As property tax bills rolled out to homeowners, some Harris County residents were shocked to see their appraisal values of their homes more than double. Though the average increase was said to be 15% many property owners were handed above average tax bills.

Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) has said that roughly 90% of property owners across the city would see an increase in the value of their home. Because of the rush of newcomers to Houston and its surrounding area, homes are selling for considerably higher prices than previous years. While the increase in home values is beneficial to property owners in the seller’s market, it is a burden to those who have no intentions on moving.

Higher appraisals are a way for officials to conveniently claim they didn’t raise taxes while still receiving more in tax revenue. Though HCAD’s appraisal increases don’t seem to be slowing down, there is hope for taxpayers who disagree with their valuations.

Out of 1.7 million appraised properties last year, only about 350,000 protests were filed to have the values reduced. The reason for this is many taxpayers don’t know their rights when it comes to dealing with the appraisal district.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan said, “I view it as my responsibility to advocate for the taxpayer to reduce their tax burdens.” Holding true to that responsibility his office is offering free property tax protest workshops across the county. The point of the workshops is to empower Harris County residents with the information and tools they need to file a protest with HCAD and have their appraisal reduced. “I want to ensure taxpayers understand their rights and are fully prepared before they protest,” said Sullivan.

Harris County residents have long complained of abuse from the HCAD system. In 2009 Harris County Republican Party passed a resolution condemning HCAD’s appraisal abuse. The resolution drew attention to the little known fact that district is not required to re-appraise home values but every three years, and that Houston along with Harris County, at the time, were contributing $10 million a year of taxpayer dollars to the appraisal district.

County officials dropped a petition against HCAD that claimed the district was appraising undeveloped commercial property lower than market value. After a random sampling, conducted by an outside party, the county discovered that the commercial property was undervalued by about 83%. The petition was withdrawn only because HCAD decided to work with the county to share sales data from now on.

The appraisal district’s current system is inefficient and Harris County home and business owners are being dealt more than their share of the tax burden because of the district’s favoring of commercial property. County taxpayers deserve a transparent appraisal process that is directly aligned with market values for their property. Property owners across the county should take advantage of the free workshops to learn their rights and how to combat the rogue appraisal system.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.