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ASSESSOR LIENING ON MOBILE HOMES?

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

Juergen and Joanne Rinnert sold their mobile home two years ago with plans to leave the trailer park life and buy a West Hills house.

But their former double-wide has dogged them ever since with tax liens, soiled credit and the destruction of their dream-home dream.

The culprits, they say, are Los Angeles County tax collectors, armed with a byzantine tax code on manufactured homes, who have slapped them with liens for unpaid taxes without ever bothering to notify them.

Tax officials eventually invalidated three but insist a demand for nearly $1,000 in taxes and penalties is valid.

``They have been an absolute pain,'' said Juergen Rinnert, 61, of Woodland Hills. ``Because my credit is ruined, I haven't been able to buy a house. I am so angry.''

Rinnert will appear in small-claims court today to contest the remaining lien and demand that the county restore his damaged credit rating.

County tax officials insist they are going by the book, using tax laws for unsecured property such as mobile homes, boats and airplanes.

``Obviously, if he has liens, he owes taxes,'' said Bob Opsasnick, a principal appraiser for the assessor.

The Rinnerts' case hinges on the sale of their Calabasas mobile home in May 2000. During the sale, the county assessor was contacted for the appropriate property tax.

After cashing the Rinnerts' check for $2,204.10, records show, the county tax collector sent the couple a tax clearance certificate absolving them of any property taxes through the end of fiscal year 1999-2000, or June 30, 2000 - a month after they sold their home.

``Everything was fine,'' Rinnert said. ``We thought we had walked away from the transaction, then life got miserable.''

When the Rinnerts applied for a credit card, they were surprised to discover a property tax lien. The county later stated it was recorded ``in error.''

The problem, Rinnert said a tax collector told him, was that his payment had been deposited into ``a wrong account.''

Then when the Rinnerts applied for a home loan the following year, they were shocked to discover three more liens, two of which the county later invalidated for being ``in error,'' records show.

Even worse, the Rinnerts said, they never received the tax bills and notices of pending liens because the county mailed them to their former mobile-home address. As a result, he said, their credit was ruined. All credit card requests were denied and they failed to qualify for a first-rate loan.

The reason: The Rinnerts were assessed for living in their mobile home on Jan. 1, 2000, then billed during the next fiscal year long after they had sold their home.

``If he owned property on Jan. 1, he owes the taxes on it for the rest of the year,'' Opsasnick said. ``From everything I've looked at, this gentleman is liable for the 2000 tax bill.''

Such rules, in effect for decades, apply to all mobile-home owners, he said, and can also work in their favor if they bought their home after the Jan. 1 assessment date.

``I have documents in my file to suggest this man (Rinnert) has not been straightforward through all of this,'' he added.

Escrow officials and mobile-home owner and taxpayer advocates criticized the county for an inefficient tax system heavy-handed toward mobile-home owners.

``It's terrible, it's not fair ... he does not deserve the bill,'' said Sandy Junge of Stone Ridge Escrow Co. in Encino, which handled the escrow for the Rinnerts' mobile-home sale.

``The thing is, if he had gotten a bill, he would have called me right away and said, What do I do with this? But he didn't know about it until he got the lien. It's like talking to a brick wall at the tax collector.''

``I can guarantee you that the tax assessor has bungled this one, 100 percent, no question about it,'' said Ralph Weber, a Los Angeles County manager for the Golden State Mobile Home Owners League.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, agreed.

``This is another example of government being oblivious of how damaging government and government inefficiency can be for real people,'' he said. ``They admitted three errors and yet they have effectively damaged this person's credit rating without notifying them.

``The least they can do is forgive his debts at this point.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) Juergen Rinnert shows three tax liens invalidated by the county tax collector. He is fighting nearly $1,000 in taxes that remain.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 18, 2002
Words:756
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