Texas Supreme Court rules for Bexar County woman in fight against appraisal district

The legal fight dates back to 2020, when the appraisal district rejected her application for a homestead exemption on a second family home.

SAN ANTONIO — The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that a disabled veteran living in Bexar County could apply to receive a homestead exemption on her home, despite the appraisal district saying a one-per-family limit had been reached due to her husband receiving the exemption for a second house elsewhere. 

The legal victory for Yvondia Johnson came via a 7-2 vote upholding an earlier appellate court ruling. The court’s opinion found that since Johnson has a 100% rating indicating severe disabilities, the one-per-family limit outlined in state Tax Code doesn’t apply. Justices Evan A. Young and Jimmy Blacklock offered the dissenting opinion on the case, which was argued in January. 

John Brusniak, a Dallas-based property tax attorney who represented Johnson, said the ruling “does nothing but strengthen homestead rights for all Texans.”

“It totally shocked me that the Bexar Appraisal District chose to pursue their argument trying to deny Johnson her 100% exemption,” Brusniak said. “It shocked me even more many other appraisal districts and other governmental entities piled on to the Bexar Appraisal District’s argument by filing amicus briefs asking the court to rule against 100% disabled veterans.”

The legal fight goes back to 2020, when, according to court documents, Johnson separated from her husband while living in a Converse home but was unable to receive a homestead exemption from the Bexar Appraisal District. She sued when the Bexar Appraisal Review Board denied her protest. 

Her motion was denied in a trial court. Upon her appeal, an appellate court reversed the decision in her favor in 2022. 

Homestead exemptions allow older or disabled Texas residents to benefit from lower property taxes based on a lower home value. 

According to the state Supreme Court’s ruling, the legal argument partially came down to the Texas Legislature’s definition of “homestead” as codified in Tax Code and whether it limits the number of exceptions a family can request. 

“This statutory definition refers to the necessary characteristics of the physical structure and to the purposes for which it is used, but it says nothing about the familial or marital status of its owner or occupier,” the opinion said. 

Essentially, the Supreme Court concluded that since the Converse property was Johnson’s primary residence, she could claim a homestead exemption on it. 

The case garnered interest from appraisal districts in major metro across Texas. Appraisal districts in Travis, Harris and Dallas counties submitted amicus curiae letters last year saying the appellate court’s earlier ruling “casts doubt on the predictability and reliability of the Tax Code.” The Supreme Court’s majority opinion concluded that those concerns were “unfounded.” 

“When, as here, the Legislature supplies an express definition for a term the statute employs, the statutory definition displaces the term’s historical or ordinary meaning,” the court found. “And we are bound to give that term the meaning the Legislature ascribed it.”

Officials with the Bexar Appraisal District said they were “thankful this process has reached a conclusion,” adding it would “create appropriate policies and procedures that are consistent with the opinion.”

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Young said that the Johnsons’ marital status shouldn’t allow them to claim more than one homestead exemption.  

“If this statute clearly and unambiguously, free from all doubt, creates the first-in-history two-per couple exemption, then the sky is the limit,” Young wrote. 

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