RACINE COUNTY — A Town of Dover couple contend their property was reassessed at a pricier value in retaliation for refusing to allow an assessor to inspect the inside of their home last summer.
That couple, Vincent Milewski and Morganne MacDonald, now have sued the Town of Dover, the community’s Board of Review and the private appraisal company, Gardiner Appraisal Services, which contracts with the town for assessor services.
They allege that their constitutional rights were violated, they were retaliated against for refusing to allow a privately contracted assessor to enter their home, and that their rights were violated again when they weren’t allowed to challenge their reassessment.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a nonprofit law firm that focuses on constitutional and open government law, filed the lawsuit on July 23 on behalf of the couple.
According to the 12-page lawsuit, obtained Wednesday, a townwide reassessment was conducted in Dover in 2013. In early August of that year, the couple received a notice stating that a Gardiner assessor would visit their home at 6:10 p.m. Aug. 20 to “view the property.” The assessor “must view the interior of your property,” the suit states. When the assessor arrived, MacDonald told him he could view the outside of the property from their yard, but couldn’t enter their home.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty President Rick Esenberg said, “I’ve lived in my house for 20 years and never had an appraiser ask to come into my home. I’m not sure that I ever have (heard of that practice).”
The assessor left without entering the yard and without questioning MacDonald about the inside of her home, the lawsuit states. Company officials sent the couple a certified letter in October asking to schedule another time for a viewing. But the couple instead wrote a letter to the Town Board and objected to what they contend was an unreasonable search of their home that they say violates the state and U.S. Constitution.
Their property was reassessed at $307,100, which reflected a 10.56 percent increase from the prior year. The 2012 property assessment was $277,761, according to the lawsuit. They paid $5,037.15 in property taxes in 2013 as a result, but they allege the proper amount should have been $3,768.44.
The couple contends that their property should have been reassessed at $232,600 – less than it was the year before.
According to the suit, the couple’s property was one of four parcels reassessed at a greater value last year. Those were the only four parcels in the 43-unit Lorimar Estates subdivision that didn’t include an internal inspection, the lawsuit states. Property assessments on those four parcels increased by an average of 10 percent from 2012 to 2013, while assessments on the remaining 39 properties allegedly decreased an average of 5.81 percent.
Milewski and MacDonald now seek the return of $1,268.71 – the difference between the amount of taxes they paid versus the amount they believe they should have paid.
Esenberg said the couple had not applied for any permits for work on their home last year, which could affect their reassessment.
“I know nothing of a lawsuit at this time,” Town Chairman Tom Lembcke said Wednesday, referring questions to town Attorney Peter Ludwig.
Messages were left Wednesday for Ludwig, but he wasn’t available for comment. Messages also were left for Assessor Gregory Gardiner, with Gardiner Appraisal Services, but he couldn’t be reached for comment.
“They just don’t like the idea that somebody can just demand to come into their house for any reason,” Esenberg said. “You have to respect the privacy interests of citizens. To retaliate against someone or jack up their assessment because they don’t want to let someone into their home shows a certain disrespect for their privacy rights.”
No hearing date has been set.