Billings report on Quist taxes called laughably wrong

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As a lawyer who practices property-rights and real-estate law in Kalispell, I was shocked to read a Billings Gazette article that overtly implies wrongdoing by a Flathead County resident who actually did nothing wrong.

It didn’t take me long to realize the reporter, Tom Lutey, doesn’t understand property rights and taxation law; in fact, even the headline was incorrect. Let’s start there.

That headline, “Quist has ties to rental property not listed on state tax rolls,” is patently false. This accusation has every property-rights lawyer in the state laughing. The Quist property is on tax rolls. The Montana Department of Revenue has assessed it as rural residential (not commercial). The current Department of Revenue classification AAB2 accurately identifies the barn as a residential structure in fair condition. Yet the article goes on to imply that because the structure is technically described by the department as a “Standard Barn” the Quists are committing some sort of wrongdoing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reporter even uses a quote from Bob Story who incorrectly speculates that this is commercial property. Residential property includes single-family residences as well as multifamily rental dwelling units. The Quist barn dwelling is Class 4 residential property, not commercial property. Why would this reporter include a quote from someone whose guess is blatantly wrong? Unless to purposefully mislead his readers.

But perhaps the most head-scratching piece of the Billings Gazette story is that it implies that if a property owner modifies or improves the structures on their property, they are obligated under the law to notify the Revenue Department. That is incorrect. 

If this were true, every Montanan who puts new carpet in their home, or paints the exterior, would need to report the building upgrade to the Department of Revenue so it could reassess the property and possibly tax them more. That’s ridiculous and backwards. Whoever disagrees with the state’s classification or market value may request an informal review, or appeal directly to the county and/or Montana Tax Appeal Boards. The Quists have simply not contested the Department of Revenue’s classification.

The type of invasion of privacy the article suggests is precisely why Flathead County got rid of its building-permit requirements decades ago — you had to pull a permit every time you wanted to put in a new door.

Let’s be clear. There are properties all over the Flathead which are undervalued and overvalued for tax purposes. The Department of Revenue has the right upon notice to enter the lands and make determinations. The people here doing the assessments are good hard-working people. If something is inaccurate, they eventually try to get it right. They will do so here.

No one in this state in the Quists’ position would have done anything differently than the Quists. I’m unclear why a reporter would go to such great lengths to make a mountain out of a molehill. Hell, there isn’t even a molehill in this case. I encourage future reporters or newspapers to contact credible sources and get the facts before diving into issues like property law that they clearly know nothing about.

DeJana is a Kalispell attorney.

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