Property Owners Almost Got the Rights They Deserve

Walter Hotz, Esq. Appeals

For this year’s legislative session, I was asked by a group of Georgia Senators to re-write the real property tax appeal laws for the state of Georgia for the purpose of providing safeguards and rights for Georgia real property owners. The present laws were heavily weighted in favor of the tax assessors (each county in Georgia) and the Senators wanted to “level the playing field” for property owners. I was honored to have been selected for the task and, although it took more than 100 hours of my time, I was glad to do it.

The present law had been drafted by the counties and their lobbyists. If you scoured deep you might find a little “right” for the property owner here and there in the present tax code but the drafters had made certain that whatever rights you had in the existing code, you had no way to enforce those rights – so the counties could simply ignore same with impunity – which many counties did – and there was nothing you could do – to say the code was well designed for the tax assessors would be a gross understatement.

So, the Georgia Senate wanted to do something about it. My suggested changes were put into Bill format by the Senate’s legislative counsel and the Bill was designated as SB 293. SB 293, as I drafted same, gave many rights to the property owner, most of which were commonsensical – rights that you would have thought certainly should have been given to the property owner – in fact, you would be appalled that such rights had not already been given to the property owner.

I appeared as the expert on tax appeal laws and testified before the Senate Finance committee and before the House Judiciary committee. The Bill and your rights were approved unanimously by the Senate Finance committee and received a two-thirds approval in the overall Senate – but then it went to the House Judiciary committee.

The Bill first went to the House Judiciary sub-committee. The House Judiciary sub-committee tore your rights apart and as to anything left, destroyed any enforcement provisions the Bill had given you. I was shocked when not only were they shredding your rights that the Senate wanted you to have but one member on the sub-committee wanted to add certain “penalties” to the property owner – I couldn’t believe she wanted to do so but she did – thankfully her suggested penalties against the taxpayer were not accepted. Then, when the Bill got to the full House Judiciary committee, the final death knell was struck.

I do not know if it was the counties that got to the House Representatives on the House Judiciary committee (and sub-committee), the lobbyist for the counties or just the House Representatives on the House Judiciary committee themselves but what came out of the House Judiciary committee appeared to be as if the House Judiciary committee had handed the Bill to the various tax assessors and said “write whatever you want”. Your rights the Senate wanted you to have died in the House.

The Senate version of SB 293 was sponsored by a number of Senators but it was spearheaded by Senator Fran Millar. Every property owner in the State of Georgia should salute and thank Senator Millar for trying his best to give you the rights you deserve. What Senator Millar tried to do for you would have made it many, many times easier for you to get a fairer and more just tax assessment on your property.

With Senator Millar’s and other Senator’s assistance, I will try again for you next year.