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Timber Ridge condo owners take tax dispute to court

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Darryl Enriquez
June 5, 2011
— In what’s being called an unusual legal move, 224 condominium owners have filed a lawsuit that contends the town’s appraisals of their vacation properties are nearly double the real worth.

Owners of Timber Ridge Lodge condos in Grand Geneva Resort and Golf Course are asking a Walworth County judge to rule that the town’s 2010 assessments for their properties were too high. The lawsuit does not involve the resort.


“The market for condos has gone through the floor,” said Madison attorney Don Millis, who represents the Timber Ridge condo owners. “The loss of value of units is the greatest I’ve ever seen.”


The condos referred to in the lawsuit are not year-around residences but are known as condotels. In this area, condotels usually are in buildings operated as luxury hotels for resorts.


Owners spend a few weeks a year in their units, and the resort rents them to vacationers or as hotel rooms for the remaining portions of the year. Revenue from rentals usually is divided between owners and the resort.


Owners claim the value of condotels has plummeted because of depressed real estate markets and bank policies that discourage lending to purchase the units, Millis said.


The town’s board of review in March denied owners’ claims of inflated assessments.


Dale Thorpe, a Delavan lawyer familiar with condo disputes and who represents homeowner associations throughout the state, said the lawsuit is unusual on two fronts.


“It’s surprising to get 224 people to agree on anything,” Thorpe said.


“It’s very unusual for this issue not to be resolved in an open book period or by a board of review.”


An open-book period is the time when property owners can appeal to municipal assessors the value placed on their properties. If agreements cannot be reached, the disputes then can be taken to boards of review for hearings.


The lawsuit contends the correct assessment total for the 224 condos should be about $25.6 million, instead of the $45.6 million set by the town assessor.


The owners’ figure is based on property valuations done by an assessor they hired, according to the lawsuit.


According to the lawsuit:


If the hired assessor’s figures were to be used, property taxes would decrease from a total of $690,422 collected in 2010 to $387,375.


Also based on the private assessments, condo values should shrink from the town’s range of $180,000 to $268,000 to lower values of between $94,000 and $170,000.


The suggested appraisals would reduce the tax range of $2,700 to $4,100 to between $1,400 and $2,600.


Town of Lyons attorney Dennis Lynch of Burlington said he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not yet seen it.


The condo group is continuing to negotiate with the town of Lyons about the disputed assessments and its effect on 2011 property taxes, Millis said.


Millis expressed hope that the 2010 dispute can be resolved while examining the town’s 2011 tax structure.


BY THE NUMBERS


$45.6 million


What the town of Lyons contends is the value of 224 Timber Ridge condos in Grand Geneva Resort.


$25.6 million


What Timber Ridge condo owners say is the value of their properties.



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