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New law protects storm victims, others from property tax hikes

House Bill 3188, which lawmakers unanimously passed the last day of session, statutorily excludes repairs and rebuilds due to “acts of god” from improvements subject to tax increases.
by Paula Burkes Modified: June 22, 2014 at 4:00 pm •  Published: June 22, 2014

Peter Dobelbower flipped when he opened an April notice from the Oklahoma County assessor’s office that showed his property taxes were going up $200.

Just last year, Dobelbower swallowed a $334 increase after his wife bought the northwest Oklahoma City property as a rental investment in November 2012. But he immediately appealed this year’s hike, which — despite a house fire that came a little more than a month after the purchase — included an additional 11.18 percent increase to the home’s taxable value.

By state law, increases to taxable value, on which counties assess and collect property taxes, are capped at 3 percent annually for primary residences and agricultural land and at 5 percent for rental and commercial properties — unless the property is sold or improved.

In Dobelbower’s case, the county assessor deemed the $75,000 in new wiring, plumbing and other repairs he made to their property at 4111 Holiday Place after the house fire as improvements.

“I felt like I suffered twice,” said Dobelbower, whose appeals to the county assessor and County Board of Equalization were denied.

“I had no other choice but to make the property livable, but I was penalized first by the fire, which was sparked by an electrical short when new carpet was being laid, and then by the tax hike, which would compound over years,” he said.

Property tax law

Dobelbower took his fight to state lawmakers, who on the last day of session this year passed legislation that stops property tax increases for owners who repair or rebuild properties injured through no fault of their own.

House Bill 3188, which lawmakers unanimously passed and Gov. Fallin signed into law June 2, statutorily excludes repairs and rebuilds due to “acts of God” from improvements subject to tax increases.

“The law isn’t retroactive, but went into effect by emergency order,” said state Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, who co-authored the bill. “So it will stop property tax increases in time for those whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the recent rash of tornadoes.”

“Right now is an important time in the metro for people to know about this law,” Echols said. “But this affects the entire state from hail storms to grass fires.”

After Oklahoma’s May 2013 tornadoes, 47,057 homeowners and 4,214 businesses filed insurance claims totaling nearly $786 million and $173 million, respectively, according to Kelly Collins Dexter, spokeswoman for the state Insurance Department.

The new law, Echols said, protects homeowners, regardless of whether they have insurance.

Add-ons excepted

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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