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Manifest Error – Can they really use it to collect more?

Last night before going to bed I checked the Seattle Times and read a shocking article. Apparently, the King County Assessor believes that some homes in the County have been under assessed and as a result property owners have under paid their taxes. Most importantly, Mr. Hara is claiming that the under assessment was a “manifest error” and therefore the County may be able to go back up to three years to collect additional taxes for property owners.

To prevent my blog followers from having an anxiety attack over whether they are going to owe more in property taxes, I believe it would be helpful to explain “manifest error”. WAC 458-14-005(14) defines “manifest error” as

an error in listing or assessment, which does not involve a revaluation of property, including the following (a) An error in the legal description; (b) A clerical or posting error; (c) Double assessments; (d) Misapplication of statistical data; (e) Incorrect characteristic data; (f) Incorrect placement of improvements; (g) Erroneous measurements; (h) The assessment of property exempted by law from taxation; (i) The failure to deduct the exemption allowed by law to the head of a family; or (j) Any other error which can be corrected by reference to the records and valuation methods applied to similarly situated properties, without exercising appraisal judgment.

The obvious issue here is how could the Assessor rely on “manifest error” to collect more property taxes from under assessed properties when the law specifically states that a manifest error is one that DOES NOT involve the revaluation or property?

From my reading of the Seattle Times article, it sounds like the Assessor will attempt to take a course of action that is prohibited under the same statute upon which he is relying. That is, revalue property as a result of manifest error.

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