The Texas Legislature’s 87th Regular Session was one of the most extreme in recent memory. Lawmakers introduced highly unpopular bills to restrict abortion, voting, and free speech, among other civil rights. Yet, they failed to address some of the most pressing issues facing Texans, like pandemic and winter storm financial relief, or comprehensive police reform. In a dramatic ending to the session, the entire nation watched as more than 60 Democratic members blocked a vote on voter suppression legislation by leaving the House floor.

Abortion will be banned after six weeks gestation, before many people know they are pregnant.

All Texans have a constitutionally protected right to decide whether and when to become a parent, including the right to terminate a pregnancy. However, this session, Texas lawmakers continued their crusade against abortion access and passed Senate Bill 8, a near total ban on abortion starting at six-weeks gestation, which is set to go into effect later this fall.

The bill also allows anyone in the world to sue doctors, nurses, and individuals in Texas who help someone get an abortion, as well as anyone who intends to violate the law. Over a dozen other states have passed six-week bans and each of those have been blocked by a court. The law does not go into effect until Sept. 1, so abortion is still available in Texas for now.

Although 54% of Texans oppose a policy of this sort, lawmakers also passed House Bill 1280, which would immediately outlaw abortion in Texas in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade or states are granted the authority to prohibit abortions. This law has no exceptions for rape or incest and would subject doctors to first-degree felonies for providing what was previously constitutionally protected healthcare.

Your voting rights remain mostly the same, for now.

Republicans almost passed an unpopular omnibus voter suppression bill, Senate Bill 7, which would have disproportionately harmed voters of color and voters with disabilities. The legislation would have banned drive-thru and 24-hour voting, limited polling hours, threatened “Souls to the Polls” — popular among many Black voters, empowered partisan poll watchers, made it easier to overturn an election, and added 16 new or expanded criminal penalties to the election code.

After Senate lawmakers manipulated the rules to take a last-minute vote on this controversial bill, more than 60 House members left the chamber so that the House could not take a vote on this and other bills, and it failed to pass. Gov. Greg Abbott has said that he will bring back lawmakers for a special session later this summer to take up the bill again.

Several smaller elections-related bills did pass that mostly affect how local officials conduct elections. These bills add criminal penalties for election workers for counting votes they know to be invalid (House Bill 574), shorten the time for local officials to file death information for registered voters with the secretary of state (House Bill 1264), tighten regulations for the address voters can use to register to vote (Senate Bill 1111), and require that all voting machines used in the state must be manufactured and sold by U.S. companies (Senate Bill 1387).

You won’t see state-mandated police reform, despite promises from the governor.

After George Floyd’s murder, Gov. Abbott met with his family and pledged to advance the George Floyd Act to “prevent police brutality like this from happening in the future in Texas.”

But the George Floyd Act didn’t even get a vote this session. The bill included reform of qualified immunity, progressive disciplinary requirements for police officers, and requirements for de-escalation and proportionate response, among other reforms.

Lawmakers did pass a bill that requires police officers to intervene to prevent another officer from using excessive force (Senate Bill 69). The legislature also recognized severe law enforcement oversight failures when it chose not to reauthorize the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

If you’re a trans kid or parent, your rights stay the same, for now.

Lawmakers introduced over 30 anti-LGTBQ+ bills this session, of which 13 explicitly targeted the trans community. They included efforts to ban trans kids from playing youth sports (Senate Bill 29), ban doctors from providing trans youth with gender-affirming health care (Senate Bill 1311), and criminalize parents for supporting their transgender kids (Senate Bill 1646). All of these anti-trans bills failed. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has threatened to bring back these bills in a special session, but Gov. Abbott has not yet signaled whether he supports such a move.

The ACLU is currently suing other states that passed anti-trans bills in the past two years, and the Biden administration is expected to issue new guidance further protecting transgender young people from discrimination. Last year, the 6-to-3 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia significantly strengthened the legal framework that protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination under federal law.

You won’t get financial relief for the blackout, and new regulations on the electric grid remain unfunded.

Winter storm Uri and the devastating electrical blackout in 2021 left 700 people dead and 5 million without power. Yet, lawmakers failed to pass several bills that would have provided financial relief to impacted families. The “Providing Ongoing Water and Energy Resources (POWER) to Texas Consumers Act” (House Bill 3460), for example, would have created a grant program to provide direct financial assistance to Texans affected by the blackout. A Senate bill that would have provided a $350 credit on Texans’ electric bills similarly died without getting a vote in the House.

Polls show that Texans overwhelmingly support measures to upgrade facilities and create new disaster systems. Lawmakers did pass Senate Bill 3, which requires power generators, transmission lines, natural gas facilities, and pipelines to make upgrades for extreme weather, but the bill doesn’t provide any funding to pay for the upgrades or enforce the new mandates.

Your kids won’t learn key lessons about racial injustice in school.

In a last-ditch procedural twist, the Senate passed House Bill 3979 that bans “critical race theory” in Texas schools by restricting how teachers discuss current events. Critical race theory teaches that racism is systemic in American laws and history, and that it continues to drive disparities between white Americans and Americans of color in terms of wealth, health, education, and criminal justice. HB 3979 also forbids students from receiving course credit for civic engagement.

You might get better broadband access if you live in an underserved area.

People without broadband access — who are disproportionately non-white, low income, or living in rural areas — have fewer opportunities in education, employment, banking, and other technologically-dependent aspects of life.

The legislature passed House Bill 5 to expand broadband access across the state by creating a State Broadband Development Office. The office will award grants, low-interest loans, and other incentives to spur expanded broadband connectivity.

The bail system stays the same, for now.

More than two out of three people in Texas jails have not been convicted of a crime. Lawmakers advanced bills that would have enriched the bail industry and locked even more people up before they go to trial. These efforts failed when Democrats left the House floor, but the governor has promised to revisit this issue in a special session this summer.

House Joint Resolution 4 proposed an amendment to the Texas Constitution allowing the government to deny bail for a wide range of new alleged offenses, regardless of the strength of evidence presented. House Bill 20 would have made it harder for people accused of certain offenses to get out of jail if they can’t afford it, while allowing those with means to purchase their freedom.

You can face jail time for certain kinds of protest activity.

The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 sparked the largest protest movement in history. Thousands of Texans risked their lives exercising their constitutional right to free speech, when protests against police brutality across the state were met with more police brutality.

Instead of answering the call to reshape policing, lawmakers prioritized bills targeting protest activity. House Bill 9 requires jail time for people who block emergency vehicles or hospital entrances during a protest, without any common-sense provisions to protect protest rights. And House Bill 2366 increases criminal penalties to the felony level for using fireworks or laser pointers to interfere with official police activity.

Your local government has less control over its own budget.

As Texans explore more effective ways to address public safety, the legislature passed two measures that punish counties and large cities if they reallocate law enforcement funds to libraries, parks, and social services.

House Bill 1900 triggers a range of punitive measures like reductions in state funding if law enforcement spending is cut in cities with populations greater than 250,000. Senate Bill 23 triggers an automatic countywide election when county governments reduce law enforcement spending.

You can be fined and criminally charged for camping in an unapproved public place.

The legislature passed a statewide camping ban (House Bill 1925) targeting unhoused Texans who are forced to sleep outside. The bill creates a class C misdemeanor in the penal code, with a fine of $500, for camping in an unauthorized public place. The bill effectively criminalizes homelessness without providing the resources required to help people living outside.

Your First Amendment right to support boycotts has been further eroded.

The right to boycott is a crucial part of the First Amendment and an important tool for advocacy in the pursuit of equality. In 2017, the Texas legislature prohibited state contracts with any company or individual engaging in a boycott against Israel. This session, Senate Bill 13 similarly banned boycotting the oil and gas industry and Senate Bill 19 banned boycotting firearms companies.

More Texans can access medical marijuana.

House Bill 1535 expands Texas’ Compassionate Use Program for medical marijuana to cover people with cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Senate removed a provision that would have allowed anyone with chronic pain to access medical marijuana.

You can carry a gun without a license.

After a gunman opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso in 2019, killing 22 people and wounding 23 others, Gov. Abbott promised legislative action. Instead, the legislature passed a bill that allows people to carry handguns in Texas without a concealed handgun license (House Bill 1927). Polls indicate that 59% of voters oppose unlicensed gun carry. The Supreme Court has stated that the Constitution does not confer a “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Religious communities can ignore certain public health and safety rules.

Texas has some of the strongest laws in the country protecting religious expression. Under the guise of “religious freedom,” the legislature passed several bills that position First Amendment protections for religious practice over and against other rights and public safety concerns. The same legislature passed other bills to limit First Amendment protected activity like free speech.

House Bill 525 makes places of worship “essential businesses” under state emergency law so that they cannot be closed via an emergency order. House Bill 1239 prohibits any government agency or public official from issuing an order that would close a place of worship. And Senate Bill 581 prevents homeowners’ associations from ordering removal of religious displays on a homeowner’s property.

S. Tyler Rutherford’s Curriculum Vitae


S. Tyler Rutherford, B.A., J.D.

923 S. Alamo St., Ste. 2

San Antonio, Texas 78205-344

210-704-7884 F. 210-247-9439

url: www.rutherfordandrutherford.com

email: [email protected]


 Summary of Qualifications

A highly competent professional skilled in the nuances of complex litigation.  Demonstrated strengths in motion practice, jury trials, bench advocacy, legal research and writing.  Quite competent in all phases of litigation including developing litigation plans, formulating and implementing discovery strategies, taking depositions, trial preparation and trial, as well as procedural and evidentiary appeals.

Areas of Expertise

¨  Civil Litigation

¨  General Negligence

¨  Consumer Law

¨  Personal Injury

¨  Products Liability

¨  Business Litigation

¨  Small Business Organization and Counseling

¨  Employment Law  prosecution and defense)

¨  Insurance Litigation

¨  Estate Law

¨ Family Law

¨  Commercial Litigation

¨  Consumer Litigation

¨  Personal Injury Litigation

¨  Civil Rights Litigation

¨  Business Transactions

¨  Debt Collection and Defense

¨  Probate

¨  Probate Adversarial Proceedings

¨  Diverse litigation practice including personal injury, wrongful death, business litigation, products liability,

and medical malpractice litigation; some criminal.

¨  Complex civil and criminal trials and appeals in both state and federal courts.

Professional Licenses

¨ State Bar of Texas –1996

¨ United States District Court – Western District of Texas

¨ United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit –1998

¨ United States Tax Court – 2014

Professional Affiliations

¨ The Rutherford Law Firm, PLLC (April 2009 to present): Partner

¨ Of Counsel – Carabin and Shaw, PC (November 2017 to present)

¨ Rutherford, Rutherford & Bettersworth, P.L.L.C. (February 1999 to April 2009): Partner

¨ Law Office of S. Tyler Rutherford (November 1996 to February 1999)  Sole Practitioner

¨  Primarily engaged as a general practitioner.

¨  Personal injury, commercial, contract, family, probate, labor, and criminal litigation.


¨  Juris Doctorate Cum Laude 1996 from St. Mary’s University School of Law

¨  Focused on business oriented courses of study

¨  Dean’s List for Three Semesters

¨  Bachelor of Arts 1989 St. Mary’s University

¨  Majored in Political Science

¨  Pre-law minor with heavy emphasis in philosophy


¨  Phi Delta Phi, National Law Honor Fraternity

¨  John M. Harlan Honor Society

¨  Texas Bar Association

¨  Federal Bar Association

¨  American Civil Liberties Union

¨  Texas Bar Foundation – Fellow


¨  Mensa



New Laws in Effect in Texas as of September 1st, 2020

Unsolicited Nude Photos
House Bill 2789 says it’s now illegal for someone to send you nude photos you never asked for. The new law will make it a class C misdemeanor to send unwanted, unrequested nude photos by text, dating app, email or any other platform.

Late-Fee Bill
SB 1414, amends the section in Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code that regulates fees for the late payment of rent. The bill will prohibit the collection of late fees until any portion of the rent has remained unpaid for two full days after the original due date. As for what that late fee charge can be, under the new law it’s considered reasonable as long as it doesn’t go over 12 percent of the rent for that period.

Feral Hog hunting
SB 317 says that landowners won’t need a hunting license to pursue feral hogs that come onto their private property. It is still a violation to hunt without a license if, hunting without consent. The new law removes any reference to depredation and the exemption applies for the take of all feral hogs.

The new law only applies to private property, and is irrelevant of whether or not it is a paid hunt, although allowing hunting access in return for financial or other consideration still requires a hunting lease license from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Porch Pirates
A warning to those who have made a career out of stealing packages off porches: you could go to prison. A new Texas law set to go into effect Sept. 1 will make it a felony to steal anything considered mail, including letters, postcards, packages and other sealed items.

It’s a first-degree felony if you steal from more than 50 people, a second-degree felony if you steal from 20 to 50 people, and a state felony if you steal from fewer than 10 people.

If you’re caught and convicted, you could spend anywhere from six months to 10 years in prison. You could also have to deal with a hefty fine, ranging anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000.

Alcohol delivery
SB 1232 allows restaurants, bars or businesses with a mixed beverage permit to deliver alcohol with food to homes or other off-premises locations.

SB 38 redefines hazing in many ways. The first major change will be civil and criminal immunity for “any person who voluntarily reports a specific hazing incident.”

The second major change will affect how higher education institutions will be required to report hazing incidents to students. Schools and universities will now be required to send hazing reports to students at least 14 days before the start of each semester.

Under the new law, universities are required to include more information in annual hazing reports, such as when an incident occurred, the date the investigation began, descriptions of the incident and violations, the findings of any school investigations and the final sanction.

Lemonade stands
With HB 234, Children’s unlicensed lemonade stands won’t be criminal enterprises.

Cities and neighborhood associations will now be prohibited from blocking or regulating children under the age of 18 from trying to sell non-alcoholic beverages on private property.

Sexual assault kit testing
Texas is improving the processing and testing of sexual assault kits by enacting HB 8. This will establish a time frame for the submission and analysis of newly collected kits.

Law enforcement agencies are required to collect kits from medical facilities within seven to 14 days, and crime labs are required to test kits within 90 days of receiving the evidence.

The bill will also prohibit law enforcement agencies from destroying rape kits related to unsolved cases for 40 years or until the statute of limitations expires.

Minimum age for tobacco sales
SB 21 says that people in Texas will have to be at least 21 years old to purchase cigarettes.

According to supporters of the age increase, the law should reduce the risk of addiction.

Increased fines/fees for drivers
SB 2048 will kill the Driver Responsibility Program, which required Texans convicted of certain traffic offenses to pay an annual surcharge on top of criminal penalties and court fines in order to keep and use their driver’s licenses.

Drivers who’ve had their licenses suspended under the previous law will now get them reinstated.

All traffic tickets and moving violations in the state will be increased by $20 and intoxicated driver fines will increase as well.

Brass knuckles
HB 446 removes brass knuckles from the Penal Code’s definition of prohibited weapons, making it legal to carry.

Cough syrup
HB 1518 requires an age-18 requirement for the purchase of over-the-counter medicines containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, an ingredient which is abused by some teenagers to get high.

Postpartum depression
HB 253 requires a five-year strategic plan to improve access to postpartum depression screening, referral, treatment and support services.

Hunting/fishing license
HB 547 allows people in Texas to show digital images of hunting and fishing licenses.

Sexual assault
SB 1259 expands the definition of sexual assault. If a health care provider used “human reproductive material from a donor knowing that the other person had not expressly consented to the use of material from that donor,” it’s considered sexual assault.

School marshals
HB 1387 abolishes the cap on how many school marshals a campus can appoint.

You Can Sue Your Stalker

Are you being stalked?

The Texas legislature has set out a specific claim for money damages against a person who may be stalking you.  Stalking, or “harassing behavior” is defined as “conduct by the defendant directed specifically toward the claimant, including following the claimant, that is reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass the claimant.”  To sue successfully recover in a lawsuit for stalking, a claimant must show:

(1) on more than one occasion the defendant engaged in harassing behavior;

(2) as a result of the harassing behavior, the claimant reasonably feared for the claimant’s safety or the safety of a member of the claimant’s family; and

(3) the defendant violated a restraining order prohibiting harassing behavior or:

(A) the defendant, while engaged in harassing behavior, by acts or words threatened to inflict bodily injury on the claimant or to commit an offense against the claimant, a member of the claimant’s family, or the claimant’s property;

(B) the defendant had the apparent ability to carry out the threat;

(C) the defendant’s apparent ability to carry out the threat caused the claimant to reasonably fear for the claimant’s safety or the safety of a family member;

(D) the claimant at least once clearly demanded that the defendant stop the defendant’s harassing behavior;

(E) after the demand to stop by the claimant, the defendant continued the harassing behavior; and

(F) the harassing behavior has been reported to the police as a stalking offense.

If you live in San Antonio, Texas, or the surrounding metropolitan area, and can prove your claim, you can get a money judgment against your stalker.  If you are caught in this unfortunate situation, call my office and I can advise you in more detail regarding your rights.

Water Damage from Neighbor’s Property?

If you have suffered water intrusion into your home, garage, or property in San Antonio, Texas, your neighbor may be financially responsible for your damages.  Many states follow the “common enemy” doctrine which states that surface water is the common enemy of every property owner. Union v. Durkes, 38 N.J.L. 21, 22 (1875). The common enemy doctrine embraces the idea that because water is a common enemy, surface water may diverted at the land owner’s discretion, though the diversion may injure an adjacent land owner. Miller v. Letzerich, 121 Tex. 248, 258, 49 S.W.2d 404, 409 (1932). However, Texas is different.  Texas has modified the doctrine by holding landowners responsible for damage to neighboring property due to diversion of surface water.

Section 11.086 of the Texas Water Code provides that:

(a) No person may divert or impound the natural flow of surface waters in this state, or permit a diversion or impounding by him to continue, in a manner that damages the property of another by the overflow of the water diverted or impounded.

(b) A person whose property is injured by an overflow of water caused by an unlawful diversion or impounding has remedies at law and in equity and may recover damages occasioned by the overflow.
Tex. Water Code Ann. § 11.086 (West 2017).

This means that if you have suffered a flooded home, garage, or backyard in San Antonio as a result of your neighbor’s landscaping, or modification of his yard, he may be financially responsible for your ruined carpet, sheet rock or other damages.  You can sue him to recover money for the damage to your property.  With all of the recent flooding and rainfall in San Antonio and South Texas, you may have run into this problem.  If you have, the lawyers at our firm can help.

Texas Tax Amnesty Program

The Texas Tax Amnesty Program will run from May 1, 2018, through June 29, 2018.

The Texas Tax Amnesty Program will, under certain circumstances, provide delinquent taxpayers with relief from penalties and interest on tax due. Tax amnesty applies to periods before Jan. 1, 2018, and only includes liabilities that have not been previously reported to the Comptroller’s office. If a taxpayer has been notified that a period or periods are scheduled for an audit review, or if they are already under audit review, then those periods are not eligible for amnesty. It does not apply to accounts which have been certified to the Office of the Attorney General, accounts which are presently in litigation, or accounts which have been reduced to judgment. Additionally, the amnesty doesn’t apply to local motor vehicle tax, IFTA taxes, PUC gross receipts assessments or unclaimed property payments.

Program participants can “wipe the slate clean” by filing past due reports, or amending reports that underreported taxes, without paying penalties or interest. You can also register for taxes that should have been reported, and catch up on those reports that should have been filed, without paying penalties or interest.

All state and local taxes and fees the Comptroller’s office administers are eligible, with the exception of Public Utility Commission gross receipts assessments. The Comptroller does not administer sports and community venue tax or property taxes, so these are not eligible. The Unclaimed Property program and IFTA taxes are not a part of tax amnesty.

Check out the Texas State Comptroller’s FAQ:


Received a Demand Letter or been Sued by Joe Hand Promotions?

If You Have Been Sued by Joe Hand Promotions Do Not Ignore the Letter, FIGHT BACK!

If you are a bar or nightclub owner and you got a nasty letter from Joe Hand Promotions saying you owe them big money for illegally showing the UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor fight, any UFC fight, or any other pay-per-view event then DO NOT IGNORE THE LETTER –  THEY WILL SUE YOU!

Even if You Showed the Fight Innocently You May Still be in Trouble

Most likely you showed or televised this fight thinking you paid the proper fees to do so; however, if you are a commercial establishment and you showed an event to your patrons, you have to pay Joe Hand a special licensing fee.  If you fail to do this you may be in violation of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 553 or 605).  This law provides strict liability against you (meaning the plaintiff does not have to show an intentional violation) if, by satellite transmission or the use of a cable system, if you show a closed-circuit event without proper authorization from the owner (Joe Hand Promotions).

Joe Hand uses Investigators

On fight nights, Joe Hand will send out an “auditor,” or private investigator, to how many televisions you have, which ones are showing the fight, how many customers you have, and what you are charging for food or drinks.  Joe Hand will try and use this against you.

Joe Hand Will Try and Foreclose Against Your Bar or Restaurant

They will then send you a demand letter asking for an outrageous amount of money.  If you ignore it, they will sue you and try and take a judgment against you.  They may very well be successful.  After they obtain the judgment they will attempt to levy on your bar or restaurant and you may lose your bar or restaurant. Don’t let this happen.

The Rutherford Law Firm Successfully Defends These Claims

Our firm has handled a number of these cases in the San Antonio area and throughout Texas.  There are good defenses to these claims and judges will listen to them but you will need a lawyer to defend you.  Call The Rutherford Law Firm immediately at 210-225-4200 if you have received a letter from The Law Offices of Thomas P. Riley, the Korn Diaz Firm, or any other law firm on behalf of Joe Hand Promotions.

Property Damage from Harvey? Why you Should File a Claim by Sept. 1


The impact of Hurricane Harvey has been devastating to Houston and other parts of Texas. As we deal with the impact of the storm, we need to keep in mind our rights as property owners.

There is a new law that takes effect this week of which most people are completely unaware.

If you have property damage to your home or business – including from Hurricane Harvey – and you need to make a claim with your insurance company, take action BEFORE this Friday, September 1, 2017.

Why? As you know, the Texas legislature meets every two years. They met this year and passed House Bill 1774 which impacts the rights and remedies available to property owners under the Texas Insurance Code. This new law specifically applies to property damage claims involving “forces of nature” – such as floods, tornados, hurricanes, hail, wind, rainstorms, and wildfires. This new law takes effect this Friday, September 1, 2017.

To fall under the current laws which are more favorable to consumers and property owners, policyholders should send notice in writing to their insurance company that (1) specifically references their claim, AND (2) is dated BEFORE September 1, 2017.

Telephone calls are not enough. Put it in writing – mail, fax, or email. And, keep a copy of what you send.

To view the new law click here.

The information in this column is not intended as legal advice, but to provide a general understanding of the law. Readers with legal issues, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult attorneys for advice on their particular circumstances.

This article was original published at www.coveringkaty.com.

Protesting Property Tax Evaluation 101 (The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease!)


Protest Your Taxes

Although it is helpful (and recommended) to have an attorney to protest your property taxes, you CAN do it.  Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!  This guide helps explain the process of protesting your taxes and how to build and present your case to the Appraisal Review Board.

Difference between Chief Appraiser and Appraisal Review Board

The appraisal district is composed of two separate and distinct divisions or sections. One is the Chief Appraiser and his employee appraisers who actually set the values of properties for taxation purposes. The second is the Appraisal Review Board which is composed of volunteer citizens of the county who sit in panels of three to hear and decide a protest.

Notice of Valuation

In the first few months of a tax year the Chief Appraiser and his employees will set values of all properties in the county. These will be posted on the appraisal district website and can be searched by property owner’s name or property address. Once the property values have been set for the given tax year only those properties where the value has been increased will receive a notice from the appraisal district notifying the property owner that their property value has been increased. It will show the amount of property value for the previous year and the amount of property value for the current tax year as proposed by the  appraisal district’s appraisal.

Deadline to File Protest

These notices are mailed to property owners during the latter part of April or the early part of May of a given year. Once you have received this notice of increased property value, you have until May 31st of the current year to file your protest with the Appraisal Review Board. Please note that the protest is filed with the Appraisal Review Board, not the Chief Appraiser or his employees. There are a number of grounds upon which you can protest value of your property, but the most common of those reasons are you believe that your property has been valued: (1) above its fair market value or (2) unequally with the properties in your immediate area or neighborhood. Under this second issue, the substance of your protest is that your property has been valued in excess of the other properties of similar character in your neighborhood and you are protesting the inequality of said valuation.

The form you receive from the appraisal district (at least in the bigger Texas counties) will have a number of protest reasons on the reverse side and you can simply check them.

Valid Reasons to Protest

It is the experience of this writer, who having protested property tax values for the last 20 years and having filed more than 15 lawsuits against the appraisal district, your best reason to protest is that your property has been appraised unequally with similarly situated properties in your immediate neighborhood. As a general rule the appraisal district will always appraise the property at a value something less than what it will bring in a fair market sale so trying to protest that your property has been appraised at less than fair market value is usually a dead end for the taxpayer.

Hearing before Appraisal Review Board

Once you have filed your protest you will then receive a notice to appear before the Appraisal Review Board. Remember this entity is different from the Chief Appraiser and his employees. This is a board that has been established by law that is composed of volunteer citizens of the county.  The board sits in panels of three to hear and decide the protest. At that protest hearing you will be before three citizens who are judges so to speak, and an employee of the Chief Appraiser who will be your opponent. It will be your goal to convince the three citizen members of the panel that your property has been valued unequally compared to other properties similarly situated in your immediate neighborhood. You are given an extremely limited period of time in which to present your case and it is this writer’s experience that this is done to confuse the taxpayer and create anxiety on the part of the taxpayer who is not in a familiar sitting and who will have a difficult time trying to present his or her case to the three-member review board.

Preparing Your Case for a Protest Hearing (Do Your Homework)

The best way to prepare yourself for the protest hearing is to drive round your neighborhood in your car and look for houses you believe are similar to yours in size, structure, and value. Some things to remember are: (1) lot size, (2) lot location, and (3) porches, patios, swimming pools, and other items that may distinguish the property from yours. After you have found five or six properties that you believe are similar to yours in character, take color photographs of them (smartphones with camera and email capability work well  — email them to yourself so you can print them out.  Make sure they are at least 8×10 and in color). Make a note of the address of these properties and make certain that you have the photographs correctly identified with the addresses.

Next, check the appraisal district’s website (here is a list of all of Texas’ appraisal district websites) to do a property search and you can search for these five or six properties by address. When you find the comparable properties, you can find listed information such as lot size, square footage of living area, other characteristics and features of the properties, and the properties’ appraised values. You can then make a comparison of the square footage of the living area of these five or six properties to your property.  Do this until you find at least three or four properties that have approximately the same amount of living area with a market value of less than what the appraisal district is proposing to increase your taxes to.

If you are incline to do so you can simply divide the square footage of the living area square feet into the market value for the current tax year and that number will tell you how many dollars per square foot the property is valued at. Do the same thing with your property then you can compare all of the properties you have located with your per square foot value to determine whether or not your property is valued equally to the properties you have selected.

Once you have found at least three or four properties that are valued substantially less per square foot than yours you can then take an average of those lesser valued properties and argue to the appraisal review board that your property is not valued equally with the average of the three or four properties you have selected for comparison purposes.

Other factors that you can argue to the appraisal review board panel is such things as the condition of your roof, the condition of your exterior paint, perhaps a cracked slab or other defective conditions of your house which are not readily apparent to an appraiser who is appraising a property from an aerial photograph. If you have a substantial defect in your home or property you should get a bid from a local contractor to repair same and take that with you to bolster your argument that your property is not worth the fair market value they have assigned to you.

Do not be surprised or disheartened if the appraisal review board fails to accept your argument and decides with the appraisal district’s appraiser present in the room.

10% Rule

If your taxes have gone up more than 10% from the previous year, you want to seriously consider a protest.

Section 23.23 of the Texas Property Tax Code provides as follows:

(a)  An appraisal office may increase the appraised value of a residence homestead for a tax year to an amount not to exceed the lesser of

(1)  the market value of the property for the most recent tax year that the market value was determined by the appraisal office; or

(2)  the sum of:

(A)  10 percent of the appraised value of the property for the preceding tax year;

(B)  the appraised value of the property for the preceding tax year; and

(C)  the market value of all new improvements to the property.

Appealing the Review Board’s Decision

If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Appraisal Review Board you have two options. One option is to elect to go to arbitration.  If you do, you will have to deposit $500.00 with the appraisal district to pay your share of an arbitration. I have never ever heard of an arbitrator deciding in favor of the taxpayer.  The appraisal district will provide you with a list of arbitrators from which you can select one and I can assure you that all the arbitrator’s on the list make a living from deciding  appraisal district cases. Your other option is to appeal the case to the district court of the county in which your property lies, and if you elect to do that you only have thirty days to file your lawsuit in district court or the decision of the appraisal review board will become final.

If you decide to appeal to the district court you should most definitely hire a lawyer because this type of case is so technical that a layman would surely fail in such an effort without the aid of an attorney. The good news is that if you win in district court the appraisal district has to pay your attorney’s fees and court cost.