Sun Investigates

Jenna Bush Hager, husband still get homestead tax credit after moving away

It's been about a year and a half since former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager and her husband, Henry, reportedly left their South Baltimore rowhouse for new digs in Manhattan. But Henry Hager still owns the Baltimore place — and the couple still enjoys a property tax break that's supposed to be available only to owner-occupants.

The Hagers' tax credit this year is small: a $296.40 discount on a tax bill approaching $9,000. Still, why would they get any break as absentee owners?

On Friday, a Baltimore Sun reporter knocked on the door of the Hagers' home. A man answered and said he'd been renting from the couple since August.

It turns out that the state took away the Hagers' tax credit for a time around December 2010, according to Owen C. Charles, deputy director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

That month, The Sun reported that the couple had moved out of their end-unit home in the 1300 block of S. Charles St. after 21/2 years and put it on the market. Days later, The Washington Post reported that the Hagers had decamped for New York so Jenna could be close to her twin sister, Barbara, and the "Today" show, where she's a correspondent. Tax-credit activist Matt Gonter quickly alerted state assessors to the development.

A month later, though, Henry Hager notified the state assessments agency in writing that the house was still the couple's residence, Charles said. In an interview, Hager said that until July of last year he was living in the house during the week working at Constellation Energy and traveling to New York on weekends to be with his wife.

So the credit, all $211 of it, was reinstated for the 2010-2011 tax year. When the new tax year began last July the Hagers got their current discount of $296, a break Hager acknowledges he shouldn't get because the house is now a rental.

"That is an honest mistake on my part," said Hager, adding that he called the state assessments agency Monday trying to set things right. "I wasn't familiar enough, quite frankly, with the tax credit and its existence. I'll repay whatever I owe."

The house, which the couple bought for $440,000, is now valued by the state at $392,000, though its assessment will fall to $326,000 as of July.

Last year, when the house was advertised for rent at $2,750 a month, an ad highlighted some of its features: "gas fireplace, exposed brick, wood floors, separate dining room, luxurious sea grass carpeting & large kitchen w/granite counters."