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Homeowner paid taxes on property she doesn't own

August 11, 2010 - There's only one thing worse than paying property taxes and that's paying them for land you don't own.

Oxford resident Barbara Fox discovered she's been doing exactly that on her Dennison St. home for nearly a decade due to an error on the village's part.

Over the years, she's paid an estimated total of approximately $900 in local, county and state property taxes on a 0.047-acre parcel she no longer owns.

Back in 2001, Fox and her now late husband, Randy, split off a 2,063-square-foot piece of their backyard and sold it to a neighbor who wished to enlarge their lot.

The Foxes petitioned the village for the lot split on June 19, 2001. It was unanimously approved by the village council at its July 24 meeting. A quit claim deed was signed on July 31 and filed with the county in November of that year.

It was assumed everything that needed to be done on the government's end was all taken care of. But it turns out that wasn't the case.

In January 2009, during the process of settling Randy's estate, Oakland County told Fox's attorney "there was an issue with the lot."

According to Oxford Township Treasurer Joe Ferrari, apparently the county noticed that despite the quit claim deed it had on file, the Dennison St. property's legal description hadn't been changed to reflect the 2001 sale.

"I assumed, which was bad on my part, that since the county noticed there was a problem, that they would correct it. But they did not," Fox said.

Ferrari explained that's not the county's job. "It has to come from the locals," he said.

It wasn't until Ferrari was straightening out an unrelated problem with Fox's 2010 summer tax that the county informed him that the issue with the legal description hadn't been rectified.

Ferrari did some research and discovered that although the lot split had been approved by the village council, the municipality never took the appropriate steps to make sure it was recorded.

"Nobody knows why," Fox said. "Everybody that works in the village (office) now was not there in 2001."

"It was before my time and everyone else's here," said village Manager Joe Young.

Ferrari said what typically happens is the village will inform the township of the approved lot split and provide the necessary documentation, then the township will do the paperwork and submit it to the county.

"The protocol is the village is supposed to let us know and then we take care of all the splits," he said. "That's protocol, but (the village) can do it on their own. We usually like to have it, just so we know what's going on, too."

Because the village never informed the township or county, the small parcel Fox sold nine years ago was still included in the Dennison St. property's legal description.

As a result, she had been paying property taxes all these years on land she no longer owned.

Minus the 0.047-acre lot, the taxable value of Fox's Dennison St. property decreased by about $2,580, according to Ferrari.

When multiplied by the 2009 millage rates, that works out to $103 for the year. Over a nine-year period, that's about $927, but that figure doesn't take into account the increases and decreases in both millage rates and taxable values over the years.

Fox would like to be compensated by the government for the amount she overpaid due to the village's error.

"I'm sure it's not a huge amount of money, but it is the principle of the thing," Fox said. "I would just love to have a little tax credit for what I overpaid. I don't need a big check handed over to me, just credit my taxes."

However, Fox isn't very confident that will happen.

"I have a feeling they're going to come back to me and say there's nothing they can do," she said.

According to Ferrari, Fox's options are limited. She could contact the neighbor she sold the property to and see if they would be willing to reimburse her. Or she could approach the village government and see if the municipality would be willing to work something out.

Young said once he's compiled all the information, he's going to bring the issue before the village council at its next meeting, which is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24.

The problem is "you're responsible if you pay (property taxes) on the wrong parcel," Ferrari noted. "Ultimately, the way the law reads, it does fall back on the homeowner."

"The tough thing with this situation is that (the Foxes) did everything right," the treasurer noted. "They followed all the protocols, all the procedures. It's not like they just did it with a handshake and nobody knew about it . . . With this one here, everything was recorded. The issue was it wasn't followed through (at) the village (level)."

Ferrari personally filed the lot split paperwork with the county, so Fox will no longer be taxed on the parcel beginning with this year's summer bills.

"As soon as I found out about it, the next day I drove it to (Oakland County) Equalization," he said. "It got done very quickly once I figured out what had happened."

Fox is now waiting to receive her recalculated 2010 summer tax bills from the township and village.

"From now on, it will be correct," she said.

For a while, Fox was attempting to sell her Dennison St. home.

She's now glad her efforts were unsuccessful since the tiny parcel she no longer owns was still technically included in the property's legal description.

"If I had sold the house, I would have been selling this (parcel) and I don't own it anymore," she said. "It would have really messed up a possible sale."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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