice must be sent by certified mail.199
7. Once a property owner receives an agricultural appraisal, he or she does not have to apply again in succeeding years unless his or her qualifications change or ownership changes.200
8. The chief appraiser may request a new application from time to time, to verify that the property still meets the qualifications for special agricultural appraisal.201 Failure to respond to the chief appraiser’s request may result in a determination that the property is no longer eligible for agricultural appraisal, and a notice to the owner of this determination. Before a chief appraiser may determine a change of use has occurred for an existing agricultural appraisal on property owned by someone age 65 years or older, additional written notice procedures must be followed.202
9. If a property owner becomes the owner of land that was qualified for special appraisal by the previous owner, the new owner must apply in his or her own name. Failure to do so may result in the land being deemed ineligible for the agricultural appraisal. The property owner must notify the appraisal district in writing by April 30 if the land’s eligibility changes.203 Failure to do so may result in imposition of a penalty equal to 10 percent of the difference between taxes imposed under special appraisal and the taxes that should have been imposed.204
Open Space Land Appraisal
Typically, to qualify for open-space appraisal, the land must be currently devoted principally to agricultural use to the degree of intensity generally accepted in the area .205 Agricultural use includes, but is not limited to: • Cultivating the soil, producing crops for human food, animal feed or planting seed or for the production of fibers;
• floriculture (cultivation and management of ornamental and flowering plants), viticulture (cultivation of grapes), and horticulture (cultivation of fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs or other plants);
• Raising or keeping livestock;
• Raising or keeping exotic animals for the production of tangible products having a commercial value;
• Planting cover crops or leaving land idle for participation in a government program or in conjunction with normal crop or livestock rotation procedure;
• Producing or harvesting logs and posts for constructing or repairing fences, pens, barns or other agricultural improvements on adjacent qualified open-space land devoted to a different agricultural use;
• Wildlife management; and
• Raising or keeping bees for pollination or for the production of human food or other commercial products 206 For land to qualify for open-space (1-d-1) agricultural use appraisal, generally it must meet the following eligibility requirements:
1 The property is land which includes all appurtenances (not improvements) 207
2 The land must be currently devoted principally to agricultural use or to wildlife management to the degree of intensity generally accepted in the area 208
3 The land must have been devoted principally to agricultural use or to production of timber or forest products for five of the preceding seven years.209
Land used for wild life management may qualify if previously designated as open-space or timberland except as provided.210
The property owner must file an application on the proper form with the information necessary for the appraisal district to determine the validity of the claim 211 The eligibility of open-space land does not end during temporary cessation of agricultural use, if certain criteria is met, under the following circumstances.
• A drought declared by the governor creates an agricultural necessity to extend the normal time the land remains out of agricultural production
• The owner is deployed or stationed outside of this state as a member of the U S armed services
• The land is appraised primarily on the basis of the production of citrus and is located in a pest management zone and under a certain agreement to destroy, remove or treat all the citrus trees on the land that are or could become infested with pests 212
The eligibility of open-space land does not end when a lessee begins conducting oil and gas operations if the portion of land on which oil and gas operations are not being conducted otherwise continues to qualify 213
Open-Space Land Inside a City
Town Generally, open-space land inside a city or town may not qualify for agricultural appraisal .214 Land located within an incorporated city or town must meet the criteria applicable to open-space land and one of the fol lowing additional criteria
• The city or town must not provide the land with general services comparable to those provided in other parts of the city or town having similar features and population
• The land must have been devoted principally to agricultural use continuously for the preceding five years.
• The land has been devoted principally to agricultural use or to the production of timber or forest products continuously for the preceding five years and the land is used for wildlife management 215
For more information about the special appraisal of agricultural land, including timberland and land used for wildlife management, please consult the following appraisal manuals published by the Comptroller’s office:
• Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land;
• Manual for the Appraisal of Timberland; and
• Guidelines for Qualification of Agricultural Land in Wildlife Management Use The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department publishes Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guidelines for each ecoregion. Change of Land Use If the land has qualified for agricultural appraisal and the property owner changes the land’s use to a non-agricultural purpose, he or she will owe a rollback tax for each of the previous five years in which the land received the lower appraisal.216 The rollback tax is the difference between the taxes paid based on the land’s open-space value and the taxes that would have been paid if the land had been taxed based on its market value (which typically is much higher) 217 In addition, the property owner is charged 7 percent interest for each year from the date on which taxes would have been due 218
Exceptions to the rollback tax for change of use may include the following if they meet certain criteria:
• a sale for right-of-way;219
• a condemnation;220
• land transferred to a state, political subdivision or qualified nonprofit corporation to be used for a public purpose;221
• land transferred from a state, political subdivision or qualified nonprofit corporation to an individual or entity for purposes of economic development;222
• religious organizations;225
• certain charitable organizations;226 and
• schools 227 The chief appraiser determines whether change of use has occurred and must send the property owner a notice of the change by certified mail.228
Additional notice requirements exist if the property is owned by someone age 65 years or older 229
Texas Property Tax
The Comptroller’s office may not advise a property owner, a property owner’s agent or an appraisal district on a matter that the Comptroller’s office knows is the subject of a protest to the ARB 230
A property owner may present objections about the property’s value, exemptions and special appraisal in a hearing to an ARB 231 The ARB is an impartial panel of fellow citizens authorized to resolve certain disputes between the property owner and the appraisal district 232 After listening to the property owner and the chief appraiser, the ARB will make a writ ten determination on the issues heard during the hearing 233
In counties with 120,000 or more population, the local administrative judge appoints the ARB members 234 Otherwise, the appraisal district’s board of directors appoints them 235 These members must be residents of the appraisal district for at least two years to serve 236 Current officers and employees of the appraisal district, taxing units and the Comptroller’s office may not serve.237 In counties with populations of more than 100,000, former directors, officers and employees of the appraisal district cannot serve on an ARB 238 Other specific Tax Code restrictions apply.
ARB members must comply with special state laws on conflict of interest;239 must complete training courses and receive certificates of course completion from the Comptroller’s office;240 and must complete a statement indicating agreement to comply with Tax Code requirements during hearings 241
ARB hearings are open to the public;242 however, a closed hearing is allowed on the joint motion of the property owner and chief appraiser if either intends to disclose proprietary or confidential information at the hearing.243 The ARB must develop hearing procedures and must post these procedures in a prominent place in the room in which hearings are held 244 The chief appraiser must publicize annually the right to and methods for protests before the ARB, in a manner designed to effectively notify all appraisal district residents 245
The usual deadline for filing protests is May 1.246 The filing deadline is postponed until the next business day if the deadline falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal state or national holiday 247 The usual deadline may be postponed under certain circumstances 248 If the appraisal district mails a notice of appraised value, the deadline is 30 days from the delivery date 249 Exhibit 8 gives the steps for filing a protest.
The ARB generally begins hearing protests from property owners after May 1 and must complete most of the hearings by July 20 250 This deadline may be extended to a later date in some larger counties 251 When the ARB finishes its work, the appraisal district gives each taxing unit a list of taxable property, called a certified appraisal roll.252 Many appraisal districts will informally meet with the property owner to discuss the protest to try to resolve any concerns A property owner may wish to contact the appraisal district to see if it offers this service.
Each appraisal district in a county with a population of 500,000 or more or that maintains a website accessible to the public must implement a system that allows certain residence homestead owners to:
• file a notice of protest electronically with the ARB for a value or unequal appraisal protest;253
• receive and review comparable sales data and other evidence that the chief appraiser intends to use at the protest hearing electronically;254
• receive, as applicable, an electronic settlement offer from the appraisal district to correct the appraisal records by changing the market value and, if applicable, the appraised value of the property, or a notice from the appraisal district that a settlement offer will not be made to the property owner;255 and accept or reject a settlement offer electronically 256
This service is not required for properties in areas where the chief appraiser determines that factors affecting market value are unusually complex or to an owner who has designated an agent 257 With the Notice of Appraised Value, the chief appraiser must include information about the electronic system, including instructions for accessing and using it 258
The notice of pro test filed electronically must, at a minimum, include:
• a statement as to whether the protest is brought under Tax Code Sections 41 41(a)(1) or 41 41(a)(2);259
• a statement of the property owner’s good-faith estimate of the value of the property;260 and
• an electronic mail address that the appraisal district may use to communicate electronically with the property owner in connection with the protest 261
If the property owner accepts a settlement offer made by the appraisal district, the chief appraiser must enter the settlement in the appraisal records 262 If the property owner rejects a settlement offer, the ARB is to hear and determine the protest 263 The property owner’s electronic mail address provided to an appraisal district is confidential and may not be disclosed by the appraisal district. 264
Actions Subject to Protest
The ARB can hear protests on any action taken by the appraisal district or chief appraiser that adversely affects a property owner 265 A property owner can protest any of the following:
• the property’s value;266
• the property was appraised unequally;267 • the chief appraiser denied an exemption;268
• the chief appraiser denied a special appraisal, such as an agricultural appraisal for farm or ranch;269
• the chief appraiser determined that the property owner took the land out of agricultural use;270
EXHIBIT 8 How to File a Protest
1. A property owner must file the protest in writing.271 The appraisal district has protest forms available, but a property owner is not required to use one. A notice of protest must identify the owner and the subject property and indicate that the property owner is dissatisfied with a decision made by the appraisal district.272
2. A property owner must file the notice of protest before May 15 or no later than 30 days after the date the appraisal district mailed the notice of appraised value, whichever is later.273 A property owner working offshore on a drilling or production facility or on a boat 274 or a property owner on full-time active duty outside the United States 275 may be entitled to file a late protest.
3. If the chief appraiser sends a property owner a notice that the land is no longer in agricultural use, the property owner must file a protest within 30 days of the date the chief appraiser mailed the notice.276 The chief appraiser sends this notice by certified mail.277
4. If a property owner files an untimely notice of protest before the ARB approves the appraisal records, he or she is entitled to a hearing only if the board decides that the property owner had good reason for failing to meet the deadline.278
5. A property owner may file a late protest because the chief appraiser or ARB failed to mail a required notice. A property owner must pay the taxes due on the portion of the property that is not subject to dispute before the delinquency date to be entitled to this type of hearing.279
6. A property owner is entitled to an ARB hearing solely on the issue of whether one or more taxing units delivered a tax bill in a timely manner if the owner files a late protest on or after the taxes become delinquent, but not later than the 125th day after the owner claims to have first received a tax bill from one or more of the taxing units that taxes the property.280
7. In some cases, a property owner may file with the ARB to correct an error even after these deadlines.281
• the property is being taxed by the wrong taxing units;282
• the appraisal records show an incorrect owner for the property;283
• the property was incorrectly included on the appraisal records;284
• the chief appraiser or ARB failed to send the property owner a notice that the law requires them to send;285 or
• any other action that the appraisal district, chief appraiser or ARB took that applies to and adversely affects the property owner. 286
This protest is typically based on the property owner’s opinion that the appraised value of the property is above the market value or excessive The evidence presented for an over-market valuation protest may be sale prices of comparable properties in the area and other information, such as the condition of the property For example, if the property is appraised at $105,000 and the property owner presents evidence indicating that the market value is $100,000, it is expected that the ARB would lower the appraised value to $100,000 because the $105,000 value is above market and excessive.
An unequal appraisal protest can be broken down into five separate elements or parts If the evidence shows that the following standard has been met, the protest is determined in favor of the appraisal district.
1 The appraised value of the subject property is equal to or less than
2 the median appraised value of
3 a reasonable number of
4 comparable properties that are 5 appropriately adjusted 287
The evidence presented for an unequal appraisal should be based on generally accepted appraisal methods and techniques 288 and focus on three key issues:
1 Is the number of properties selected for the sample reasonable?289
2 Are each of the properties in the sample comparable to the subject property?290
3 Was the value of each comparable property appropriately adjusted by reference to the subject property?291
Denial of Exemptions If the chief appraiser denied the homestead exemption, the property owner should obtain evidence that he or she owned the home on Jan 1 and used it as the principal residence on that date 292 If the chief appraiser denied a homestead
exemption for part of the land around the home, the property owner should show how much land is used as a residence If the chief appraiser denied an age 65 or older or disabled homestead exemption, disabled veteran’s exemption or other exemption, the property owner should read about the qualifications for exemptions and address them specifically in the protest.
If the property owner protests the agricultural value of a farm or ranch, he or she should find out how the appraisal district calculated the property’s value and compare the appraisal district’s information with that of other experts on agriculture, such as the county agricultural extension agent, the U S Department of Agriculture or other recognized agricultural sources The Comptroller’s Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land may be of help on the general appraisal process
Denial or Change of Agricultural Land Use
Find out why the chief appraiser denied the application Agricultural appraisal laws have specific requirements for the property to qualify Provide evidence that the property is eligible for special appraisal based on its principal devotion to agricultural use, as well as the history and intensity of this use 293 If the property owner has taken only part of the land out of agricultural use, he or she may need to show which parts still qualify 294 If the land has been let lie fallow, the property owner should show that the time it has been out of agricultural use is not excessive or is part of a typical crop or livestock rotation process for the county 295
Errors in Appraisal Records
Errors in appraisal records often are simply mistakes The appraisal district may, for example, have failed to change a property’s records, resulting in it showing an incorrect owner The law recognizes both the old and new owners as having an interest in the property’s taxes If a property owner acquired the property after Jan 1, he or she may protest its value if the protest is filed before the deadline. 296
The appraisal records may show the property as located in one school district when it actually is in another A property owner can protest the inclusion of property on the appraisal records if it should be taxed at another location in Texas 297286 Tex Tax Code §41 41(a)(9) 287 Tex Tax Code §41 43(b)(3) 288 Tex Tax Code §23 01(f) 289 Sagemont Plaza v. Harris County Appraisal District,
Failure to Provide Required Notice
A property owner has the right to protest if the chief appraiser or ARB fails to give the property owner any required tax notices.298
A property owner who believes he or she is not receiving all tax notices in a timely manner should contact the appraisal district to ensure that the appraisal district’s records correctly reflect the property owner names for each property and mailing address for all notices. A property owner cannot protest a failure to give notice if the taxes on the property are delinquent.299 Before the delinquency date, the property owner must pay a partial amount, usually the amount of taxes not in dispute.300 A property owner may ask the ARB to be excused from prepaying taxes; to do so, he or she must file an oath attesting to an inability to pay the taxes in question and argue that prepaying them would restrain his or her right to access to the ARB.301 The ARB will hold a hearing and decide the terms or conditions of payment.302
Any Other Adverse Actions Property owners have the right to protest any appraisal district action that applies to and adversely affects them.303 For example, the chief appraiser may claim the property was omitted from the appraisal roll and not taxed in a previous year.304 A property owner can protest only those actions that affect the property.305
The ARB will notify a property owner at least 15 days in advance of the date, time and place of the hearing.306 The property owner may wish to discuss the protest issue with the appraisal district before the hearing if time permits. The property owner may be able to work out a satisfactory resolution with the appraisal district without appearing before the ARB. At least 14 days before a protest hearing, the appraisal district will mail the property owner:
• a copy of the Comptroller’s Property Taxpayer Remedies pamphlet;307
• a copy of the ARB procedures;308 and
• a statement affirming that the property owner may inspect and obtain a copy of the data, schedules, formulas and any
other information the chief appraiser plans to introduce at the hearing.309
This material is usually mailed with the notice of hearing.
Agent for Property Tax Matters
A property owner may represent him or herself in any property tax matter, or appoint an agent to handle specific duties.310 Except in limited circumstances, to appoint an agent the property owner must provide that person with written authorization to represent him or her.311 The property owner must use the Appointment of Agent for Property Tax Matters form and a lessee designated by the property owner may use the Lessee’s Designation of Agent for Property Tax Matters form available from the appraisal district or the Comptroller’s website.312 The property owner must sign the authorization; the agent may not sign the form appointing him or herself. The form is not binding on the appraisal district until the property owner files it.313
The Appointment of Agent for Property Tax Matters form asks a property owner to cite a date upon which the authorization for this person will end.314 If a property owner does not provide an ending date, the agent will continue to represent the property owner until the property owner or the designated agent files a statement ending the appointment or until the property owner appoints a new agent to act in the same capacity for the same property.315 If a property owner has not designated an agent to represent him or her before the ARB, the property owner is entitled to one postponement without showing cause.316 The chairman of the ARB may grant additional postponements if the property owner can show good cause.317 Good cause is defined as a reason that includes an error or mistake that was not intentional or was not the result of conscious indifference and will not cause undue delay or injury to the person authorized to extend the deadline or grant a rescheduling.318 The chief appraiser can also agree to a postponement.319
Correction of Certain Errors
Found After the Protest Filing Deadline In certain situations, the chief appraiser may change the appraisal roll at any time to correct any inaccuracy prescribed by board rule that does not increase the amount of tax liability.320
On motion of the chief appraiser or property owner, the ARB may make the following corrections to the appraisal roll for the current and previous five tax years: • a clerical error made in writing, copying, transcribing or entering data; • multiple appraisals of the same property more than once in the same tax year, sometimes called double taxation;
• inclusion of property that does not exist at the location or in the form described in the appraisal roll; or
• an error in which property is shown as owned by a person who did not own the property on Jan. 1 of that tax year.321
For the current tax year, the ARB may grant a late hearing to correct certain over-appraisals;322 to correct values based on a joint motion made by the property owner and the chief appraiser;323 or to hear the protest if the property owner was not sent a required notice.324 A written motion requesting a late hearing must be filed before the taxes become delinquent on Feb. 1.325 A property owner may file a motion to correct if he or she can show that the appraised value on the property for the cur rent year exceeds the correct appraised value by more than a third.326 To be eligible for a one-third over-appraisal hearing:
• the property owner must not have had a prior ARB hearing and determination on the dispute; and
• the appraised value of the property must not have been established by agreement between the property owner or his or her agent and the appraisal district. 327
If a property owner proves that the value is in error but by less than one-third, the ARB may not order a correction.328 If the ARB orders a correction of at least a one-third error, the property owner will pay a 10 percent penalty for the late filing based on the taxes for the correct value.329 On joint motion of the property owner and chief appraiser, the ARB must correct an error that resulted in an incorrect appraised value for the owner’s property.330
Before an ARB decision on a late hearing can take place, the property owner must pay some amount of current taxes, usually those not in dispute.331 The property owner may ask the ARB to excuse him or her from prepaying taxes by filing an oath attesting to an inability to pay the taxes in question and the ARB will decide, after a hearing, whether the pre
payment would constitute an unreasonable restraint on the right of access to the ARB. 332 If the property owner wins a value reduction in a late ARB hearing, the taxing units will refund the difference between the tax payment and the correct amount of taxes to the property owner who paid the taxes.333
In deciding whether to file a protest, a property owner may want to first consider these questions:
1. What reasons do I have to support the protest?
2. What evidence is available to support the protest?
3. Is the amount of any potential tax savings worth the time, effort and expense of protesting?
The following additional protest recourses can be found on the Comptroller’s website:
• How to Present Your Case at an Appraisal Review Board Hearing – A Homeowners Guide;
• How to Present Your Case at an Appraisal Review Board Hearing – A Guide for Small Businesses;
• Appraisal Review Board Manual; and • Continuing Education Course for Appraisal Review Board Members.
Respect the Process
Many property owners do not choose to be represented by agents or attorneys in protest hearings. While the law requires the hearings to be as informal as possible,334 the ARB must follow written procedures.335 Property owners are entitled to expect hearings to be conducted as described in the procedures.336 A property owner should decide how to appear at the hearing. A property owner or property owner’s agent may appear at a protest hearing in one of three ways: 1. in person; 2. by affidavit, offering evidence or argument by affidavit without appearing in person; or 3. by telephone conference call with argument and evidence offered by affidavit.
A property owner should not contact ARB members outside the hearing. ARB members are prohibited from communicating with the property owner or other persons about a property under protest outside of the hearing 337 Each ARB member must sign an affidavit stating that he or she has not discussed the case with anyone 338 An ARB member who discusses a case outside the hearing must remove him or herself from the hearing 339 An ARB member who communicates on specific evidence, argument, facts or the merits of a protest with the chief appraiser, appraisal district staff, or appraisal district board of directors member outside the hearing commits a Class A misdemeanor 340 A property tax consultant or attorney representing a party to the ARB proceeding, chief appraiser, appraisal district staff or a member of the board of directors commits a Class A misdemeanor if they communicate with an ARB member with the intent to influence a decision 341
A property owner should be on time and prepared for the hearing.
Common courtesy dictates that a property owner should be on time for an appointment ARBs often hear hundreds or thousands of protests They have to be fair to everyone and strive to provide every protester an appropriate amount of time to make a presentation 342 To hear every protest, the ARB may place a time limit on hearings 343 A property owner should stick to the facts of the presentation. The ARB has no control over the appraisal district’s operations or budget, tax rates, inflation or local politics; addressing these topics in a presentation wastes time and will not help a property owner’s case The property owner should focus on the details of the property appraisal or other pro tested concern
A property owner should present a simple and well organized protest.
A property owner should stress key facts related to the pro test, writing them down in logical order and giving copies to each ARB member A property owner is required to give either a written or electronic copy of his or her evidence to the appraisal district staff at or before the hearing 344 Photographs and other documents are useful evidence.
The property owner should practice his or her presentation beforehand to improve the delivery.
The property owner should recognize that the ARB acts as an independent judge. The ARB must listen to the property owner and the chief appraiser before making a decision; it is not a case of the property owner against the chief appraiser and the ARB All testimony at an ARB hearing must be given under oath 345
In value and unequal appraisal protests, the chief appraiser has the burden of proving the property’s value by a preponderance of the evidence presented at the ARB hearing 346 If the chief appraiser fails to meet this burden of proof, the ARB must decide in the property owner’s favor 347
The law provides for a different burden of proof when a property under protest has a market or appraised value of $1 million or less 348 If the property owner submits to the appraisal district a properly conducted, recently completed and certified appraisal of property value made by a licensed appraiser at least 14 days before the hearing, the appraisal district has the burden of establishing the value of the prop erty by clear and convincing evidence 349 If the appraisal district fails to do so, the ARB is required to rule in favor of the property owner 350 To be valid, the property owner’s appraisal must meet specific statutory requirements.351
The appraisal district also has a burden of establishing the value of property by clear and convincing evidence present ed at a hearing concerning value or unequal appraisal 352 if: • the appraised value of the property was lowered in the previous year by the ARB, an arbitrator or a district court;353 • the appraised value of the property in the preceding year was not determined by a written agreement of the parties;354 and • not later than 14 days before the protest hearing, the property owner files with the ARB and delivers to the chief appraiser (1) information, such as income and expense statements or information regarding comparable sales, which is sufficient to allow for a determination of the appraised or market value of the property if the protest is authorized under Tax Code Section 41 41(a)(1); or (2) in
formation that is sufficient to allow for a determination of whether the property was appraised unequally if the protest is authorized under Tax Code Section 41 41(a)(2) 355 A property owner should make sure that the property’s description is correct Are the measurements for the home or business and lot accurate? The property owner should pull together blueprints, deed records, photographs, a survey or his or her own measurements to contest the appraiser’s decision Does the appraisal district’s survey show all of the home’s defects, such as a cracked foundation or inadequate plumbing? The property owner should take photographs, statements from builders or independent appraisals to the hearing If a property owner wants to show that a property was not treated equally, he or she should ask the appraisal district for appraisal records on similar properties in the area to try to determine whether there is a significant difference in their values Once the property owner has the records of similar property values, appropriate adjustments must be made for issues such as size, location and condition If a property owner wants to show that a property was appraised excessively, he or she should collect evidence on recent sales of similar properties from neighbors or real estate professionals A property owner should ask the appraisal district for the sales that it used A property owner should consider using an independent appraisal by a real estate appraiser A property owner’s insurance records also may be helpful If a property owner decides to use sales information to sup port a protest, he or she should: • obtain documents or sworn statements from the person providing the sales information; • use sales of properties similar in size, age, location and type of construction; • use recent sales — those occurring as close to Jan 1 as possible are the best to compare to the property;356 and • provide photographs of the properties that sold.
Appealing an ARB Order
Once the ARB rules on the protest, it will send the property owner a written order by certified mail.357 If the property owner is dissatisfied with the ARB’s findings, he or she has the right to file an appeal with the district court in the county in which the property is located,358 or, in certain instances,
request binding arbitration 359 or appeal to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) 360
District Court A property owner is entitled to appeal an order of the ARB to district court 361 To exercise this right, the property owner must file a petition for review with the district court within 60 days after receiving notice that a final order has been entered, or at any time after the hearing but before the 60-day deadline 362 If the property owner is appealing the ARB’s de termination of a motion to correct the appraisal roll, he or she must file suit to compel the appraisal renew board to order a change in the appraisal roll within 60 days after receiving notice of the ARB’s determination 363 Failure to file a petition within this period bars any appeal to district court 364 The property owner is required to make a partial payment of taxes, usually the amount of taxes not in dispute, before the delinquency date 365 The property owner may ask the district court to be excused from prepaying taxes; to do so, he or she must file an oath attesting to an inability to pay the taxes in question and argue that prepaying them would restrain the property owner’s right to go to court on the protest 366 The district court will hold a hearing and decide the terms or conditions of payment 367 An appeal to district court means the property owner is en titled to trial by jury, but the property owner may request a bench trial At a bench trial, the trial judge hears and decides all fact and legal issues in the case without a jury 368
Binding Arbitration As an alternative to appealing an ARB determination to district court, the property owner may appeal through binding arbitration 369 Binding arbitration is available for market or appraised value determinations by ARBs 370 Unequal appraisal determinations also may be the subject of a request for binding arbitration 371 Binding arbitration is available only if the property is: • a residence homestead, regardless of value;372 or • a property with an appraised value of $5 million or less 373
As with filing a suit in district court, if the property owner requests binding arbitration he or she must pay taxes that are not in dispute before the delinquency date 374 To appeal an ARB order to binding arbitration, the property owner must file with the appraisal district not later than the 45th day after receiving notice of the order 375 To apply for binding arbitration, the property owner must complete the request form prepared by the Comptroller’s office 376 and submit a required deposit ranging from $450 to $1,550 based on the property type and value 377 The property owner must make the deposit in the form of a money order or cashier’s check, payable to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts 378 Although the deposit is made payable to the Comptroller’s office, the property owner must file it, along with the application, in the appraisal district in which the ARB order was issued 379 The appraisal district will complete the application and forward the request and deposit to the Comptroller’s office.380 After receiving a property owner’s request from the appraisal district, the Comptroller’s office will appoint an eligible arbitrator who is listed in the Comptroller’s registry 381 The appointed arbitrator will arrange for an arbitration hearing 382 Not later than 20 days after the hearing, the arbitrator will issue an award that includes a determination of the property’s appraised or market value, as appropriate 383 The arbitrator’s award is final and may not be appealed except in certain instances 384
If the arbitrator’s decision is closer to the property owner’s opinion of value stated in the request for arbitration, the appraisal district will pay the arbitrator’s fee and the Comptroller’s office will refund the property owner’s deposit, less $50 that the law provides that the Comptroller’s office retain.385 If the arbitrator’s decision is closer to the value determined by the ARB, or equal to half of the difference between the property owner’s value and the ARB’s value, the arbitrator’s fee will be paid from the property owner’s deposit 386 Any deposited amount remaining after the arbitrator’s fee and the Comptroller’s $50 has been paid, will be refunded to the property owner 387
State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH)
Property owners also may appeal ARB determinations of property with value that exceeds $1 million to SOAH 388 The decisions of SOAH administrative law judges are final and may not be appealed 389 Certain properties are not subject to SOAH review (i e , industrial property) 390 To appeal an ARB order to SOAH, the property owner must file with the chief appraiser of the appraisal district, not later than the 30th day after the date the property owner receives notice of the order, a completed notice of appeal to SOAH in the form prescribed 391 The property owner must file a $1,500 deposit not later than the 90th day after the date the he or she receives notice of the order 392 The chief administrative law judge prescribes the form of notice of appeal 393 The form must require that the property owner provide a copy of the ARB’s order; a brief statement explaining the basis for the appeal; and a statement of his or her opinion of the appraised or market value, as applicable, of the property 394 As soon as practicable after receiving of a notice of appeal, a chief appraiser must indicate, where appropriate, those entries in the records that are subject to the appeal; submit the notice of appeal and filing fee to SOAH; and request the appointment of a qualified administrative law judge to hear the appeal 395.
Texas Property Tax
Once the ARB approves the appraisal records, the chief appraiser prepares an appraisal roll for each taxing unit 396 An appraisal roll lists all the taxable property within the taxing unit’s boundaries 397 At this point in the property tax system, the appraisal district’s job is finished. It has, at least in theory, provided a set of equal and uniform property values for the use of all local taxing units 398 The governing body of each taxing unit adopts tax rates annually, generally in August or September 399 Taxing units for a taxable property always include a county and school district, but a property owner also may pay taxes to a city or to special purpose districts such as hospital, junior college or water districts The tax roll is created when tax rates are applied to taxable values 400
Generally, after receiving the appraisal roll, each governing body must decide what services the taxing unit will provide in the coming year and determine how much money it will need to do so Determining the Tax Rat
As a taxpayer, it is important for a property owner to under stand how government spending affects the size of a tax bill Changes in property values may affect a tax bill, but do not necessarily increase or decrease the total amount of taxes paid to a taxing unit; that is determined by the taxing unit’s budget Total taxes collected increase only when government spend ing increases, but Texas law gives taxpayers a voice in decisions affecting property tax rates A taxing unit must identify its needs and prepare a budget to meet them To assist counties, cities and school districts in this process, the chief appraiser prepares and certifies an estimate of the taxable value of property within that taxing unit to the tax assessor by April 30 401
Based on current year’s values, a taxing unit then must decide how much property tax revenue is necessary to fund that budget and what tax rate is
needed to produce that amount It also must determine the tax revenue it will need to pay its long-term debt Cities, counties and school districts must hold a public hearing on the proposed budget and publicize the date, time and location 402 The proposed budget must be made available for inspection and posted on the city, county or school district website if one is maintained 403 Adoption of a county budget, in most cases, and a city budget that will require raising more revenue from property taxes than in the previous year, requires a separate vote to ratify the property tax increase reflected in the budget.404 The vote to adopt a county or city budget must be a record vote and the adopted budget must be posted on the city or county website if one is maintained 405
Calculating Tax Rate
Beginning in early August, most taxing units take the first step toward adopting a tax rate by calculating and publishing the effective and rollback tax rates 406 In certain cases, school districts may choose to adopt a tax rate before the adoption of a budget 407 The chief appraiser of its appraisal district must have certified to the school district’s tax assessor an estimate of the school district’s taxable property value 408 The effective tax rate is the rate the taxing unit needs to generate about the same amount of revenue it received in the year before on properties taxed in both years 409 If property values rise, the effective tax rate will go down and vice versa 410 The actual tax rate depends on the budget adopted by the governing body The rollback rate would provide cities, counties and special purpose districts with about the same amount of tax levied in the previous year for day-to-day operations, plus an extra
8 percent increase for operating expenses and sufficient revenue to pay its debts in the coming year 411 The rollback rate for school districts is tied to school funding calculations plus the debt tax rate 412 Many taxing units must publish their effective and roll back rates in a local newspaper or on their websites 413 If a property owner believes that a taxing unit did not calculate and publish these rates or other required information in good faith, he or she may ask the district court to stop the taxing unit from adopting a tax rate until it complies with the law 414 Cities and counties are required to publish their proposed tax rates and notice of hearing, if required, as a quarter-page notice in a local newspaper or by mailing notice to each taxpayer no later than Sept 1 or 30 days after receiving each certified appraisal roll.415 School districts, small taxing units, water districts and other taxing units have other specific notice requirements than cities and counties 416
Generally, if a taxing unit wants to increase its property tax rate above the lower of either the effective rate or rollback rate, it must publish a quarter-page notice in a local newspaper or mail notice to each taxpayer to alert them of special hearings 417 The public hearings allow taxpayers to voice opinions about the proposed tax increase and ask questions of the governing body 418 Before the hearing’s end, the governing body must set a date, time and place for the tax rate’s formal adoption 419 The taxing unit then must publish another quarter-page ad announcing the meeting to adopt the tax rate 420 If a taxpayer believes that a taxing unit failed to comply with tax rate adoption laws in good faith, he or she can ask a district court for an injunction to stop tax collections until the taxing unit complies with the law 421 The taxpayer must do this before the tax collector has mailed a large portion of the tax bills 422
Limiting a Tax Increase
If a taxing unit adopts a tax rate higher than the rollback rate, taxpayers may petition for an election to reduce the tax
rate to the rollback rate 423 If a school district adopts a tax rate above the rollback rate, taxpayers do not have to petition for an election because the law requires the school district to automatically hold an election to ratify the adopted rate 424 A rollback election is not required in a school district if the tax rate increase is intended to pay for responses to a natural disaster 425 A petition calling for the taxing unit to hold a tax rate roll back election must: • state that it is intended to require an election in the taxing unit on the question of reducing the tax rate for the current year;426 • be signed by at least 7 or 10 percent of the registered voters in the taxing unit, depending on whether the adopted tax rate raises more or less than $5 million for maintenance and operations taxes;427 and • be presented to the taxing unit’s governing body within 90 days after it adopts the tax rate 428 Once the taxing unit’s governing body receives a petition and finds that it is valid (or fails to act within the time allowed), it must order an election to be held on a date not less than 30 nor more than 90 days after the last day on which it could have acted to approve or disapprove the petition 429 If a majority votes in favor of the tax rollback, the tax rate is reduced to the rollback rate immediately 430 For school districts, if a majority votes against ratifying a school district’s adopted tax rate, the school district’s trustees must adopt a rate not exceeding the rollback rate 431
Tax Bills, Receipts and Other Records
The tax assessor must mail tax bills to both the property owner and his or her designated agent, if one is authorized 432 If a property owner’s mortgage company pays property taxes on a home out of an escrow account, the property owner should make sure the taxing units send original tax bills to the mortgage company so that it receives the tax bill A property owner may want to request a receipt from the tax office to verify that the mortgage company paid these taxes on time 433 The tax collector must give the taxpayer a receipt for the tax payment if he or she requests one 434
A property owner must pay taxes on the property owned on Jan 1 of the tax year 435 Dealers and retailers of certain special inventories must submit a monthly inventory tax statement to the assessor-collector 436 If the business owner is a motor vehicle, vessel and outboard motor or heavy equipment dealer or a manufactured housing retailer, he or she should check with the appraisal district or tax office for details on how to report property and pay taxes on inventory
If a property owner goes out of business after the first of the year, he or she is still liable for taxes on property owned on Jan 1 437 A property owner is not relieved of this liability be cause he or she no longer owns the property 438 If a property owner conducts a going-out-of-business sale, he or she must request a going-out-of-business permit from the appraisal district 439 A business owner should check with the appraisal district for more details The tax bill may include taxes for more than one taxing unit if taxing units have combined their collection operations 440
Texas Property Tax
Tax collections begin around Oct 1 441 A property owner typically has until Jan 31 of the following year to pay the taxes 442 On Feb 1, penalty and interest charges begin accumulating on most unpaid tax bills 443 If Feb 1 is drawing near and no bill has been received, a taxpayer should contact the local tax office to find out how much tax is owed and make sure the correct name and address are on record Under certain circumstances, taxing units may impose additional penalties for legal costs on unpaid taxes 444 Before a person buys a home, it is a good idea to obtain a tax certificate for the home from all jurisdictions that tax it. The tax certificate will show whether delinquent taxes are owed on the property 445
Tax Payment Deadlines
If the tax bill is mailed after Jan 10, the delinquency date is postponed to the first day of the next month that allows at least 21 days to pay after original bill is mailed 446 The delinquency date must be printed on the bill 447 Most property owners pay their property taxes before year’s end so they can deduct the payments from their federal income taxes If a property owner is appealing an ARB order to district court, he or she must pay the amount not in dispute; the amount due based on the ARB order; or the amount of taxes imposed on the property in the preceding year 448 If a property owner’s taxes are subject to the split-payment option, he or she may pay one-half of the required tax before Dec 1 and the remaining half of that amount before July 1 of the following year 449 The appeal must be accompanied by a statement in writing of the amount of taxes not in dispute the property owner proposed to pay 450 A property owner may pay an additional amount of taxes at any time without forfeiting his or her right to a final determination of the appeal.451 If a property owner is appealing an ARB order to binding arbitration, he or she must pay the tax amount not in dispute 452
A property owner may make a payment under protest by indicating so on the instrument of payment or a document accompanying the payment 453
Check with the tax collection office on local payment options that may be available, such as tax deferrals, discounts, escrow accounts, installments and split payments
Property Tax Deferrals
A property owner may defer homestead taxes for value exceeding 105 percent of the home’s appraised value, plus any new improvements, from the preceding tax year 454 The property owner must file a deferral application with the appraisal district before the taxes become delinquent 455 and pay the taxes based on 105 percent of the home’s value 456 While any taxpayer can defer payments on value that exceeds 105 percent, a homeowner age 65 or older or disabled or an individual qualified for a Tax Code Section 11.22 disabled veteran exemption may defer or postpone paying any property taxes on the full taxable value of the home for as long as he or she owns and lives in it 457 To postpone tax payments, the taxpayer must file a tax deferral affidavit with the appraisal district. 458A tax deferral only postpones the tax liability 459 It does not cancel it 460 Interest on the amount due accrues at the rate of 5 percent a year 461 Past taxes and interest become due 181 days after the property owner or qualified surviving spouse no longer owns or lives in the home that qualified as a homestead.462 Any penalty and interest that was due on the tax bill for the home before the tax deferral will remain on the property and become due when the deferral ends
A property owner may abate a delinquent tax lawsuit by filing this affidavit with the court.464 A property owner may stop a pending tax sale by filing the affidavit with the officer conducting the sale and the appraisal district, taxing unit or taxing unit’s delinquent tax attorney.465
Some taxpayers can pay homestead taxes in installments.466 If a person qualifies for a residence homestead exemption because he or she is disabled, age 65 or older, a disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran, the property owner may pay the current taxes on the home in four installments.467 This installment option is also available to partially disabled veterans and their unmarried surviving spouses with homes donated by charitable organizations.468
Homeowners and some small businesses whose property is damaged in a disaster and located in a designated disaster area also may pay their taxes in four installments.469 A property owner may pay taxes imposed on property in four equal installments without penalty or interest if the first installment payment is paid before the Feb. 1 delinquency date and the remaining three payments before April 1, June 1 and Aug. 1.470 If the delinquency date is not Feb. 1, other installment deadlines apply.471 Installment payments apply to all taxing units on the tax bill.472 The property owner must give written notice with his or her first payment that the property owner is paying the taxes in installments.473 A property owner may make the first installment and request the installment agreement prior to the first day of the first month after the delinquency date, but the owner will be penalized for the delinquency of the first installment.474 If a property owner misses an installment payment, he or she will receive a 6 percent penalty and pay interest at 1 percent per month for each month of delinquency.475
Other Payment Options
Check with the tax collector on payment options that may be available on a local option basis, such as: • discounts, if taxes are paid early;476 • split payment of taxes, allowing the property owner to pay half the taxes by Nov. 30 and the remainder by June 30 without a penalty;477 • partial payment of the taxes;478 • escrow agreements for a special year-round account;479 and • work contracts, in lieu of paying taxes, for certain tax payers doing certain duties.480
A tax collector is only required to enter into an escrow agreement when one is requested by: • a disabled veteran or a recipient of the Purple Heart, Congressional Medal of Honor, Bronze Star Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit or a service cross awarded by a branch of the United States armed forces for payment of property taxes on the property owner’s residence homestead;481 or • a manufactured home owner for payment of property taxes on the property owner’s manufactured home.482
Failure to Pay Taxes
The longer a taxpayer allows delinquent property taxes to go unpaid, the more expensive it becomes, as penalty and inter est charges will be added to the taxes due.483 The property also may be foreclosed or seized.484
Penalty and interest charge accrue.
Regular penalty charges may be as high as 12 percent depending on how long the taxes remain unpaid.485 Interest is charged at the rate of 1 percent per month with no maximum.486 Private attorneys hired by taxing units to collect delinquent accounts can charge an additional 20 percent penalty.487 Some tax collectors allow property owners to pay delinquent taxes in installments for up to 36 months.488 They are not required to offer this option, except for a residence homestead.489 Before signing an installment agreement, the property owner should know that the law considers his or her signature an irrevocable admission that the property owner owes all the taxes covered by the agreement 490
Taxpayer can be sued.
The tax collector’s last resort is to take a property owner to court if he or she is delinquent in paying taxes Court costs and other expenses will be added to the delinquent tax bill 491 If a taxpayer owns taxable property on Jan 1, he or she is liable for all taxes due on the property for that year 492 The property owner can be sued for delinquent taxes even if the property has since been sold or transferred 493
Property may be sold.
Each taxing unit holds a tax lien on each of a property owner’s taxable properties 494 A tax lien automatically attaches to the property on Jan 1 each year to secure payment of all taxes 495 This tax lien gives the courts the power to foreclose on the lien and seize a property owner’s property, even if he or she did not own the home on Jan 1 496 The property then will be auctioned and the proceeds used to pay the past due taxes 4]