The following is from State Rep. Mike Shirkey of Clark Lake:
A package of bills sponsored in part by State Rep. Mike Shirkey was heard in the House Committee on Tax Policy today.
The bills deal with an increasing trend by some property tax assessors to want to go inside people’s homes, especially on a more routine basis than has occurred historically.
“Most people have never had an assessor come out to a home they have lived in for a long time and ask to come inside,” said Shirkey. “That is routinely done with new construction and in cases where permits are pulled, but some communities are now starting to see large scale efforts take place to try to gain interior access for all homes on a much more frequent basis. Some homeowners are not aware that they can say ‘no’ to letting someone inside their home, or are afraid that if they say no that their taxes will automatically be increased. I view people’s homes as their castles, so we need to address this.”
Shirkey said the vast majority of assessors do a good job of informing people of their rights and aren’t looking to punitively increase people’s taxes just for saying no to an interior home assessment. Still, Shirkey heard several troubling statements during today’s committee meeting.
“I hear the word ‘assumption’ being used more than I think the law calls for,” said Shirkey. “The law of course requires assessors to use judgment, but today I heard from both fellow legislators and some assessors that we should be able to ‘assume’ some amenity exists inside a person’s home just because that same amenity exists in most of their neighbor’s homes, and then increase taxes accordingly. Just because ten people on a block have recently finished off their basements does not mean someone should then have to choose between their taxes automatically going up or having to let someone into their home to disprove they haven’t done the same thing. Additions made to property record cards should not be made based on assumptions.”
Shirkey said it was also important that assessors have homeowners sign a form in some manner that grants the assessor permission to go inside a home. Ideally the form could also be used as an education tool for homeowners, who may not know they have the right to say ‘no’ or may not know who it is they are letting come into their home or exactly what they will be doing once inside.
“As some communities look to do more interior inspections, they are for example using part time college students in the assessment process,” said Shirkey. “I’m a trusting person by nature, but people have jewelry boxes and gun safes in plain view, they want to know who is coming into their homes and what their rights are regarding full access or interior pictures. Many assessors do notification mailings, but as I heard yesterday those mailings don’t always say that a person can say ‘no’, and there can be an unintended governmental intimidation factor at the door. I think an assessor having a form to sign on their clipboard when they knock that explains these rights is a good idea for homeowners, but also helps to protect assessors so that they know their agents are doing the job in the manner they instruct them to.”
Shirkey said he has talked to many assessors and to the State Tax Commission to make sure a proper balance is struck.
“This notion of whether it is appropriate to simply assume what is inside people’s homes is going to be a vigorous debate, and ultimately we believe current law, court cases, and guidelines will support the proposed legislation and be part of an exercise in clarification and education,” said Shirkey. “The State Tax Commission is very clear that it feels consistent guidelines are important to help advise assessors, and is equally frustrated when they find out about instances where the best practices they have created are not being followed. They do frequent educational programming and their guidelines clearly state assessors are not allowed to look inside people’s windows or use guesswork as part of the assessment process. The Commission has also indicated they are looking to update manuals, and they’ve been great in providing suggestions on how to improve the bill and in discussing alternative courses of action that ensures fairness for both taxpayers and assessors.”
Shirkey said he anticipates another hearing on the bills in the near future.