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Quist campaign appearance

Congressional candidate Rob Quist attends a meeting in Billings on Tuesday.

Montana’s Democratic U.S. House candidate, Rob Quist has ties to a rental property not listed on state tax rolls, public records show.

Quist acknowledged the apartments Tuesday in an interview with The Gazette, but denied renting out the units. Advertising records and leasing contracts suggest otherwise.

“My son’s living there, so that’s not a rental property. It's just something that's kind of family-owned,” Quist said.

At issue is a 1948 barn that Rob and Bonni Quist converted into commercial property. Quist, 69, a musician by trade, explained the arrangement to The Gazette in a March 24 interview.

"We took this 100-year-old barn and we were running an event center early on, in the ’90s, and so took this 100-year-old barn, and we made it into an event center with three apartments. And so our whole goal is to sell the ranch house and 10 acres and move over into the old barn," Quist said.

State property tax records don’t indicate those changes, taxing it instead as a barn with no living quarters. The Flathead County Assessor’s office also lists the structure as a barn. The distinction matters because the Department of Revenue generally recognizes apartment units as more valuable than barns. The tax amount owed on rental property is typically higher.

The title to the property has been in Quist's daughter's name for a few years, with Bonni Quist retaining power of attorney. 

“Apartments are going to be worth more,” said Bob Story of the Montana Taxpayers Association. “The difference in valuation, if it was a barn on a piece of ag land, the tax rate would be 2.3 or 2.4 percent. If it was three apartments, it might be commercial property. Commercial is 1.89 percent, but the valuation is more.”

Story said the Montana Taxpayers Association scouted the Quist property for a potential event in 2002 or 2003. 

Apartment rentals also comes with state income and expense reporting requirements.

The Quists have rented the apartment units, advertising them on Kalispell Craigslist as a “Cozy Country Slice of Montana Close to Town.” Through the online classified service, Bonni Quist described the units, one with lofted ceilings, as being part of a renovated 100-year-old barn.

The Gazette identified four people who have rented from Quist in recent years. None wanted to be drawn into the politics of Montana’s U.S. House race by commenting on their relationship with the Quists, although two former renters provided leases active in 2015 and 2016 which put the monthly rent, paid to Bonni Quist, at $695 for one unit and $950 for another.

Department of Revenue officials told The Gazette the state relies on property owners to obtain the required local government permitting for electrical and sanitation work. Tax assessors monitor those permits and come calling on property owners once permits are filed.

When the required permits aren't obtained, things get murky. Revenue officials assess property from the curb, where it can be hard to tell if apartments or other improvements have been built.

Quist’s personal finances have been an ongoing issue in Montana’s U.S. House special election. Quist, Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Mark Wicks are competing to fill Montana’s only U.S. House seat, which was vacated in March by Republican Ryan Zinke, who is now Interior secretary. Voting is underway and will end Thursday, May 25.

Last week, Quist filed a new disclosure statement with the U.S. House after The Associated Press asked the Democrat’s campaign about discrepancies in his initial disclosure document and on his 2016 income tax returns. Federal ethics law requires congressional candidates to file a one-time accounting of their personal finances.

Quist reported an additional $57,000 in income. The original report, filed in March, put Quist’s household income at $79,000. The number was bumped up to $136,000 as the number of concert performances Quist reported went from 11 in his first report to 34, including a spot at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival.

Neither Quist's original House financial report, nor his second listed apartments, or rental income in the Schedule A "assets and unearned income" portion of the filing.

In March, Flathead County District Court records and a lien search by The Billings Gazette revealed Quist had financial troubles spanning 16 years, which involved being turned over to collections, being sued over a bank loan and being accused of fraud and deceit by a former member of the Mission Mountain Wood Band, the legendary country bluegrass band that launched Quist’s half-century music career.

The Quists also owed $15,000 for three years unpaid property taxes. The candidate said poor health was the cause of his financial troubles. The couple paid their tax bill in May 2016. The most delayed tax payment was nine years old.

A judgment against the Quists for a $10,000 debt stemming from a Wells Fargo bank loan was lifted late last week.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.