During the 2020 property assessment cycle, the Orleans Parish assessor arbitrarily cut the value of large commercial properties – some by as much as 57% – citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason. As a result, he flouted his legal duty to assess properties at their fair market value. Despite slashing assessments for these property owners by a total of $317 million, virtually no residential properties saw reductions, nor did many small businesses also hurt by the pandemic. The SPLC and co-counsel filed a lawsuit in state court arguing that the assessor violated state statute and the Louisiana and U.S. constitutions.
The lawsuit describes how the commercial properties that benefited from Orleans Parish Assessor Errol Williams’ actions were mostly out-of-state owners of large national hotels and other commercial properties. In many cases, reassessments for residential properties rose.
The drastic decrease in the assessments of commercial property resulted in Orleans Parish property owners owing at least 7% more in taxes. Typically, the city of New Orleans would provide relief through an automatic reduction in the millage rate, but the drastic decrease in assessed commercial property value prevented the city from implementing a reduction as large as property owners would expect when a reduction is triggered.
The plaintiffs include parish residents Rosalind Peychaud and Neal Morris. Defendants include Williams, the Louisiana Tax Commission and the Orleans Parish Bureau of Treasury. The lawsuit was filed in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans.