Nevada's assessors say some homeowners are trying to claim several properties as their primary residence - one person tried up to 13 addresses - to squeeze them all under Nevada's new 3 percent property tax cap.
With housing values skyrocketing, the 2005 Legislature capped annual increases for a homeowner's primary residence at 3 percent a year. They set an 8 percent annual cap for businesses and other property, including rentals.
Clark County officials told the state's Tax Commission this week many people are trying to squeeze multiple properties under the 3 percent cap. One owner filed 13 properties each as his primary residence, they said.
Carson City Assessor Dave Dawley and Douglas Assessor Doug Sonnemann said they too have had owners try to claim more than one home as their primary residence.
Sonnemann said he received three cards claiming three homes as an individual's primary residence - all mailed in the same envelope.
Dawley said he received a card from a homeowner mailed from Dayton claiming a primary residence in Carson City.
"I called Lyon County and they said he was claiming in Dayton too, so I called him and said you don't qualify for Carson City," he told the Tax Commission.
Dawley said several assessors have had a husband claiming one residence as primary to get the break while the wife claims a second residence as her primary dwelling.
They said those situations are forcing assessors to make judgment calls every day.
"It's decision-making on the fly from our standpoint," said Sonnemann. "We're trying to be consistent, but it's always easier for us and more comfortable when you have hard regulations that say this qualifies and this doesn't."
"It's been a huge problem," said Dawley. "I know all the assessors are trying to have the same judgments, but it's hard because every situation is different."
He said if one person lives in Las Vegas and his spouse in Carson City, maybe they qualify for two primary residences.
"But if they do, what about where the houses are just three blocks apart? Is there now some separation mileage that would qualify as the cutoff?"
Taxation Director Chuck Chinnock said he doubts that was the Legislature's intent.
But Sonnemann said he received a call from a woman living in Las Vegas who said her husband works and lives most of the time in the northern end of the state. He said he would be inclined to agree they can claim different primary residences.
"But with married couples, there should be a presumption that if one spouse claims a certain primary residence, the other resides there too," said Greg Smith, a member of the Tax Commission.
He suggested assessors allow couples in special circumstances to make their case to assessors that they actually do have two primary residences.
Dawley said another scenario came from a Carson woman who owns a four-plex and lives in one of the units. He questioned whether the entire building qualifies for the 3 percent cap or just her unit. While it makes sense that only her unit is the residence, it would require assessors to do the math to tax the building at two separate rates.
"I don't have the staff to do that," he said.
Sonnemann said one owner at Lake Tahoe has two adjoining parcels with houses on them that face different streets. One home is a residence and the other is used for entertaining.
"From what the Tax Commission said, that does not qualify," he said.
He said some properties in Douglas are not owned by an individual but by a corporation with the owners of the corporation living in them. If legitimately used as primary residences, he said, those should qualify for the cap.
"The house you live in and pay taxes on deserves the break even though it's in a different ownership than what may be traditional," he said.
Both men said there are situations the computer just can't handle, such as a case in Douglas County where parcel lines were shifted slightly for the county's benefit. Sonnemann said that artificially created new parcels as far as the computer was concerned, and newly created parcels aren't capped at the old rate. They go on the books at full value, which he said brought that Tahoe property owner a huge increase.
He said his staff has to fix things like that because "obviously the Legislature intended them to get the cap."
Then there are people who didn't fill out and return the card to claim any home as their primary residence. Sonnemann said that is true for about 4,000 parcels in his area, but Dawley said 90 percent of Carson property owners returned the cards.
Both say the cards are still coming in.
They urged people who think there's something seriously wrong with their tax bill to call their county assessor's office.
"But please be patient," said Dawley.
Both said the law is new and their staffs have been overloaded trying to get tax bills out. Both Carson and Douglas mailed them within the past week or so.
Next year, they said, assessors will be in better shape to apply the new rules fairly and consistently. But over the next few weeks, Sonnemann said, "we expect to do lots of explaining." And adjusting of tax bills, Dawley added.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.