the Assessors Office
Chattooga County, Georgia
  "The intent and purpose of the tax laws of this state are to have all property and subjects of taxation returned at the value which would be realized from the cash sale, but not the forced sale, of the property and subjects as such property and subjects are usually sold except as otherwise provided in this chapter."
O.C.G.A 48-5-1
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Covenants

   Since the mid 70's, the State of Georgia has attempted to help (primarily) family farms by the adoption of special assessment legislation for qualifying agricultural property. In 1990 a second such piece of legislation was passed, with a third piece passed in 2009 (we'll talk about that third one in a moment).

   The first two statutes created special agreements or "covenants" which were available to the owners of qualifying agricultural or timber land; covenants which can result in rather significant property tax savings. Those covenants are:

  • the Preferential Assessment Covenant, and

  • the Conservation Use Covenant.

   Both covenants operate under the same basic premise: for a ten (10) year period, the owner(s) of said agricultural property agree to maintain said property in an bona fide agricultural use. Also the owner(s) agree, for that 10 year period, not to sell any portion of the property (with some exceptions). In return, the property receives certain property tax breaks depending on the covenant. Conversely, to break either of these covenants results in some fairly severe property tax penalties.

   The State's website contains quite a bit of information on the Conservation Use covenant, so if you're interested in finding out more about it, click HERE.

   With the advent of the Conservation Use covenant, the Department of Revenue Property Tax Divsion seems to have lost some interest in the Preferrential Assessment Covenant. All I can really find about it on the Department of Revenue's web site is HERE  (scroll down to "Special Assessment Programs") ... so let me give a brief explanation. Simply put, under this covenant a qualifying agricultural or timber property is eligible to receive a preferred level of assessment; instead of being assessed at 40% of its fair market value, it is assessed at 30%. You retain full local appeal rights - something you lose under the Conservation Use covenant-  but the value of the property is still subject to the same whims of the market as other property on the Tax Digest.

   For most people maintaining their property in a bona fide agricultural use, the Conservation Use covenant seems to have become the more desireable option. Still, the Preferrential Assessment covenant is available for those interested in checking it out.

   Let me add a couple of caveats. First, these covenants are available to individual owners, family farm corporations, estates, trusts, non-profit conservation organizations, and non-profit clubs organized for recreation, pleasure, or other such use. Businesses, timber companies and incorporated entities do not qualify.

   Second, these covenants only apply to the land and agricultural buildings ... they do not apply to houses and other residential improvements. You can live on the property, but the house and other residential improvements (a carport or garage, for example) would not be covered by either covenant.

   The third of these covenants was passed as the Forest Land Protection Act of 2008. This is a 15 year covenant that would apply to tracts of land in excess of 200 acres and subject to the following qualifications:

  1. It must be owned by "an individual or individuals or by any entity registered to do business" in the state of Georgia;

  2. primary use of this property is the good faith subsistence or commercial production of trees, timber, or other wood and wood fiber products from or on the land.  Other qualifying uses would include;

    • The promotion, preservation, or management of wildlife habitat;
    • The production and maintenance of ecosystem products and services such as water and clean air; and
    • Mitigation and conservation banking that results in the restoration or conservation of wetlands and other natural resources;

   For more information on this covenant, please follow this LINK.