Tax assessors have been entering personal residences in some communities
Two Michigan lawmakers have introduced bills to limit access to people's houses by local tax assessors.
Complaints surfaced earlier this year when a group of homeowners in Davison Township contacted the Mackinac Center for Public Policy about letters from the local tax assessor requesting to come inside personal residences. Homeowners who declined saw their assessments go up based on improvements their neighbors made in their houses, which resulted in higher property taxes. Other homeowners agreed to the inspections because they thought they were legally required to do so.
State Representative Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, introduced House Bill 5172, which demands that assessors, "shall not enter any structure, dwelling unit, or other improvement … without written permission of the owner." The bill has not yet been assigned to committee.
The bill also prohibits assessors from increasing assessed value if denied entry. Rep. Geneski said he was prompted to draft the bill after viewing a video (see below) produced by the Mackinac Center on the practices in Davison.
"There are people who also said 'yes' when they were told if you like your health care plan you can keep it," Rep. Genetski said. "Hopefully people are learning more and more that you can't trust government and it's not a bad idea to ask questions."
The Davison Township assessor began requesting interior inspections after receiving a 2010 memo to assessors from the Michigan State Tax Commission. The memo encouraged local tax departments to annually inspect a minimum of 20 percent of parcels each year.
The Davison Township Assessor read that to mean going inside homes.
When asked about the memo, Michigan State Tax Commission Executive Director Kelli Sobel said it should be a goal "to get inside every house" to ensure an accurate assessment. Local assessors say they risk state audits if they fail to accurately assess property.
It is not clear how many municipalities are conducting interior inspections. The Michigan State Tax Commission said it does not keep track. Davison Township ended the inspections after homeowners flooded a Township Board meeting and complained.
Conducting interior inspections requires extra staff. One municipality, Meridian Township says it hires part-time college students to take on the extra load.
In response to that, State Representative Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, introduced a companion bill, which mandates changes in the state assessor's manual. It also has yet to be assigned to committee.
House Bill 5173 would change the state tax assessor's manual to spell out who such "agents" are and what their relationship is to the assessor. The bill also would require the manual to state that permission for entry must be granted solely by the property owner, must be kept on file, and is granted for one time only. The manual would also be edited to state that no interior pictures of the property are to be taken and that denial of entry should not be penalized in any way, including an increase in assessment.
"People can obviously let anyone they want into their homes, but when government is involved, we need to be crystal clear on knowing who would be coming into the home, what they would be doing there, and that the homeowner knows 100 percent that they can say 'no' without penalty of any kind," Rep. Shirkey said.
Here is a video about the Davison assessments: