Davison Township residents said inspections violated Fourth Amendment rights
DAVISON TOWNSHIP — At a standing-room only meeting, the Davison Township Board voted Monday to suspend interior home and property inspections for tax assessment purposes.
About 100 property owners attended the meeting in Genesee County to complain about the practice, which started two years ago by the Township’s Tax Assessment Department.
The tax assessment department had sent letters to property owners saying it had a legal obligation to the Michigan State Treasury to provide accurate assessments, and said in the letters that to do that it needed to go inside every home and property in the township.
But property owners have been outraged. Several who refused the interior inspections said they saw their assessments go up and had to go through a lengthy process to challenge them.
"What is it going to take to get this stopped? My Fourth Amendment right is being violated," said Paul Lukasavitz, a Davison homeowner. "We are being coerced into allowing you into our homes. What's it going to take?"
Davison Township Assessor Kim Nickerson said at the meeting that state law required her to make a tax assessment that is 90 percent accurate.
"The only way we can do that is by getting your permission to enter the home, take your measurements and do calculations," she said. "If you deny entry, you are really standing in the way of me doing my job."
Her statements angered many.
Davison, like many municipalities, has seen its taxable value shrink 25 percent from its peak in 2008. Increasing taxable value on assessments could mean more revenue.
Nickerson told the crowd the only reason interior inspections were not done in the past was because the township did not have the staff to do them.
John McLaughlin denied inspectors access to inside his house.
"I'm a former military member. I signed up to protect the Constitution and I know this is a violation of my Fourth Amendment right," he said.
He said that despite not doing any improvements in his house in the three years he has owned it, his summer property taxes went up $40. He said he plans to appeal.
Another resident, Dick Risch, told the board he didn't trust assessors coming into his home because he said they've made mistakes on his assessments in the past.
"I know what is going to happen," he said. "They're going to say you have this ceramic tile on the front porch. That's not on the record and you've got tile in your bathroom and that's not on the record, and the problem I've got with this…if there were some fairness and some way to negotiate I might be able to swallow it, but they take a hard nose on this and it's their way and that's the only way it will be."
Nickerson said her goal was to do an interior inspection of every taxable property every five years. She told the board she tried sending questionnaires with current tax information.
"I heard everything that wasn't there, but heard nothing about what was there and when we went out, we picked up a whole bunch of sheds, decks and pole barns," she said.
She said last year the township did interior inspections on 792 properties. More than half had changes that resulted in higher assessed values. Of the 412 who refused entry, 13 contested the result.
The board was not persuaded by Nickerson's comments. It voted to suspend the inspections until a committee of seven, including three members from the public, the Township Supervisor, a Board Member, the Treasurer and Township Attorney meet to decide a practice that would abide by the law and protect privacy.
(Editor's note: This story has been edited since its original posting. Comments from residents and city officials have been added.)