For apartment and commercial property owners who’ve been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis and valuation increases from the El Paso Central Appraisal District, one long-time tax agent has this advice: protest and appeal.

The CAD’s multifamily and apartment valuations are up 38% and commercial values up 20% this year. Notices have just gone out, and tax agent Jeff Siegel isn’t just referring to a standard valuation protest, though that’s not a bad idea either.

He’s talking about filing for a temporary exemption due to the natural disaster declared by Texas Gov. Greg Abbot on March 13.

Abbott’s proclamation was short, “certifying that COVID-19 poses an imminent threat of disaster in the state and declaring a state of disaster for all counties in Texas.”

Siegel said the proclamation opened the door to property owners who have suffered economic damage due to the business closures that were ordered and income losses.

Historically, a disaster’s damage would have to be physicaly caused by fire, flood or wind and to have occurred before Jan. 1, the day on which property values are based for tax purposes in Texas.

So, Siegel said, there are legal issues to be decided.

“The attorney general says it’s only for property damage,” Siegel said. “That’s his opinion.”

Property owners have 105 days after the governor’s proclamation to file Form 550-312 to seek a temporary exemption due to the pandemic. That makes June 25 the deadline for seeking a state disaster exemption on taxable property.

“It’s going to have to go to court,” Siegel said, “And that’s not just El Paso but on commercial properties all over Texas. If owners have an agent and they’re not filing this for them, or if they don’t file it for themselves, then they’re foolish.”

He noted that the housing market is still strong and homes are selling well in El Paso, but strip centers, retail stores and restaurants have been badly hurt, along with owners of apartments whose tenants have been put out of work.

“How many people have filed for unemployment in the country? It was 35 million and 3 million last week,” Siegel said. “That’s a lot of money and a lot of people unemployed, and there’s a lot of hardship out there.

“Everybody should file a protest.”

One apartment building owner who’s sure to protest saw the CAD valuation on his property jump 60%, from $495,000 to nearly $800,000 on his vacant 16-unit building.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of discontent that could be organized into a rebellion to oppose these increases,” he said, asking that his name not be used. “I think this is a crime against the commercial property owners in El Paso.”

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