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‘I am happy’: Richmond homeowner receives refund, city makes changes after real estate tax error

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 12:39 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 2:56 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Richmond homeowner reached out to 12 On Your Side after she received a real estate tax bill for nearly four times the amount she pays in a year.

For 50 years, Edna Gillis has been living in her south Richmond home. For the last 20 years, her real estate taxes have been discounted nearly 75 percent due to the city of Richmond’s Tax Relief for the Elderly and Disabled Program.

“I didn’t get a bill to pay the bill in June,” said Gillis.

For the last few years, she has been paying $418 per year in real estate taxes. The bill is split into two payments of $209, due in January and June of each year.

“Mama checks the mailbox every single day, all her bills are put on the table, where she writes them out,” said Renee Couvrez, Gillis’ daughter.

After not getting a bill in June, in August 2021, she received a bill for $1,669, it also appeared she had been taken out of the relief program.

“I don’t want to say what my reaction was,” said Gillis.

Couvrez says she started calling the city of Richmond Finance Department, but couldn’t get an answer. Couvrez decided to pay the bill with her own money, to make sure nothing happened to her mother’s home. She also wanted to figure out how to ensure her mother was still enrolled in the relief program.

“I just want to make sure she has a roof over her head, I don’t want anyone to take her house and put her out on the streets,” she said.

NBC12 reached out to the City Finance Department and received an e-mail explaining what happened after looking into Ms. Gillis’ account.

“We discovered Ms. Gillis was sent the incorrect form which she completed and returned. Since this was an administrative error, the Department of Finance has reinstated her enrollment in the Tax Relief program. Additionally, she received a refund,” explained Director of Finance, Sheila White. “The enrollment period for the Tax Relief program is January 1st through March 31st of the application tax year, all applications and recertifications are due during that time. We mail the applications for tax relief and recertification in late December.”

Revenue Manager for the City, Valerie Weatherless says the Tax Relief program can go a long way for some homeowners. It is a three-year program and the requirements are:

  • 65 or older or disabled
  • Own and live in your dwelling
  • Earn less that $60,000 annually
  • Have less than $350,000 in assets

For the 2021 year, 2,400 people applied for tax relief, and 2,100 were enrolled in the program.

“The program is a 3-year program, Ms. Gillis was sent a recertification, however, Ms. Gillis was in her fourth year, she should have been sent an application as a renewal,” explained Weatherless.

Weatherless says because Ms. Gillis was sent and filled out the wrong form, staff removed her from the program by mistake. Ms. Gillis has since been sent, filled out and returned her renewal and will be enrolled in the program, with her next renewal coming in 2024.

“One thing that came out of this with Ms. Gillis that now we are very mindful of--[we are going to put] on the application, year one of three, so when they receive the recertification for the second year we will put two of three. Then the last is three of three and then we will indicate on the correspondence, this is your last year, so next year, you are receiving an application,” said Weatherless.

Weatherless says people in the program who may have children or someone to help them, will be able to fill out a Power of Attorney authorization form, to assist with getting the homeowners application to the city.

Gillis says her reaction was simple when she received a letter in the mail from the City of Richmond explaining everything.

“I am happy, I don’t have extra money to be giving the city,” said Gillis. “You solved my problem.”

Renee Couvrez hopes her mother’s story encourages others to look after their elderly loved ones.

“Check on them, check on their paperwork. If the paperwork is not right, call the city, call somebody, call your city councilperson, call your congressperson, call 12 On Your Side,” said Couvrez.

If you or someone you know could benefit from the Tax Relief program, click here. The application for 2022 will be made available in January.

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