Politics & Government

Frustrated homeowners didn’t get protest info in the mail. Now big tax bills are due

Nancy Bettis thought it was outrageous when her home value grew by more than $40,000.

So she filed a protest with the Tarrant Appraisal District.

But she never received anything in the mail telling her when to go to TAD for a protest hearing. She called, found out she missed her hearing and unsuccessfully repeatedly sought to reschedule the hearing.

Now property tax bills are showing up in the mail and it’s too late to do anything.

“All I want is the system to be fair,” said Bettis, of Grapevine. “I just want an opportunity to plead my side. Just because the mail delivery didn’t come, I’m going to have to pay higher taxes?”

She’s among around 200 Tarrant County residents — a fraction of the more than 800,000 property owners — who say they filed requests for protest hearings on time but were never notified about a date for a hearing.

Many of them recently had a chance to attend a separate hearing to try to prove that they never received a protest hearing notice.

This comes as some frustrated Texans say they fear they will be taxed out of their homes because of rising property values.

TAD Chief Appraiser Jeff Law said the district reached out to home owners who said they never received a notice of their protest hearing and gave them a chance to go to the Appraisal Review Board, a separate entity from TAD.

“The ARB determined whether TAD did deliver notices,” he said. “It’s just required that we deposit the mail to the U.S. postal system ... and have a signature showing the post office received it.

“I don’t know if this is a situation where the post office didn’t deliver it or if the person received it and didn’t know what it was or forgot about it.”

Bettis, who has foundation problems with her house, said she repeatedly called TAD through the summer to ask about a protest hearing. When she was told she missed it, she kept calling trying to get a hearing rescheduled.

Now she simply doesn’t know how to prove she didn’t get a notice in the mail.

“They say as long as they produce documents that show they put it in the mail, it is deemed delivered,” Bettis said. “It is extremely frustrating.”

Diane Sturdivant of Fort Worth is in the same situation.

After she saw a big increase, she filed for a protest hearing.

She said she never received a notice for her hearing. When she was told one was sent out, and she needed to prove she didn’t get it, she asked how she could do that.

“If you don’t like it, you need to take that up with the state Legislature in Austin,” she said she was told.

Sturdivant also reached out to TAD through the summer, learned she had missed her protest hearing and repeatedly tried to reschedule one.

She thought she was getting a protest hearing a few days ago, but it turns out that the ARB hearing was just to determine whether she received a notice of the original protest hearing.

“I left in tears,” she said. “I was so upset.

“You think you’re going to protest your taxes and you’re (asked) to prove you never received your notice,” Sturdivant said. “How do you prove that? It’s so frustrating.”

Law that there are countless cases each year of people who request protest hearing and never show up.

Some may change their mind or find they don’t have time to attend.

“It’s not uncommon at all for us to have people not showing up for their hearings,” Law said.

Once the tax rolls are certified, which they were in July, Law said Texas law restricts what changes can be made.

“I can understand their frustration,” Law said. “The appraisal district makes every effort to provide all the required notifications to property owners and we work hard to make sure that their opportunity to be heard is upheld.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.