Condo tax dispute heading to S.C. Supreme Court

dhinshaw@thestate.com September 24, 2013 

Carolina Walk condos

A dispute over Richland County property-tax bills for 29 condos overlooking the University of South Carolina football stadium is going before the S.C. Supreme Court.

Carolina Walk and Serrus Carolina Walk, which now own the units, say the county assessor was off by more than $2 million when valuing the property at the height of the recession in 2008.

The county appraised the game-day condos at $6,767,300 — and under state law, the assessor is presumed correct, placing the burden on the taxpayer to prove the appraisals were wrong, according to court filings.

The issue of home values has been debated in Richland County throughout the recession. Home buyers several years ago were snapping up deals on foreclosures and other distressed properties — including numerous condominiums around the stadium. But in many cases, their tax bills did not reflect the sales prices, because state law requires county assessors to base property taxes on a home’s “fair market value.”

Most cases, however, did not make it to the state’s high court.

“It’s very rare for the Supreme Court to decide an issue of valuation,” said Bernie Maybank, with Nexen Pruet, representing Serrus Carolina Walk.

In this case, however, the court transferred the case from the docket of the S.C. Court of Appeals for its review — a procedure that signals it could have broad implications.

Dan Shearouse, chief clerk, said Tuesday a hearing date has not been set.

Carolina Walk, at Stadium and Bluff roads, is a luxury complex consisting of two towers joined by a gated, eight-story parking garage.

The crux of the case is whether the county did adequate research on sales of similar condos when setting the values of the 29 units.

The condo owners say appraisers ignored lower-priced units when calculating comparable sales; the county maintains those units involved owners under pressure to sell, meaning prices were artificially low.

“There are lots of people who buy property ... in a distressed marketplace and they turn around and sell it, and sometimes they feel like what they paid for it was what it was worth,” longtime assessor John Cloyd said Tuesday.

In March 2011, Serrus Carolina Walk purchased the units and parking spaces from Carolina Walk for $2,962,500, according to a 2012 order issued by Administrative Law Judge Deborah Brooks Durden. The seller assigned tax rights to the buyer.

Durden ruled in the assessor’s favor.

The S.C. Association of Realtors filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the condo owners.

“Our contention is Richland County refuses to acknowledge we went through the greatest recession of our lifetime,” Maybank said. “They claim the values of condominiums did not drop.”

Maybank led the S. C. Department of Revenue under Republican governors David Beasley and Mark Sanford. He serves as a tax activist, passing along articles by email on current issues surrounding state and local taxation.

Cloyd’s lawyer, Malane Pike, declined comment.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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