Monday, November 21, 2011

Rent vs. Property Taxes

I'm sure every one of the roughly 500 tax delinquents on the list published Thursday has a story to tell.

The economy or personal setbacks could cause a person to get behind on tax payments. It is embarrassing to be on the list, but while things are getting worked out, a homeowner most likely will still have a roof overhead. Renters face a bleaker fate if they get behind on payments. Non-payment of rent is grounds for eviction.

Renters, who constitute half of the city's households, also must pay increases unless a judge agrees that the increase is "unconscionable" - a subjective term meaning the increase would shock the conscience of the average person. What tends to happen in real life is that the renter sucks it up and pays, taking the difference out of costs for food or other necessities, or has to find a new place.

True, homeowners also have to face the bank and eventually may find themselves out on the street, but not on the same timetable as the average renter. Recent stories in the news tell of homeowners who are years behind on their house payments but still in the house. Renters get a few weeks or months at best.

When it comes to property taxes, owners howl even at single-digit increases. But landlords can easily impose double-digit increases on tenants. Business owners downtown even saw their lease rates triple in recent years.

The only luxury renters may enjoy when it comes to owing money is that their names don't get put in the paper. A few years ago, there was an elected official who managed to get around being on the tax lien list, but a resident asked him point-blank in public about the delinquency and he had to own up. He ostentatiously paid the entire balance just days before the filing date to run for re-election, but his constituents were not impressed and his re-election bid failed.

I'm told those who owe taxes get notices before the list is published. There may also be special circumstances that lead to being on the list while things are getting worked out. But property owners are held to higher scrutiny than tenants, and once you are on the list, your name is out there for all to see.


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