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Posts from January 2013.

The 2013 legislative session may see the first significant changes to the voter-approved property tax limitations from the 1990’s. In 1990, the voters approved Measure 5, which imposed strict limitations on the amount of tax that general governments, such as cities, counties and special districts, as well as schools could impose on property. In particular, general governments could impose no more than $10 tax per $1,000 of real market value and schools could impose no more $5 per $1,000. In 1997, the voters restricted property taxes even further by passing Measure 50, which re-set the taxable value of all property to 90% of the property’s real market value and then limited further growth in that value to 3% annually.

These limitations had consequences that have hamstrung both general governments and school districts. The League of Oregon Cities has proposed two fixes that would relieve some of the restrictions and could remedy some inequities in the way property taxes are assessed. The two fixes are aimed at two different problems:

The Clyde Hill Board of Adjustments recently ruled in favor of former Mariner First Baseman, John Olerud and his wife Kelly, in the first action brought under the City of Clyde Hill’s View Obstruction and Tree Removal Ordinance (CHMC Chapter 17.38). In that action, the Oleruds asked the City to enforce the view protection ordinance which required their neighbors, who owned a rare fifty year old and fifty foot high Chinese red pine, as well as a fifty foot fir tree. The trees block what has been described by Olerud as 40% of a 30 degree view of Lake Washington, Seattle and the Olympics from his home. The Clyde Hill Board of Adjusters ruled, in a 3-2 vote, that the two trees "unreasonably block the view" of the Oleruds, and ordered the removal of the tress. The Oleruds were ordered to pay the cost of the tree removal and the cost to replace the trees with smaller trees, which total price tag was not trivial ($62,694). The neighbors were also ordered to trim the replacement trees if they grew to 25 feet.

For those of you unacquainted with this Seattle metropolitan suburban city, it is a very well heeled community nestled on a gently sloping hill between the enclave of Medina and Bellevue, a short walk from the shopping mecca of Bellevue Square. It is almost entirely residential, and many of the homes have beautiful lake views oriented to the western sunsets. Given the wealth of the community, it’s not surprising that its residents can afford lawyers, and may well be used to getting their way. Apparently this law, which has been on the books for decades, had never before required a ruling from the City. Prior property owners were able to resolve their differences privately. Perhaps taking a page out of the Congressional playbook, these neighbors couldn't reach a compromise.

Mazdabrook Commons Homeowners’ Assn. v. Khan, 210 NJ 482, 46 A3d 507 (2012) involved the constitutionality of plaintiff homeowners association covenants, which generally banned political signs. Plaintiff ran for town council and posted two political signs – one in his window and another inside his door (which could be seen through the glass outside door). Plaintiff ordered their removal as its rules banned all but “For Sale” signs. In Committee for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers Homeowners’ Assn., 192 NJ 344, 929 A2d 1060 (2007), the New Jersey Supreme Court had upheld restrictions limiting signs in windows and in common flower beds adjacent to homes, which was in contrast to the near-complete ban on all expressive activity in this instance. The Appellate Division nevertheless struck the ban in this case and the Association appealed.

Plaintiff Association is made up of 194 members who own townhouses and elect a Board of Trustees which operates the nonprofit corporation that manages homeowner affairs. There are no public streets in the development; however, it is not gated. Prospective homeowner-members are informed of its rules before buying their townhouses and the rules specifically prohibit posting of signs (again except for “for sale” signs), among other things. Under the rules, the Trustees have the authority (but without specific standards) to waive the posting regulations. Plaintiffs sued defendant over the ban, as well as over an unrelated matter, and prevailed on both at trial. Defendant appealed the sign issue and prevailed in the Appellate Division, a majority of which found the rule unconstitutional because it favored commercial speech over political speech, was not content-neutral, and foreclosed a significant type of communication.

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We regularly update clients about changes in real estate law and on industry trends. This includes briefing clients on legislative proposals in the federal tax, housing and other legal areas affecting their businesses. Staying current enables you to anticipate and prevent legal problems as well as capitalize on new developments.
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