A grass-roots organization is calling out the city of Detroit over what they say were unconstitutional foreclosures.
The Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures say many low-income homeowners were unjustly targeted with inflated property tax assessments in the city for the past 10 years.
Lawyer and professor Bernadette Atuahene is spearheading the organization. She says a state law caps a property tax increase at 50%.
“We did a study that between 2009 and 2015, we found that in each of those seven years, anywhere between 55% to 85% of properties were being assessed in violation of the Michigan Constitution.”
She released her study this week.
In it, it says 95% of the Detroit’s with the lowest valued homes were being unjustly assessed, while only 13% of residents with the highest valued homes were.
She says there is a reason for that.
“When you have more education and you have more money to hire a lawyer, you’re going to appeal your taxes and in Detroit you always win because they were so drastically wrong,” Atuahene explained. “People who most needed the city to get these property tax assessments correctly, the poorest of the poor, are precisely the people who didn’t have the power or the knowledge to go an appeal.”
She says the study shows the assessments were the primary cause of the foreclosures. Bernadette believes 25% of the homes sold for $8,000 or less would not have foreclosed had it not been for the assessments.
The city said they cannot comment on the study because they don’t have the access to the raw data used or the methodology. But they did say if a homeowner finds their property taxes are too high, they can file an appeal.
If they qualify they can apply for a poverty exemption, which means they don’t have to pay at all.
Bernadette says many of the foreclosure victims could have qualified, but they didn’t know.
“They are not supposed to be paying these taxes in the first place, but due to several barriers erected by the city of Detroit, they didn’t know about it or weren’t able to apply for it.”
And she says if the city assessed properties correctly- those affected wouldn’t have to file appeals.
Now, she’s asking for public officials to help those hurt by these foreclosures.
“The city, the county and the state of Michigan, make it right, she added.
There is on-going class action lawsuit against the city right now.
If you believe your property taxes are too high, you can challenge the assessment.
The city states:
The procedures require the taxpayer to appeal to Board of Assessors Review first.
Board of Assessors Review can take into account such circumstances as Structural defects of this property and Fire damage or demolished before the beginning of the New Year. To appear before the Board of Review, an appeal must be made during the February Assessors Review, February 1st through the 15th.
If you are not satisfied with the February Assessors Review decision, you must write the Board of Review on or before the second Monday in March.
Board of Review
Coleman A Young Municipal Center
2 Woodward Avenue - Suite 824
Detroit, Ml 48226
You will receive an appointment to appear before the Board of Review.
Protest at the Board of Review is necessary to protect your right to further appeals to the Michigan Tax Tribunal for valuation and exemption appeals and/or State Tax Commission for classification appeals. To appeal a decision of the Board of Review, you must write to the Michigan Tax Tribunal by July 30th each year.
Michigan Tax Tribunal
P0 Box 30232
Lansing, Ml 48909
Please visit www.michigan.gov/taxtrib for the appropriate appeal form.
Here are links to learn more about poverty exemptions and assistance programs.