Year-old homeowner rebate law repealed - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Money

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Year-old homeowner rebate law repealed

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Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2012 3:09 pm

Good news for homeowners: You’re not going to lose your state rebate of up to $600 a year if you forget to check your mail.

Gov. Jan Brewer has signed legislation repealing a year-old law which would have required homeowners to return a postcard to the county assessor avowing that they actually live at the property to maintain the state rebate.

Instead, lawmakers directed assessors to focus their attention on properties where there is some reason to believe they do not qualify for the special financial relief.

Arizona law imposes the same property taxes on all residential property. But lawmakers for years have tempered the costs for those who live in their own homes by having the state pay a percentage of what is owed in primary taxes for public schools.

Right now that rebate is 40 percent, up to $600 a year.

Before last year, that rebate was pretty much automatic for homeowners, with the presumption that a property owner lived at the address. The burden was on the property owner to voluntarily report that the home was instead being rented out.

Last year, though, lawmakers agreed to turn the system on its head as part of a $538 million package of tax cuts for business.

One key provision of that law will reduce the basis on which businesses compute their property taxes, potentially cutting their taxes by 10 percent by the time the package is fully implemented in 2018. Under normal circumstances, that would shift the tax burden for local governments and public schools largely onto homeowners.

To compensate for that, lawmakers agreed to increase the rebate.

But to keep costs down — and to ferret out ineligible homeowners — the legislation mandated that all residential property would be presumed to be rented out and, therefore, ineligible for the rebate.

To get the rebate, owners would have to sign and mail back a card swearing they are, in fact, living in that home, or that the house is being leased or rented to a relative. And if that affidavit is not mailed back, the property tax bill eventually sent out would not include the rebate.

Under pressure from the Arizona Association of Realtors, the law was repealed — in part. Tom Farley, the association’s president, said that means there will not be nearly 1.9 million cards mailed out, what with the chance that some will fail to understand what they mean or otherwise fail to return them and end up with a shock on the property tax bill.

But the revised version still has some provisions designed to help catch those who have been cheating the system and getting the rebate.

For example, assessors would still be required to send out a card — and demand a response — if the mailing address of the owner is outside the county where the property is located. In fact, any mailing address different than the home will generate an inquiry.

Any mailing address which is listed for multiple homes also will result in a post card. And the same is true if the owner appears to be a business.

Farley said the changes do not clear up all the problems the 2011 law created.

One issue involves “snowbirds” and other part-time Arizona residents. While they may be the only occupants of a home and not renting it out, Farley said the law does not spell out whether they, too, qualify for the rebate.

“The assessor will look at things like in what state is your driver’s license issued, voter registration, things of that nature,” he said. Farley said those are indicators of “the place you call home.”

Lawmakers also did not repeal another change in the 2011 law which ended the policy which had allowed people to claim the rebate on both their regular residence as well as a vacation home.

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