Lawsuit Claims Detroit Failed to Notify Property Owners of Tax Assessment Notices

Attorneys and activists say it’s an issue that contributed to people losing their homes to foreclosures.

A group of Detroit homeowners is suing the city, Wayne County, and the state, claiming officials delayed notifying residents of their tax assessments.

Homeowners named in the suit claim city assessors sent notices of their 2017 tax bills close to — and even after — the appeal deadline.

It’s an issue they say contributed to people losing their homes to tax foreclosures. The plaintiffs say the action denied them due process and unjustly enriched Wayne County through inflated rates, and sales, fines, and fees associated with tax foreclosure.

Listen: Attorneys and professors representing homeowners.

Attorney Sam Schoenburg, along with professors Bernadette Atuahene and Christopher Berry, joined Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today to discuss the lawsuit. 

“Our claim is that Wayne County is complicit in subjecting homeowners to foreclosure when those homeowners had no opportunity to appeal their unlawfully high property taxes assessments in 2017,” says attorney Sam Schoenburg, representing the plaintiffs. 

View the class action complaint here

Detroit re-assessed all its homes in 2017 after years of inaccurate reporting. This comes after a study that found that between 2009 and 2015 a majority of homes were overassessed, and after a Detroit News investigation found that the city overtaxed homeowners by at least $600 million after the financial collapse of 2008-2009.

At the time of publishing, the City of Detroit Mayor’s office had not responded to a request for comment.

Duggan, Horhn Named in Suit

According to the suit, city officials failed to give homeowners ample time to appeal their new tax bills, allowing Wayne County to profit from the over-assessments. In addition to the county, the suit names Mayor Mike Duggan and City Assessor Alvin Horhn as defendants.

Plaintiffs provided emails and documents to WDET they purport show that homeowners weren’t given time to appeal tax assessments. 

View emails obtained by the attorneys suing the city through a FOIA request and provided to WDET.

View a USPS form the attorneys say help make their case, also obtained through a FOIA request and provided to WDET.

“We provide these in response to statements from Detroit Assessor Alvin Horhn that the City sent all 2017 residential assessment notices on time. Specifically, Mr. Horhn has been quoted asserting the notices were mailed on January 24, 2017. The attached documents dispute that account,” says attorney Sam Schoenburg.

Schoenburg says the lawsuit is meant to ensure the timely delivery of property assessments, and to compensate affected Detroit homeowners saddled with fees and penalties.

Officials React

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib says Detroit is misusing federal money meant to alleviate its housing crisis.

“As the federal government sends Hardest Hit Funds all of this federal funding that supposed to deal with the blight, well the blight was created because of intentional denial of people’s rights,” says Tlaib.

Council President Pro-Tem Mary Sheffield says she’s working to compensate affected homeowners, and prevent future over-billing. 

“We are calling for an across the board cut of assessments for all properties that are valued $30,000 and under.”

A researcher cited in the lawsuit found that a quarter of Detroit’s lowest valued homes would now have gone into tax foreclosure had they been accurately assessed.

Updated, 12:00 pm: Added details of the suit and reactions from officials.

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  • Eli Newman
    Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.
  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.