Zillow sues Kentucky over access to real estate records

Zillow sues Kentucky over access to real estate records

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Zillow, the Seattle-based real estate data company, issuing Kentucky and six locally elected Property Valuation Administrators over access to the public information about real estate.

The six counties PVAs named in the lawsuit want to charge Zillow up to $39,079 apiece for copies of their tax rolls listing information about every real estate parcel in the county, such as its owner, sales price history and tax value, according to the lawsuit.

Zillow, an advertising business, taps property tax records and other sources to provide free information on its website about residential real estate, such as its "Zestimate," our estimate of a home's market value.

"We are merely asking that basic information, which is already in the public record, be made available. Zillow can ensure that all Kentuckians have free and easy access to this important real estate data," Zillow said in a written statement to WDRB.

In the lawsuit, filed July 9 in U.S. District Court in Frankfort, Zillow challenges a state law that allows government agencies like PVAs to charge "commercial" parties like Zillow many times more than others for access to public records, such as tax rolls.

The lawsuit names the Kentucky Department of Revenue, which oversees county PVAs, and the PVAs in Shelby, in Henry, in Trimble, in Franklin, in Owen, and Clark counties.

Zillow claims that the Kentucky Open Records Act's distinction between "commercial" and "non-commercial" parties violates the company's rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Non-commercial parties can get public records only by reimbursing the government office for the cost to provide them. For instance, a county may charge $20 to put information on a CD or 10 cents per page for photocopies.

The lawsuit also challenges the local PVAs' demand that Zillow signs a pair of contracts created by the Department of Revenue, which would restrict the company's use of the tax roll data by making Zillow promise not to sell it or share it with third parties.
Zillow says there is nothing in the Open Records Act authorizing PVAs or the state to force people to sign contracts specifying how they will use public records as a condition of getting the data.
Zillow says in the lawsuit that it currently does not resell the tax roll data it collects, but the company reserves the right to do so in the future.

The lawsuit could have financial ramifications for PVA offices in Kentucky's 120 counties, some of whom derive revenue from charging real estate agents, media, and others up to $750 a year for access to their online databases containing the full tax roll information.

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