Local government is the key player in maintaining our system of property ownership here in the United States. If you’re planning on buying land or are already a land owner, it’s important to know what key offices of local government affect you, and what they do. I’ll also talk about how best to work with local government to get what you need.
Local Government Offices That Affect Land
The exact names of these local offices will typically vary by state, but rest assured there is an office that handles each of the land-related functions discussed here. Let’s dive in!
Clerk and Recorder: The clerk’s office keeps all of the county’s property records, specifically who owns what parcels. Anytime land is sold or changes hands, the required paperwork is filed with the clerk’s office. When a lien is placed on a property, typically it’s the clerk’s office who will have that information.
Treasurer: Property taxes are the primary revenue source for local government, and it’s the treasurer’s job to collect those taxes. This office sends you your annual tax notice, and it’s who you pay each year. If you don’t pay on time, it’s also the treasurer’s office that, ahem, reminds you. The treasurer’s office is usually responsible for taking ownership of tax delinquent property and disposing/reselling it depending on state law.
Assessor: How does the tax collector know what your property is worth and therefore the correct amount to collect in taxes? That’s the primary job of the assessor’s office: to determine the value of all individual properties in the county. How often the assessor does these assessments and how they value property will vary by state.
Planning and Zoning: Whether you can build a house, start a small farm, or construct an industrial warehouse on a particular property depends on local zoning laws. The county planning and zoning office will know what laws apply to your land and what you can and can’t do with it. This office should also be able to tell you what activities or improvements to your land require permits and which don’t.
Working With Local Government
Whether you’re simply researching property or have run into a problem you need resolved, when working with local government always keep the golden rule in mind: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Local government is usually under staffed, underpaid, and under-resourced considering the massive job they have. Sometimes you have to be patient with overworked staff or rely on outdated technology to get what you need.
Nonetheless, if you’re patient, persistent, and kind, you’ll find local government staff to be extremely knowledgable and ultimately helpful in answering questions or getting you the right information.