An Ada County resident contacted the Idaho Statesman to say that a neighbor across the street moved out of state a few years ago but still claims a homeowners exemption. Similar questions have come up before.
With rising property taxes on so many residents’ minds, we wondered: How many people are getting this tax exemption for a property they don’t live in?
The homeowners exemption, also called the homestead exemption, is the biggest property-tax break Idaho offers homeowners. It allows owners to exempt 50% percent of the value of a home including up to one acre of land, up to $125,000. There’s a catch: it can only be applied to one home, and it has to be the person’s primary place of residence.
Ada County is undergoing a real estate boom, with prices of single family homes soaring as demand outstrips the area’s shrinking inventory. Boise was recently named the most unaffordable city in the United States.
So you might think that the temptation to cheat by improperly claiming the exemption is strong. But County Assessor Bob McQuade says instances of homeowners getting tax breaks for homes they don’t live are not common.
Whenever the assessor’s office finds credible evidence of incorrect homeowner exemptions, the office starts a “recovery” process, where the exemption is canceled and homeowners are told to repay those taxes with penalties and interest.
In 2021, the assessor’s office had 47 recoveries, compared with 29 recoveries from 2019-20. The 47 make up about 0.003% of the more than 165,000 residential parcels in the entire county.
“We know it’s a problem, (but) I wouldn’t call it a real prevalent problem,” McQuade said by phone.
There are a few ways the assessor’s office learns about false exemptions. The first is through letters or emails sent to the office from residents concerned that a neighbor has an exemption when they should not.
Another way is when mail from the office is returned with a forwarding address outside the county or state, Assistant Administrative Supervisor Rachel Gonnoud said. That’s usually an indicator that the recipient no longer lives in that residence.
Similarly, a neighboring county in Idaho can inform the office if the county receives an application from an Ada County resident for an exemption.
Some people assume those who illegally claim a homeowner’s exemption often are those who have recently left the state and are now renting their homes. But McQuade said people simply forget to update their home’s tax status; he gave an example of a woman who lived in her parents’ home but wasn’t entitled to the exemption on that property.
“With the homeowner’s exemption, once you apply for it, it stays in place,” he said. “I think a lot of people just don’t know about it.”
McQuade said sometimes people are just upset with their neighbor, such as with the condition of the home, and calling the assessor’s office can become a retributive act.
He said that while some violators may slip through the cracks, they still represent a tiny percentage of all the taxpaying homeowners in Ada County.
And beyond financial penalties, there are no criminal charges for claiming an exemption on a home you don’t live in.