Homeowners in Dover, WI, represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), won a major victory in the state Supreme Court that could affect property tax assessment appeals across the state. In Milewski v. Town of Dover, Vincent Milewski and Morganne MacDonald were challenging state statutes that said if they refused to allow inspectors in their home they would not have the right to appeal their property tax assessment.
“If an assessor asks to come inside your house, you can say no and challenge your taxes afterwards.” said Tom Kamenick, the WILL attorney representing the homeowners, “You couldn’t do that before this ruling.”
Under Wisconsin state statutes, homeowners would lose their ability to contest their property assessment at the local board of review if they did not allow a municipal assessor to enter the home. However, state statutes also prohibited homeowners that did not appeal their assessments at the local board of review from contesting their property assessments in court.
“A majority of the justices did decide that was unconstitutional,” said Kamenick. “At least as it was applied to homeowners that refuse an interior search of their property, because that’s protected by the Fourth Amendment and you also have a 14th Amendment right to due process to challenge your taxes.”
Kamenick said that decision was in Justice Daniel Kelly’s lead opinion joined by Justice Rebecca Bradley. Justices Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman agreed with Kelly “in principle,” according to Kamenick, but thought Kelly’s opinion used too broad of language.
“Chief Justice Roggensack would avoid the constitutional question by concluding that the first statute doesn’t require an interior view,” Kamenick said. “The statute doesn’t say clearly what ‘a view’ means and she says she would read the statutes that are normally applied to exterior views.”
State Senator Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, called the Supreme Court’s decision, “a clear affirmation of individual property rights and due process rights.”
“This case has illuminated a glaring inconsistency within Wisconsin statutes which forces a homeowner to choose between their property rights and their due process rights,” Craig said. “I will continue to push passage of Senate Bill 158 that provides a remedy for this major flaw in our law and aligns our statutes with the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision.”
Now the property tax case returns to circuit court. Due to a divided majority opinion in favor of the homeowners, it’s unclear whether Milewski and MacDonald will be able to give evidence regarding the interior of their home.