Friday, February 24, 2012

Arizona bills target home-affidavit law

Leif Swanson expected an explosion of anger when homeowners received property-valuation notices this year.

But what he and many others feared turned out to be a dud.

The issue wasn't home values -- always a touchy subject -- but a requirement for an affidavit declaring the property is the owner's primary residence. Failure to return the affidavit could result in property taxes going up as much as $600 a year.

Swanson, a Realtor, said he was aware of the pending change and planned to notify his clients of it in his February newsletter. He, like others in the real-estate industry, worried homeowners would not scrutinize the annual statements and either toss them in a file or throw them away, risking a hit on their property taxes.

But when Swanson got his own valuation notice, there was no affidavit.

That's because the county assessors, who send out the valuation notices, didn't follow through on the affidavit, a provision of the Legislature's "jobs bill" that passed last year.

"The cost of doing it would have been considerable," Maricopa County Assessor Keith Russell said.

Besides, lawmakers had already signaled they intended to repeal the requirement because it was burdensome, Russell said, so it made little sense to whipsaw homeowners with a new requirement, only to walk it back. The result has been confusion in the real-estate ranks, said Tom Farley, CEO of the Arizona Association of Realtors. Those with long memories remember the debate at the Capitol in early 2011, when Farley warned that the affidavit could be easily overlooked and lead to unintended tax hikes.

That's because homeowners who actually live in their homes, as opposed to renting them out, automatically qualify for a rebate of up to $600 a year. Under last year's legislation, if a property owner didn't return the affidavit, he or she would lose the rebate.

"Our advice to homeowners right now is to sit tight," Farley said. "We're hoping this provision from last year's law will be repealed and a more targeted notice will be put in its place."

Lawmakers are speeding through two bills to do just that. One, Senate Bill 1217, has already passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote of the full House. The House version, House Bill 2486, which essentially does the same thing, is now in the Senate for action.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, proposed the affidavit as a way to ferret out people who claim multiple properties as their primary residence and wrongly get a tax break.

It was rolled into the jobs bill to offset the money the state would lose from property-tax cuts for business and agriculture. Lawmakers figured the state would save $39 million a year by not granting the rebate to rental properties.

by Mary Jo Pitzl - Feb. 22, 2012 10:21 PM The Republic |

Arizona bills target home-affidavit law

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