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Tax clinic brings relief to homeowners fighting high assessments

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For Sandra Jones, the higher-than-expected property tax bill meant the projects she had planned to turn her house into a home would have to wait.

 

tax-help-15col.jpg Pro bono tax assistance helped homeowner Sandra Jones to get her home reassessed. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The window would remain broken and the small leak under the bathroom sink would continue to drip because more money than she had budgeted for would be going to cover the bigger house payment.

Jones is among the many Hoosier homeowners who are surprised every year by their property assessments. They can file an appeal with the county assessor’s office to get what they believe is a tax bill more appropriate for the value of the home but the process can take a long time to get a response.

At Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, the attorneys suspected there was a gap in pro bono tax help for owners of homes valued at $150,000 or less. They were looking for a volunteer opportunity so they organized the first ever Homeowner Property Tax Clinic.

For two hours on a January evening, they offered their services to Marion County homeowners. They were set up in two rooms of the Legacy Center and helped about 22 individuals.
 

auberry Auberry
ferber Ferber

Brent Auberry, partner at FBD, was the lead attorney on the effort. Judy Ferber, paralegal, organized the evening, modeling it on the Ask-a-Lawyer events.

Initially the FBD organizers did not know how many people would come but soon the three tables of attorneys meeting with clients were expanded to four.

“I had a feeling like a little energy, a little buzz in the air,” Auberry said, recalling the atmosphere of the clinic. He attributed the excitement to people leaving the clinic with either a resolution or a promise that the county assessor would contact them in a few days.

Jones got a resolution that day. Weeks later she still sounded elated as she described walking from the clinic and being done with the process. The clinic, she said, was a “godsend to me.”

When Jones purchased the home, others told her the appraisal was too high. So she filed to have the house reassessed in October but was told the house had already been reassessed in April, four months prior to her purchasing it. When she explained she was asking for a more recent assessment, she was told to file again.

Filing again was not simple. Jones noted going online and trying to find answers can be confusing, and going to the assessor’s office in person to make the appeal meant she would have to miss work.

The tax clinic gave her another option.

“I was extremely happy I did (attend the clinic) because they really adjusted it appropriately,” Jones said.

Along with six FBD attorneys, Auberry brought along two real estate consultants as well as Marion County Assessor Joe O’Connor. The lawyers met with the homeowners on one end of the room, going through the paperwork and listening to the homeowners.

Clients were to come with the Form 11, the tax bill and any supporting information like sale price of another home in neighborhood and the condition of the homeowner’s property. After meeting with the homeowners, learning about their situation and going through the documents, the attorneys could then go directly to the assessor.

“Most important,” Auberry said, “we got the parties in same room at the same time.”

Homeowners have a sense when their properties are overvalued but they don’t always know why. Our job, Auberry said, was to look at the property and see if evidence matches the homeowner’s suspicion.

Without the clinic, Jones is uncertain what she would have done.

“I’m sure I would have had to re-appeal,” she said. “I don’t know, maybe not anything if I had to hire an attorney. I would just have been stuck.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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