Estate

8 Essential Tips for Dealing With City Hall

BY Richard Montgomery TIMEFebruary 16, 2022 PRINT

Dear Monty: We bought our home in 2018. My mother purchased the plot directly behind our property and built herself a home. Keeping the two properties separate was strategically decided to take advantage of her homestead exemptions and freeze her property taxes.

We did entertain early on combining both properties under our homestead. The original thought was to combine the two properties when I turn 65 to take advantage of the tax exemptions.

Now separately selling her property doesn’t seem feasible. The city established her home’s primary address as a subset to ours. When she bought the lot, we met with them, and the city told us they would use the physical address recognized on the plat map. She then purchased the lot and built the house. It wasn’t until she finished the place and we received the occupancy permit that we learned the city no longer permitted addresses on that street. The city told me there’s nothing they can do. Should we proceed with the concept of combining the properties, which can be a costly proposition? Or is there another option that we’re not seeing?

Monty’s Answer: It appears that the city went back on its word. A consultation with a registered land surveyor is where I would start unless you’ve already done so. Do you have the city’s promise to use the plat map address in writing, or is it all oral? Without the benefit of seeking confirmation from the city, it went back on its word after you invested. Consider seeking a legal opinion from an attorney that has had success in dealings with the municipality.

Proceed With Caution

You may not want to spend the money to join the lots together now. If you use that option and combine the lots, something may happen in the future that causes you to wish you hadn’t.

When a municipality makes a change like the one you described, it sometimes “grandfathers in” property affected by the change. The city should work with you to reach a compromise.

Most homeowners only talk with city hall twice: When they buy and sell a home. My experience with municipalities is that there are frequent misunderstandings. You may have been speaking with someone who gave you an incorrect answer, or you may have misunderstood.

In the future, here is a procedure to follow when speaking with a representative of the local government.

No. 1: Have a goal. Be specific on what to accomplish when you meet.

No. 2: Be cordial. Seek to understand, then be understood.

No. 3: Take notes that include the time and date.

No. 4: Write down the name and email address of the person.

No. 5: Email the individual a brief synopsis of the conversation.

No. 6: Ask for a confirmation email and get a promise for a response.

No. 7: Follow up to ensure the response was received.

No. 8: Repeat after every conversation.

This process is an excellent habit to master in all your dealings.

One option you may not be aware of is Airbnb. Some management companies specialize in managing Airbnb properties. Some property owners don’t have the time, expertise, or inclination to do so. I believe they will give you an estimate up front as to what you could expect to earn annually by utilizing Airbnb.

Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money: An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Follow him on Twitter at @dearmonty or at DearMonty.com. Email him at monty@dearmonty.com.
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