EPPING, N.H. - Jack and Beatrice Knight are hoping town selectmen find a way around a New Hampshire law requiring them to pay property taxes on a house destroyed by fire in May.
The fire leveled the house, leaving nothing but the shell of the garage.
Despite the loss, the Knights recently received a tax bill for $6,360 as if the house were still standing.
Under state law, the owner must be taxed for the entire year if the house exists on April 1. Since the Knights home burned May 23, they owe taxes on it. Had the fire happened before April 1 and the couple rebuilt after that date, they would owe taxes only on the land, said Bob Boley, a property tax adviser for the state Department of Revenue Administration.
"It works both ways. Sometimes it's to the taxpayer's advantage, sometimes it's a detriment if something is destroyed or torn down. The only reasonable way to handle it is to have a cut-off date," Boley said.
The Knights have asked town selectmen to grant them an abatement in hopes of reducing their tax bill.
"It's not very fair for someone to have to pay taxes on a building that isn't there," Jack Knight said.
The board is considering his request.
"We're in the process of trying to get more information to see what other towns have done. We certainly feel for him and are certainly compassionate," Epping Selectmen Chairman Jeff Harris said.
Boley understands the dilemma, but says selectmen need to be careful when they consider a request that could set a precedent.
"It certainly is devastating to lose something to a natural disaster. It seems in some ways unfair if no tax breaks are available, but the law is very clear," he said.
Boley said selectmen have the authority under a separate law to grant tax abatements if the property owner shows "good cause" for providing relief.
Good cause isn't clearly defined, he said.
If selectmen grant the abatement request, they may face similar requests in the future. Other taxpayers pay more to make up for breaks towns grant to individuals.
"Once an exception is made, then it can be problematic in the long run," Boley said.
In the Knights' case, an assessor with Meredith-based Municipal Resources Inc. has recommended that selectmen deny the request.