Edinburg, Texas – Until last year, a group of neighbors in Edinburg had never received a tax bill from the Hidalgo County Irrigation District No. 1.
In August 2019, however, the district sent bills to nine homeowners for allegedly delinquent taxes for the years 1983 through 1997. For most homeowners, the taxes over those 15 years totaled between $230 and $260.
Interest and fees, however, added more than $1,000 – a markup of 450% or more – to each homeowner’s bill. The district hired Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, a statewide tax-collection law firm, to collect the taxes.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid on Aug. 18 sued the irrigation district and its officers to stop them from collecting taxes that the nine homeowners allegedly owe.
According to the lawsuit, the Texas Tax Code requires a tax collector to remove taxes on real property that are 20 or more years delinquent. The statements sent to TRLA clients are for taxes between 22 and 37 years old.
If the irrigation district is ordered to jettison taxes from its rolls that are more than 20 years old, many more homeowners than the nine named plaintiffs could benefit.
“These taxes should have been removed from the district’s rolls long ago,” said TRLA attorney Jennifer Richards. “Trying to collect them now, for the first time – and charging individual homeowners more than a thousand dollars in penalties – is an unlawful abuse of the district’s taxing authority.”
State law requires an irrigation district to mail a notice to a property owner within five days of the assessment becoming due. Also, interest and attorney’s fees can only be added after the date an assessment is due.
Some of the plaintiffs have owned their properties since before the taxes were allegedly assessed. Yet, none of the plaintiffs received a statement before August 2019, except for one landowner who received a notice in 2017.
Not only are the statements for decades-old taxes, but the plaintiffs’ properties were removed from the irrigation district’s jurisdiction between 1997 and 1999.
One plaintiff purchased her property in 1996 before the property was excluded from the assessment jurisdiction of the irrigation district.
After receiving her first billing statement last year, the client set up a payment plan with the Linebarger law firm and to date has paid $354, or $117 more than the original taxes. The suit seeks a refund for the amount she has paid so far.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid provides free legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney in 68 southwestern counties including the entire Texas-Mexico border. TRLA attorneys specialize in more than 45 areas of the law, including disaster assistance, family, employment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, landlord-tenant, housing, education, immigration, farmworker, and civil rights. Our hotline is open from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CST) Monday – Friday: (888) 988-9996.