CHICAGO — Tom and Mary Lou Riley plunged into a bureaucratic odyssey as Cook County officials repeatedly told them their house didn't exist — even though they've lived there more than three decades. And if that house really did exist, the Rileys were told, they'd owe the county lots of money.
About $17,000, give or take.
The four walls and a roof the Rileys have called home since 1978 was built in the 1950s in south suburban Hazel Crest. But the single-story frame house vanished from the Cook County assessor's records from 1996 to 2007.
The Rileys didn't find out until they sought a homeowners exemption and a reassessment of their property value, reports Phil Kadner in his Southtown column, and that's when things took an absurd turn.
The assessor's office told them they called during the wrong month for a reassessment. When they called back in the right month, they were told the schedule changed.
Then the assessor's office told them their house didn't exist.
And then they were told they'd be penalized for not paying enough property tax on the house that county claimed did not exist.
And finally, they were told to sign a document claiming the house was "new construction" built in 2004 — because this would help the problem just go away. They wouldn't owe money on a house that didn't exist, they were told.
Defeated and deflated by the bureaucracy, they signed.
"This is Cook County," Tom Riley said. "Let’s sign the thing and get out of here."
Three years later, they got hit with the $17,000 tax bill — unpaid taxes plus interest — and were forced to take out a second mortgage on the home they had almost just paid off.
And that document they signed? Well, reports Kadner, it cannot be found.