[3/16/17] The U.S. Supreme Court will decide if a family can sell a piece of property that’s been in the family for 57 years.
The decision in a case called Murr v. Wisconsin could impact the rights of property owners all over the country.
William and Margaret Murr purchased a 1 ¼ acre lot in 1960 and built a cabin, and then three years later bought a similar-sized property adjacent to them, the Leader Telegram reported. Three decades later, the couple gave the land to their children. The family subsequently asked the county about selling the vacant lot, but the county blocked the sale because of a rule requiring lots to have one acre of buildable land. Even though the vacant lot is about 1 ¼ acres, its buildable space is much smaller – less than one acre — after deducting the slope and wetlands area, the newspaper reported.
The family had hoped to use the funds from the sale to pay for renovations to the cabin.
“All along we were receiving a property tax statement for that land, land that the county assessed as buildable property,” their daughter, Donna Murr, told the newspaper. “It was assessed at $400,000 and we paid $4,000 to $6,000 a year on it and didn’t think twice about it, because that’s what we were told it was worth.”
The problem: When her parents bought the land, the vacant lot was considered acceptable for building, but county ordinances later changed.
“An assessor told us then that the extra land was basically worth about $40,000, meaning we lost $360,000 in value because of the ordinance change,” Murr said. “If you do the math, since we owned the property, we paid $78,000 more in taxes than we should have. It just seems so unfair. If we hadn’t gone in, they’d still be assessing us. They told us it was our job to know about the ordinance.”