Tax abatement struggles for homeowners with crumbling foundations

I-Team

WALES, Mass. (WWLP) – Homeowners with a crumbling foundation can apply for tax abatements with their local city or town’s assessor’s office. An abatement is a reduction in the amount of property taxes you owe.
This can help homeowners who have a crumbling foundation because the issue severely reduces the value of their home.

Heidi Hamer and Justin Mathiau are homeowners in Wales. Both their homes have tested positive for pyrrhotite, a naturally occurring mineral in concrete poured by now defunct JJ Mottes of Connecticut.
It causes concrete to slowly deteriorate as it’s exposed to oxygen and water, creating cracks.

Homes in Wales were revalued this year. Both Hammer’s and Mathiau’s home value increased despite their crumbling concrete.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Hamer said. “The house is worth nothing.”

“There’s no way that the home is worth that, especially with the cost to repair,” said Mathiau. “Buyers are not buying houses if they know there is pyrrhotite. Nobody would.”

Fixing a crumbling foundation costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and is not covered by insurance.

“I’m looking at probably close to $300,000 to replace my home,” Hamer told the I-Team.

Both are trying get tax abatements on their properties. It’s a process that differs from town to town in Massachusetts.

In East Longmeadow, the deadline to file for an abatement is February 1st. “Any abatement, the assessors have three months to make a decision,” explained Diane Bishop, the director of assessing in East Longmeadow. “When we do have an abatement for crumbling foundation, and they have all their documentation, we go right out and do a quick visit, take a few photos so we have a good baseline, and we are able to process those relatively quickly.”

Bishop told the I-Team there are about 10 homes in town that have gotten abatements due to crumbling concrete. “Because it’s something that nobody wants to go through, we’re here to guide them,” Bishop said. “We want to assist in any way we can.”

East Longmeadow has worked with municipalities in Connecticut that also have the crumbling concrete issue. Bishop said her department has mirrored that state’s crumbing foundation abatement process.

“Massachusetts has no process, so that’s one of the frustrating factors here,” Mathiau said.

Back in Wales, homeowners have to file for an abatement every year. “I don’t believe a yearly abatement is a fair thing,” Mathiau said. “I believe a re-evaluation of the home should be done as soon as it tests positive for the following year’s taxes. That should be that until the home is fixed.”

Hamer has been filing for a tax abatement since 2019. “It’s overwhelming and you don’t know where to go for help. No one seems to know how to help. There doesn’t seem to be clear guidelines,” Hamer said.

They both believe their homes’ values were not reassessed properly, and they are very concerned for their futures.

“I can’t sell, change careers, pass away, whatever it is. We’re stuck until it’s fixed,” Mathiau said.

“This Town (Wales) has no other resources other than taxpayers,” Hamer said. “So, if I can’t pay my full tax, you’re going to be paying mine.”

The Wales Assessor’s Department never responded to the I-Team’s request for an interview.

A hearing on a bill to help homeowners that have crumbling concrete is scheduled to be held on January 4th. Homeowners can submit written testimony for the hearing to: JointCommittee.Environment@MALegislature.gov

Resources for Homeowners:

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