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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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