Orange County homeowners denied refund after paying taxes on property they don’t own

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HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) – John and Judith Guibert who live near Lake Orange in Hillsborough claim they have been paying taxes on property they did not even own for decades.

After doing some research, the Guiberts discovered that .37 acres of land they have been paying property taxes on is actually owned by the company Lake Orange Inc.

The Guiberts said they have paid approximately $4,500 in property taxes over the last 15 years for this piece of land that they don’t own.

“I think we were somewhat aghast that this could happen in America, but I guess it can,” John Guibert said. 

Guibert told CBS 17 this was the result of a surveyor mistake from 1970 that was just discovered.     

The family contacted the Orange County Tax Office and had their land resurveyed, so they will no longer be taxed for that property.

The next step was to request a refund from the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Under North Carolina state law, the couple could only ask for a refund that goes back five years. The Guibert family requested to get a refund for approximately $1,600 that they had paid on the land over the last five years.

However, the county attorney advised the board to not grant a refund to the couple.

“The reason that they cannot be granted the refund was because state law is very specific about which kind of instances qualify for a refund,” said Todd McGee, community relations director for Orange County. “Unfortunately, this was not one of those instances that would qualify.”

McGee said that there would have to have been a clerical error or the tax had to have been levied for an illegal purpose, which the county found that none of these instances applied here.

McGee added that according to their records, the Guiberts did own that property.

But the Guiberts argued that they proved to the county that they don’t own the property through the recent survey.             

“They know full well who owns the land and they know full well that this has been going on for a long time,” John Guibert said.

The Guiberts said they think there could be 40 to 50 other neighbors who live near the lake who may be paying taxes for the property they don’t own as well.

The Guiberts said they want to get the word out to their neighbors so they can also try to get their money back.  

“If you think you are entitled, go ahead and try, but it’s hard to fight city hall,” said Judith Guibert.

At this point, the Guiberts can file a civil suit against the county, but the family said they don’t plan to do that.

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