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Austin Appraisal Lawsuit Underway

by Kevin Kirkpatrick, San Antonio, November 2015

 

An unprecedented lawsuit filed by the City of Austin is being heard in Travis County District Court. The City is seeking the reappraisal of thousands of commercial properties and vacant land. The suit also contends that two state law provisions are unconstitutional.

 

Major Points of the Lawsuit

 

The lawsuit stems from a petition filed by the city in June, which charges commercial and vacant land throughout Travis County is under appraised. It asks the court to order the Travis Central Appraisal District to redo the properties' 2015 appraisals. The 43,644 properties are collectively valued at about $52 billion.

 

The suit challenges the "equal and uniform" provisions in state law that allow property owners to win value reductions by proving that their appraisal exceeds the median value of comparable properties. It argues that it's "unequal" to appraise some properties based on their market value and other properties based on the median appraisal of comparable properties.

 

In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to declare that mandatory sales price disclosure is needed for appraisal districts to consistently appraise property at market value. Texas is one of a handful of states that don't require sales prices be made public.

 

Arguments

 

Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak heard arguments related to a motion that would remove thousands of commercial and vacant land property owners, who are currently named as defendants, from the suit.

 

City attorneys say it would cost more than $100,000 to serve the owners. The city is also trying to block six homeowners from intervening in the case.

 

Sulak said one of his major concerns is that if he doesn't let the property owners be parties, the city will invest time and money in the lawsuit, only to be told by an appellate court that the right parties weren't in the case.

 

There are also questions as to whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit. If the court does not have that jurisdiction, it will be the end of the case and the judge will not need to rule on any of the other issues.