Greenville County Councilman billed $55K in back property taxes on Anderson lake house
The Anderson County Assessor’s Office this month discovered that a Greenville County leader who owns a home on Hartwell Lake in Anderson underpaid by about $3,900 a year on his property taxes between 2009 and 2018.
Calling it an oversight, Greenville County Councilman Ennis Fant said he would work with the Anderson County assessor and Treasurer’s Office to pay any back taxes he owes. He said the main problem is a four-year period during which he acquired a house through a divorce and was sorting out a plan to give it to his daughter.
“I don’t sit around and conspire,” Fant said. “I thought I was operating within the system.”
The Greenville News learned about the change in billing for the Gareloch Lane property through a tip from Anderson County.
In response to this, The Greenville News used a background check and public records to review the property-tax status of all 12 members of the Greenville County Council. Fant was the only council member The News found to have a legal residency problem.
The review revealed that County Council Chairman Butch Kirven has an agricultural discount on his residential property in Simpsonville. Kirven had for several decades kept cows on the property but told The Greenville News that he sold them several months ago.
The review also revealed that Bob Taylor does not pay property taxes on real estate in Greenville County. He told The News he has lived in a home owned by Bob Jones University, which is tax-exempt, for 45 years. Taylor no longer works at the university, having retired after 50 years, and he said the university is phasing out housing for its administrators.
Anderson County Deputy Assessor Bob McLean said he learned about Fant’s tax situation about 45 days ago when an anonymous caller tipped him to a home that Fant has owned since 1999 on Gareloch Lane on Hartwell Lake. Fant was elected to the council in 2016. McLean said he did not know who the caller was or where he came from.
When Fant bought the Hartwell Lake house, he submitted an application to Anderson County for legal residency, McLean said. With that residency, Fant received a tax break on his property there — a tax break all homeowners enjoy in South Carolina for their primary residence.
The tax break comes down to a so-called “assessment ratio,” which on primary homes is 4%. A person’s primary residence also gets a break on school-related taxes. For a second home, the assessment ratio jumps up to 6% and property owners get no school-related tax break.
The tax bill on a primary home is typically a third to half that of a second home.
Problems arose for Fant when he applied for legal residency at a second home on Smokerise Court in Greenville County, which he owned from 2008 until 2012. Homeowners are only allowed to have legal residency at one location, meaning Fant enjoyed a tax break on two homes at the same time for at least four years.
The difference in tax bills is substantial, as shown by the recalculation that Anderson County undertook for Fant’s home, valued at about $335,000. Fant paid $1,541 in taxes on the Gareloch Lane home in 2012. Under the 6% calculation and with school taxes thrown in, his bill is now $4,953, according to the Anderson County Assessor’s Office.
McLean said Anderson County has billed Fant for 10 years of back taxes, starting in 2009 — an amount that comes to $55,630. This is because Fant’s 2008 application for legal residency in Greenville County negated his residency in Anderson, McLean said.
From 2009 to 2018, Fant paid $16,800 in property taxes on the Anderson County house.
“Whatever you paid becomes your penalty,” McLean said.
Fant said the home in Greenville County, on Smokerise Court, came into his possession in 2008 after a divorce and that he hadn’t picked up on the double tax break. Fant owns a real-estate business and manages multiple properties. He also manages homes within his immediate family. The Smokerise Court home was placed in a trust overseen by his daughter in 2012. That home, he said, is his daughter’s primary residence, and is still taxed at the 4% rate through her.
“I know homeowners only get one 4%,” Fant said. “I wasn’t playing the numbers game of where do I do the residence.”
Since 2012, Fant’s home address has been a house on Ghana Drive. Fant’s driver’s license, voter registration and federal taxes are all tied to that address. That home, he said, was until recently in his father’s name but is being placed into a life estate. The assessment ratio on that home, according to Greenville County tax records, is 6 percent.
Problems with underpayment of property taxes are not uncommon, and Anderson County hired a firm, Tax Management Associates (TMA), in 2016 to catch instances where homeowners are claiming more than one residence for the 4% tax break. To date, according to McLean, TMA has billed homeowners $676,951 for underpayment of taxes, of which Anderson County has collected 68%.
The $55,630 bill the county is sending to Fant, because of the long time frame and relatively high value of the property, is the highest he’s ever seen, McLean said.
Whether Greenville plans to bill Fant for back taxes on the Smokerise Court property remains unclear. The property’s taxes were still marked “paid” at the 4% rate as of midday Monday. McLean said that it is theoretically possible Greenville County could try to collect since Fant’s legal residence in Anderson County would cancel out the 4% tax break he enjoyed in Greenville County.
County Administrator Joe Kernell did not respond to a request for comment.
Fant’s taxes on the Smokerise Court property in 2012, the last year the home was in his name, was $1,388.79. That amount would nearly triple if recalculated at the 6% rate and with the cost of school operations thrown in, according to a Greenville News calculation.