Question: I read your column faithfully and was hoping you could address a small issue/question I have. Recently, I received from my association a bill for property tax assessment challenges. It appears the association took it upon themselves to hire a property tax attorney, without notice to the homeowners (or at least, I never received any notice via certified or any other mail) that they would be assessed any amounts incurred in making the challenge. I was unaware it was legal for someone to protest your property taxes/property assessment without your consent.
Can you please give me your opinion as to the legality of the action of the Board? Did they have the authority to incur these expenses without my consent?
Did they have the legal right to initiate this protest on my behalf without my consent? I did not provide them with any power of attorney. Paul.
Answer: Paul. In a follow-up email, you told me that the attorney did, in fact, get your tax assessment reduced, and that you will pay the new assessment but are concerned about the process.
I had never heard this was being done, so I checked with several colleagues who practice community association law. Apparently, some large associations – as an accommodation to all owners – retain an attorney versed in real estate tax assessments, and that attorney files appeals for everyone.
However, I was advised that the attorney can only file an appeal for a homeowner who has authorized the appeal. Such authorization can be in a specific power of attorney that each homeowner signs, but apparently in some associations, the Bylaws specifically cover this by creating an automatic power of attorney.
Paul, you advised me that you are absolutely certain that you never provided the power of attorney, but have you reviewed your association legal documents?
If, in fact, you never formally authorized the attorney to appeal your real estate tax assessment, I am not sure what your next steps should be? Clearly, you can’t complain that your assessment was reduced as a result of the attorney’s involvement. Should you pay the assessment? I suggest that you send a letter to the board of directors requesting them to provide you proof that you did, in fact, directly or indirectly authorize the attorney to file the assessment on your behalf. If there is no such proof, then you have to decide whether to pay the assessment.
And, you may also consider sending a letter to the attorney asking for proof that you formally retained or authorized him to act on you behalf.
If the attorney cannot provide such proof, you may want to consider filing a grievance against the attorney before your state bar association. Attorneys are required to have a retainer or other agreement with a client before proceeding on behalf of that client.