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Property tax protests soar during COVID-19 pandemic

Appraisals were done in January, per state law, weeks before the coronavirus hit the real estate market.

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing out huge numbers of property tax protests from homeowners hoping to ease the pain.

It’s also prompted a local judge to call on the Texas governor for relief.

Nearly three in four Harris County properties have higher values in 2020 during an economic lowest of lows. The Harris County Appraisal District said protests are currently up 47%, with 97,534 more filings than this this time last year.

“I have not seen protests jump at this level,” said Harris County Chief Appraiser Roland Altinger, who has been with the agency for 32 years. “I think a lot of the protests were emotional because they saw that their values were going up but they also associated the pandemic with values that should be going down.”

But that isn’t how Texas law works. The state tax code requires property values be appraised on Jan. 1. That was during a robust real estate market before COVID-19 came barreling though.

“And now they’re being hit with a shocking new tax assessment,” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry. “We’re getting more emails and phone calls about this than we are mosquitoes, and that’s telling you something.”

Henry said he experienced the tax bill pain personally; he owns a property that went in up value by 468%.

With small businesses shuttered and record unemployment levels, Henry wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott requesting the state freeze appraisals at 2019 values because of economic circumstances driven by the pandemic.

Henry argued the Texas law allows such a suspension if it’s “reasonably necessary to cope with a disaster.

In Fort Bend County, Chief Appraiser Jordan Wise said protests are up 15% from this time last year.

County commissioners approved a resolution imploring the state “to take all necessary action to provide any and all tax relief” to businesses and homeowners. The action calls for a special legislative session to consider mandating reappraisals and revaluations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, Abbott has publicly said there will be no freezing of property values.

“I’m definitely trying and I’ll continue to try,” Henry said. “The message is: contact your state representatives and state senators.”

At the very least, tax appraisers said property values and taxes are likely to go down next year because of the weak real estate market now.

Tomorrow is the deadline to protest in Harris and Fort Bend counties. HCAD is strongly encouraging everyone to file electronically.

The deadline is May 26 for Galveston County.

Because of COVID, Harris Couny Chief Appraiser Altinger said the agency is trying to do all hearings virtually rather than in person.

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