Legal Matters: Real estate law on the move
Legal Matters: Real estate law on the move – Finance and Commerce
It was a relatively quiet year in the Legislature when it came to new developments in real estate and property tax law. But attorneys who work in those areas say that was more than made up for by a flurry of developments in another branch of the state government.
The Minnesota Tax Court, a specialized, executive branch court established to hear only tax-related cases, has undergone a shake-up in the past year after a long period of stability. Two of the panel’s three judges left the bench last fall: Kathleen Hvass Sanberg was appointed a U.S. bankruptcy judge, and Sheryl A. Ramstad retired.
The third, George Perez, faces censure and suspension after a state board determined that he was delaying cases and falsifying records to hide his lack of productivity. The Senate voted unanimously at the end of the legislative session to reject Perez’s reappointment.
As a result, the Tax Court has two of its three seats filled – and in both cases by new judges, Bradford Delapena and Joanne Turner. Attorneys who help clients with appeals of commercial property tax valuations are watching closely as the Tax Court adjusts to the two new judges and seeks a third.
“With two new judges and one current vacancy, the procedures have changed and will continue to change as the judges try to move cases along faster,” said Minneapolis property tax attorney Nicholas Furia.
A recently introduced Tax Court policy seems designed to help it deal with the backlog of cases received during the turnover of judges. New scheduling orders have tightened the deadlines for property owners wishing to build a case for a valuation appeal, while the much longer response time for county assessors has stayed the same.
“Both taxpayers’ attorneys and county attorneys are trying to cope with the new deadlines,” said commercial property tax litigator Mark K. Maher, a partner with Smith, Gendler, Shiell, Sheff, Ford & Maher in Minneapolis. “They were designed by the court to erase the backlog in the calendar that’s accumulated over time. There have been a massive number of [appeal] filings because of the recession.”
Furia speculated that the new deadlines are designed to induce quick resolution of valuation cases with less involvement from the court.
“That’s significant, and that puts stress on taxpayers and their attorneys,” he said, although adding that the new measure has allowed the court to get through its backlog of cases quickly. “The two judges are really serious about moving the docket along.”
Two laws renewedThough changes in state property tax law were few this year, a couple of renewed statutes bear mentioning.
One will affect commercial owners in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. The deed tax and mortgage registry tax surcharges in those two counties were re-enacted by the Legislature, affecting all property transactions finalized on or after July 1.