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COA affirms judgment in property-tax dispute

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The Indiana Court of Appeals released an opinion today dealing with a topic that gives many homeowners headaches - property taxes. The appellate court held as a matter of law regardless of when the assessment of the real property was actually completed and the tax statements issued, the March 1 statutory assessment date controls the operation and effect of a tax provision in a real-estate purchase agreement.

In Van Prooyen Builders Inc. v. Earl L. Lambert Jr. and Mildred Lambert, No. 45A04-0811-CV-662, Van Prooyen Builders appealed the trial court's monetary judgment in favor of the Lamberts for real-property taxes owed under their real-estate purchase agreement, in which the Lamberts closed on their home July 6, 2006. The tax provision of the agreement specified who would be responsible for what taxes and stated all real-estate taxes assessed against the property after closing shall be paid by the buyer, regardless of any reassessment.

The parties disputed whether, because of the "late" assessment of real property in Lake County, their agreement required the proration of 2006 taxes payable in 2007. At the time of the closing, the county hadn't assessed the property for 2006 taxes, and the Lamberts didn't receive credit for any part of those taxes.

They sought more than $1,500 from Van Prooyen or the property's tax liability prorated from Jan. 1 to July 5, 2006. The trial judge ruled in favor of the Lamberts, finding the tax provision in the agreement was contrary to public policy and void.

The Court of Appeals noted that many counties have experienced delays in the implementation of the new trending assessment system, which has caused uncertainty and inconveniences in the payment of their real estate taxes. Based on Indiana statute, March 1 of each year the state acquires a lien against taxable real property, even if the tax amount is unknown, wrote Judge Edward Najam.

But the fact the lien amount is unknown on the date of closing doesn't abrogate the statute and doesn't preclude the parties from contracting to allocate responsibility for the unknown tax liability between the buyer and seller, he wrote.

Even though Van Prooyen was personally liable for the 2006 taxes payable in 2007, the statute also allows for agreement to other terms in a contract, which is what the parties attempted to do within the tax provision.

The first two sentences of the tax provision are unambiguous; however, the last portion dealing with all real-estate taxes assessed after closing shall be paid by the buyer disregards the statutory definition of "assessment date" and conflicts with the two previous statements in the provision, wrote the judge. Because the parties didn't define "assessment date" in the agreement to mean the actual assessment date, the only date of relevance is the date provided in statute.

The tax provision's last sentence means the Lamberts would be responsible for satisfying any tax liens against the property that attached after they acquired the title, Judge Najam wrote in affirming the trial court judgment.

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  1. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

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  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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