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Basement renovations should not be assessed

March 15, 2012

The weekend after my previous letter was published in The River Reporter, an article appeared in The New York Times (March 4) regarding real estate assessments. In my letter, I mentioned that my Bethel taxes were increased because of improvements. What I didn’t mention was that the improvement was a basement remodeling. What I learned from the Times article is this: “No matter how spectacularly well remodeled a basement may be… its location in the house makes it irrelevant…. ” According to the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance, assessors should “automatically exclude the basement from any calculation of living space.”

The increase in my taxes when I bought my home in 1999 was arbitrarily set by Bethel assessor Marge Brown. She had told me they were raised due to the basement renovation by the prior owners, and that a building permit was never filed. She said it’s not uncommon for people to make renovations without the required permit. Then I had the house appraised for refinancing, and was advised that finished basements are not included in appraisals. I called Ms. Brown and she said that assessors did indeed include them. I have also just been told by a local tax consultant that a building permit is not required for basement remodeling.

Assessments for the Town of Bethel are unfair and arbitrary. There are those who “have the utmost respect” for Ms. Brown, like Vicky Vassmer, who expressed such last week in this paper and who, as a friend of Ms. Brown, probably hasn’t been taxed to the hilt. But Bethel second homeowners have. In my case, Ms. Brown comes up short no matter what: she either made an egregious error in raising my taxes, or raised them fully aware that she shouldn’t have.

Terry Wolf
Swan Lake and New York City, NY

Why would she ask a tax

Why would she ask a tax consultant whether a building permit is required? What athority or relevancy does a tax preparer have regarding home renovations except if it is a write-off? Also appraisers and assessors don't include your finished basements in the Which living area but they do make adjustments regarding how nicely they have been renovated. I've seen basements with wine cellars, movie theaters, bars, extra apartments, etc. Why shouldn't these improvements be taxed? If you have an identical house to your neighbor but his house has a finished basement his house will essentially sell for more money and be appraised and assessed more and thus should be paying more taxes.