GROTON — Incensed at his treatment by the Assessors Office, a local resident has taken legal action by filing suit in Massachusetts District Court charging violation of the law regarding assessing practices.
“After living in the town for 20 very happy years, I am now in the situation where I have to sue the town,” said Richard Csaplar.
“The Board of Assessors secretly raised my property tax by 30 percent or $800 per quarter as a result of my listing my home for sale,” he said. “The Assessor’s Office took my asking price and set it as the value of the property. After extended conversations they admitted the value was too high but will consider no remedy for this year. Their hope is that I won’t fight the valuation as the house will be sold before they have to reduce this year’s tax bill.”
Csaplar’s property, built in 1782, is located on Longley Road and is currently on the market for $599,000. According to online assessors records, it was assessed at $564,100 in 2014.
“I first became aware of the increase when it appeared on the February tax bill,” said Csaplar adding that he had no warning and so no chance to appeal the increase. “Trying to slip it past me like that is not fair.”
Csaplar said he met with Town Assessor Rena Swezey (who is also a member of the Board of Assessors) and asked that the increase be rolled back to its former level but was told it was impossible.
“Rena told me they couldn’t change the valuation back,” recounted Csaplar. “They couldn’t do it because it didn’t go through the formal process of appeal so they wouldn’t change it. That window is now closed so that the only way open to me was to file a suit.”
Given no notice of the increase, he said he knew nothing of any deadline for appeal.
“They based their valuation of the property on wrong information,” claimed Csaplar. “They took it from a real estate listing that said the barn had an apartment in it. I think they saw that and thought the property came with two living units.”
Csaplar added that other incorrect information included the number of fireplaces in the home.
“I’m sure they track what homes are on the market looking for an opportunity to raise taxes,” said Csaplar.
Furthermore, Csaplar was incensed that the Assessors apparently based their assessment on the asking price for the house and not an official valuation.
“An asking price is not a valuation,” said Csaplar. “You purposefully ask for more than you think you will get. Valuing a house based on the pictures in the MLS listing above market is a violation of the assessors’ own rules. There were also facts about the house on the official record going back well over 100 years that were just plain wrong.”
Swezey refuted Csaplar’s claim that the increase in his property tax was as much as he claimed saying that it was based on a number of other factors including a rise in the town’s tax rate itself.
Swezey also denied that using information gathered from real estate listings is contrary to assessors’ rules.
“When we were looking at the MLS listings there was some information in the listing (about Csaplar’s property) that we did not have on our records,” explained Swezey. “We always look at the listing to see what things have been done to properties because a lot of people update kitchens and bathrooms without taking out building permits.
“The MLS is a public document,” she said, “so we refer to it to make sure the information we have is correct. But because Mr. Csaplar was past the time to file for an abatement this year, he would have to wait until next year to do so. We did make an appointment to look at the property and found out then that there was no apartment in the barn and made that correction.”
Swezey said that if any property owner, upon receiving a tax bill, does not agree with the amount, they can by state law file for an abatement between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1.
“When we find things that are not on the record, we don’t have to notify the property owner of any corrections,” said Swezey.
Often assessors visit properties in company with the Fire Department or DPW when they are called out, she said. “The onus is on the property owner to make sure he’s being taxed correctly. We encourage people at least once a year to call our office and ask for their current valuation.”
Csaplar said that he intends on pursuing his suit even if his property is sold.
“I apologize to my longtime friends and neighbors if my suit starts to cost the town more money than the additional tax amount they are collecting,” said Csaplar. “However, I feel that if they can do this to me then they will do this to you when you decide to sell your home and I did not want this injustice to occur without a response. I hope to not be here by the next election but it seems to me there needs to be a change in the Board of Assessors as they are not advocating for their constituents.
“There’s a part of me that’s doing this because I don’t want to pay $800 a quarter,” said Csaplar. “But part of me feels that this isn’t right. This shouldn’t happen to anybody. All I’m asking is to have it rolled back to the former amount. I’m not looking for damages or anything. When the house sells they can put whatever value they want on it.”