December 11, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Lessee of Real Property Lacks Standing to Challenge Property Tax Determination

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Traer Creek-EXWMT LLC v. Eagle County Board of Equalization on Thursday, February 9, 2017.

Traer Creek-EXWMT (Traer) has been a lessee of property in Eagle County since 2002. Traer has reimbursed the property owner for property taxes each year since assuming the lease. On May 1, 2015, the Eagle County Assessor mailed a notice of valuation to the property owner. Traer initiated the statutory protest and adjustment process to challenge the 2015 valuation. The assessor declined to adjust the valuation, and Traer appealed to the Board, which also upheld the valuation. Traer appealed to district court.

The Board moved to dismiss under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) on the theory that a mere lessee does not have standing to challenge a property tax valuation of the sort issued by the assessor. The district court agreed and dismissed the case.

On appeal, Traer argued that because it “owns” a leasehold interest in the subject property, it has standing to protest the valuation. The Colorado Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the relevant statutes convey standing only to the property owner/taxpayer. The court similarly rejected Traer’s argument that C.R.S. §§ 39-1-102(16) and (14) could be read to grant authority to a lessee to challenge a property valuation. The court concluded that the county assessor did not value Traer’s “property” — i.e., its leasehold interest — instead, the assessor valued the fee interest in the property. Therefore, Traer was not a “person” whose “property has been valued too high.”

Traer also argued it had common law standing because it pays taxes on the property and because the owner had granted it agency authority to challenge the valuation. The court noted that Traer’s argument failed at the outset because when a statute limits standing, the court may not disregard the statute by employing common law notions.

The district court judgment was affirmed.

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