Wednesday, September 9, 2009


We got a Hacienda property tax bill. This meant I had to go to CRIM, AGAIN, to get the real amount of our taxes documented. To make a long story short, we bought our house and weren't able to move here for 10 months so we owed some tax. Usually in Puerto Rico you are exempt on your first house if you live in it up to a certain amount of money. We have two acres and our exemption isn't the entire property, but pretty close to it. We knew we owed something when we got here but not the $1000s they initially said we owed.

The first visit to CRIM was a treat since we didn't speak Spanish, didn't know what papers we were supposed to have (like social security cards, birth certificates etc etc), and didn't really know what to ask other than "how much do we owe." Seems like a simple question, but this is Puerto Rico. We were told they would have to "investigate," and not to pay the bill. We didn't and were surprised to get another bill for a different amount that still didn't seem right.

Speed forward another March Jeff had to go to CRIM for paperwork saying we didn't owe anything so we could get the solar panel tax credit. He settled up with them because they supposedly sent someone out to investigate (we never saw them). In May (two months later, this year) we get a CRIM bill for around $1000. This comes and we don't pay because we figure the computer hasn't caught up with the investigator. Now it is July and I am working by the gate and a truck comes into the driveway with another CRIM investigator. I show him there is only one house, show him the perimeter and he tells me the $149 Jeff paid in March was too much and our tax should be about 23 dollars a year. Goody, that is less...good news. I have his name, phone number, hours, had him write down stuff. When we get another $1000 bill and the Hacienda bill for $110 I have to go in.

So today was the day. NEVER go places in the morning - all the old people go and spend the day waiting. I slid in before 2 and waited in a line to tell them what I needed (in my best Spanish - "mi cuenta is incorrecto y porque este is incorrecto my Hacienda cuenta is incorrecto.") He understood as I pointed out several different amounts on several different bills that didn't agree and gave them the name and info I had the "investigator" write down while he "visita mi finca."

Out comes a familiar face - the woman who helped resolve stuff with Jeff. After 30 or more minutes we agree they calculated the information incorrectly and we owe $14.80 a YEAR! Amazing! They had the exemption figured out wrong just like the investigator said. Best of all - and this wouldn't happen in the States - when I get a bill I need to call her extension, give her the secret number she wrote down for me and she will credit me and I don't have to go there! That means we won't have to pay our $14.80 for around 10 years! I won't have to go there again! Unfortunately I had to pay $2 for a stamp (what is with the stamp thing anyway) and go downstairs to Hacienda.

Hacienda was not quite as nice. I know it is my problem that I am not well versed in Spanish. I know enough to do most things, follow a lot of a conversation, and I try my best without hesitation - but I don't know the specific words when dealing with CRIM, making doctor appointments, lab stuff and specific specialty words. I explain the problem (the exoneration number changed and this affects the Hacienda bill in my favor). She gives me a phone number for the San Juan office for "customer help" and if you live here you know there IS NO SERVICE. I ask if they speak English - "yes" she says. I whip out my phone without losing my place in line and call it and don't hear any English or anything about "incorrecto cuenta," "pagar cuenta" or anything remotely sounding like my problem (which is what exactly?). I hand it to her and she does press the right number, gets to the right person and gets my info in the system supposedly. I am told to come back in a week to see if they changed it.

My plan is to wait a week, call my CRIM contact who is sending the info for updating tonight (this is theory of course), ask her to call downstairs to Hacienda to check and not go in until it is in the computer that my bill for Hacienda is officially $8.08 (according to the CRIM gal who called San Juan with my information before I went downstairs). Then I will go in, and pay for the year - $8.08 is a semester, and try to pay for the second year. So all this work they do - investigators to the house, hours with us on 5 different visits, and we owe $14.80 a year in property taxes and $8.08 for Hacienda. How much did this cost the government? How can there even be roads here if this is how things work? I was very pleased that we will actually get the overpayment (as small as it seems) as a credit - in the States that just doesn't happen.

In Washington we were taxed over a $1000 a year on an un buildable lot (our yard) before I caught the error. When I caught it I had to find comparable properties, get letters from planning departments for the city and other junk and go to court to settle it. Never got the money back, and two days before court got a certified letter asking us to pay more than we should but a lot less than the $1000 to settle. We did, but that money (a lot) was gone forever. So despite the disorganization here it is at least fair...

Ah, and it only took a few hours! A good day in Puerto Rico


Anonymous said...

Well I thought this was a bad thing about PR until you stated what happened to you in WA. Hey that is a good thing I guess. At least it's fair and very cheap!!! :) sounds good to me

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you Katrina for dealing with all this bureaucracy in what has become your second language! Ham

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - In the states they started re assessing property (saying it was worth more than it was) every 2-4 years which meant your taxes went up but you could never plan for how much. There were also levies for schools and fire and police that made the rates go up as well. I don't know how things can work here without tax money, but we saw a fire and the fire department came out in a few minutes to check it out... katrina

Stefan said...

I love how great your attitude is about all the running around you have to do. Sometimes I need to take a deep breath and follow your example. Despite the hardships and the inefficiency of the system down here, they were still fair to you. I love it.

I have been running around for my business filings for 14 months now and since December on our mortgage refi. Deep breath....

Thanks for the great post, hope you guys are well!