AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Austin Board of Realtors says the Hays Central Appraisal District violated its terms of service by using proprietary “multiple listing service” real estate data without authorization. The board sent a cease-and-desist letter Tuesday morning to the district instructing it to stop using the information, according to records obtained by KXAN.

It is not clear how the Hays Central Appraisal District gained access to ABOR’s information, which is called the Austin/Central Texas Realty Information Service, or ACTRIS. Cord Shiflet, president of ABOR, said the board is “investigating the source(s) of the unauthorized data access and how MLS data may have been inappropriately used in the appraisal of Hays County properties,” according to a letter sent to ABOR members.

ABOR’s CEO, Emily Chenevert, told KXAN government entities like Hays Central Appraisal District aren’t allowed to access the board’s MLS data. The MLS system is comprehensive. It blends public tax records, information specific to each home, and even photos of houses, she said.

“If they’re accessing the information through unauthorized use, we’re not okay with that, and that would be covered under the cease and desist and the action that we’ve asked them to take: to stop using unauthorized access to MLS data,” Chenevert said in an interview Tuesday morning. “It’s our job to ensure that we’re maintaining the database in a way that is both accurate and efficient for the marketplace and in a way that ensures the privacy and confidentiality that is expected within a proprietary system.”

Texas law requires county appraisal districts to assess property values each year. State law does not require the reporting of home sale prices to the government, which means appraisal districts must use other means and research to determine property values.

Licensed appraisers with access to the MLS platform are prohibited from sharing the information “beyond the purposes of providing appraisals for consumers,” according to Shiflet’s email.

In 2019, a similar occurrence happened in Travis County. That year, ABOR said the Travis Central Appraisal District purchased its MLS data without authorization from CoreLogic Inc., a vendor that operated the board’s database. CoreLogic stopped sharing the data.

Chenevert said it does not appear CoreLogic sold data to Hays Central Appraisal District. Shiflet called the district’s use of the information “unacceptable.”

KXAN began inquiring about Hays Central Appraisal District’s access to MLS data Monday. In response to our questions, Laura Raven, the district’s chief appraiser, acknowledged her office has used MLS data for its appraisals.

“In its annual effort to satisfy both its constitutional and statutory mandates to determine market values for properties within Hays County for tax assessment purposes, Hays CAD has utilized MLS sales data when provided to us and relevant,” Raven said in an email to KXAN Monday. “Under generally accepted appraisal guidelines, groups of sales occurring within a region of the County and within appropriate time frames are widely considered to be the most useful information in establishing market values.”

Raven said the appraisal district is in a continuous search for the most up-to-date property value information, and it “routinely” asks property owners, brokers and tax agents for information, and it uses public records and internet research for accurate data.

Raven did not respond to questions asking where the appraisal district obtained the MLS data or if she would sit for an interview with KXAN.

KXAN first learned of the possible MLS data issue Monday from local real estate agent Bill Loeb. This year Loeb said the Hays County Central Appraisal District raised his home value “by 30 or 40 percent.” Loeb protested that rise in value, and he asked the district to provide evidence showing how it arrived at that price.

“They gave me five sales from 2021. So, being a Realtor, I pulled up the MLS data and saw that they were exactly right. They were straight from the MLS,” Loeb said.

Loeb said he asked the appraisal district where they got their information, but he didn’t get a response. He felt certain the district’s data came from the MLS, so he reached out to KXAN.

The MLS is paid for by Realtors, Loeb said, and people entrust Realtors and the board to protect those records.

“Hays Central Appraisal District has no right to MLS information. It is private, like medical records that are protected by HIPAA,” Loeb said. “Every taxpayer needs to demand that their properties be reevaluated without this improperly obtained, private information being considered.”