Michigan Property Tax Updates

UPDATED July 2017

Michigan Supreme Court grants personal property exemption to for-profit educational institutions

Arguing on behalf of a school in SBC Health Midwest, Inc v City of Kentwood,  Honigman attorneys successfully argued to  the Michigan  Supreme Court  that  an educational institution need not be a “non-profit” to qualify for the exemption from personal property tax under Section 9(1)(a) of the General Property Tax Act, MCL 211.9(1)(a) (“Section 9(1)(a)”).   Section 9(1)(a) does not contain language limiting the exemption to non-profit entities, but another exemption in the General Property Tax Act dealing with real property, MCL 211.7n, does.  The Tax Tribunal held that the two statutes must be read in pari materia, and that under this construction the statutes require the entity seeking exemption to be non-profit.  Honigman took over this appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals, where the Court relied upon the plain language of Section 9(1)(a) and reversed.  The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. Consequently, for-profit educational institutions may now obtain personal property tax exemption.  

In a related matter, the Michigan Supreme Court has recently agreed to hold oral argument in Harmony Montessori Center v City of Oak Park and will address the question of what constitutes an educational institution under MCL 211.7n.  It is expected that the Court will hold oral argument later this year.
Stewart Mandell
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)

Michigan Property Tax Update Archive


Michigan Supreme Court Reviewing Court of Appeals Menard Decision
In Menard, Inc. v City of Escanaba the Michigan Supreme Court recently issued an Order that provided for the submission of additional briefs and oral argument.  In this case, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the Tax Tribunal, which had mostly accepted Petitioner’s sales comparison approach to arrive at the value of Menard’s store in Escanaba, Michigan, which is in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The Court of Appeals held that the Tribunal had erroneously rejected the City’s cost approach.  This ruling was based on Clark Equipment  v Leoni, 113 Mich App 778, 318 NW2d 586 (1982), which had held that the Tribunal should use a cost approach that reflected value in use, if the lack of demand for a property would lead to a market value that was low relative to the property’s cost.  Also, the Court of Appeals found no evidence of functional obsolescence because the subject was constructed the same way that Menard would construct a new store today.  Menard appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.  Several business groups filed amicus curiae briefs that supported Menard’s position and argued in particular that the Clark decision was contrary to well established Michigan law, including the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in First Federal Savings & Loan Association Of Flint v City Of Flint, 415 Mich 702; 329 NW2d 755 (1982).  Under the Michigan Supreme Court’s recent Order, the Court will hear oral arguments on the questions of whether (1) the Court of Appeals exceeded its limited authority to review Tax Tribunal decisions, and (2) whether the Tribunal may utilize the valuation approach approved in Clark.  It is not yet known when the Court the oral argument.      

Michigan’s May 31 Property Tax Appeal Deadline
Michigan property taxpayers should now have this year’s assessment notices.  For most Michigan business property, including real property that the assessor has classified as industrial or commercial, May 31, 2017 is the deadline for a Michigan Tax Tribunal property tax appeal.  Especially given that Michigan assessment notices will show different types of values, taxpayers may benefit from obtaining the input of knowledgeable Michigan property tax counsel.    

Stewart Mandell
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)


Updated September 2016

Update On Adverse May 2016 Michigan Big Box Decision
As previously reported, the published Michigan Court of Appeals decision in Menard, Inc. v City of Escanaba reversed the decision of the Michigan Tax Tribunal.  The Tribunal had relied largely on a sales comparison approach.  Petitioner’s appraiser and the Tax Tribunal found that although some of the comparable sales were deed restricted, the sales prices were not affected by the restrictions, and therefore no adjustments for the restrictions were needed.  The Court of Appeals ruled that although the deed restrictions did not affect the price paid by the ultimate buyer, the property may have sold to different buyers for higher prices in the absence of the restrictions.  The Court also made legal rulings regarding the City’s cost approach, requiring that property be valued based on value in use, rather than the statutorily-required usual selling price (market value/value in exchange) standard.  The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Tribunal and ordered that additional evidence be presented. 

On July 7, Menard filed an Application for Leave to Appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court.  The Application asks the Court to reverse the Court of Appeals decision and reinstate the Tax Tribunal decision.

On September 9, two amicus briefs were filed in this case.  Four organizations affiliated with government units filed an amicus brief asking the Court to deny the Application, and to let the Court of Appeals decision stand.

The Michigan Manufacturers Association (“MMA”) also filed an amicus brief.  The MMA asked the Court to grant the Application and issue a decision confirming that Michigan law requires a value determination based on “usual selling price,” which is equivalent to market value, and not value in use.  Key points made in the brief were that in adopting the value in use standard, the Court of Appeals violated: 1) the Michigan Constitution and the General Property Tax Act; and 2) a Michigan Supreme Court decision, which repudiated value in use taxation and reversed the original Court of Appeals decision that had approved value in use taxation.  The Honigman firm authored the MMA’s amicus brief.

It is very difficult to predict when the Michigan Supreme Court will rule on the Application.  It is possible that there will not be a decision until the second quarter next year, or later.

Stewart Mandell
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC )


Updated June 2016

Adverse Big Box Decision Could Affect All Michigan Business Property Owners
In Menard, Inc. v City of Escanaba (published decision of the Court of Appeals, Docket No. 325718), the Court reversed the decision of the Tax Tribunal, which had relied largely on Petitioner’s sales comparison approach. Petitioner’s appraiser and the Tribunal found that although several of the comparable sales were deed restricted, the sales prices were not affected and were, thus, not adjusted for the restrictions. The Court found that although the deed restrictions did not affect the price paid by the ultimate buyer, the property may have sold to different buyers for higher prices in the absence of the restrictions. The Court also made legal rulings regarding the City’s cost approach, requiring that property be valued based on value-in-use, rather than the statutorily-required usual selling price (value-in-exchange) standard. The Court remanded the case to the Tribunal and ordered that additional evidence be presented. It is not yet known if Menard will appeal this decision.


HB 5578-“Dark Store” Bill Would Harm Owners of All Business Property
HB 5578 recently passed by the Michigan House of Representatives. The bill amends the Tax Tribunal Act and requires, for all cases that are not in the Tribunal’s small claims division, numerous findings that will materially increase the cost of appraisals and hearings. The bill also restricts consideration of certain comparable sales. The bill’s intended result is that for several types of properties, the only acceptable valuation approach will be the cost approach.

Among the bill’s significant problems is that it requires the Tribunal to base its valuation on criteria not required to be used by the assessor and, therefore, appears to violate the state constitution’s uniformity requirement. The bill would require the Tribunal to make a separate determination regarding several aspects of the property under appeal (e.g., the demand for potential uses of the property) that are not necessarily essential in determining the true cash value of the property in every case. The bill also prohibits the Tribunal from using certain comparable sales. Specifically, it requires the impact of private deed restrictions be considered and prohibits use of comparable sales that have private deed restrictions that substantially impair the property’s highest and best use. In addition, the bill confuses different concepts. For example, the bill prohibits the use of comparable sales that were vacant at the time of sale unless several requirements are met, including “the vacancy does not reflect a use different from the highest and best use of the property subject to assessment.” Every Michigan taxpayer should be troubled by this bill.


Eligible Manufacturing Personal Property (EMPP) and Essential Services Assessment (ESA) (Public Acts Nos. 107, 108, 109 and 110 of 2016)
These bills were signed in early May to make some additional changes to the new Personal Property exemption program for manufacturers that went into effect in 2016. The key changes include:

  • Created a new EMPP filing window for those who filed late or filed an incomplete form. The new window closed May 31, 2016. The ESA deadlines for these filers did not change.
  • Starting in 2017, Construction in Progress will be assessed under the ESA at 50% of original cost.
  • For EMPP that is leased, the parties to the lease may elect that the lessee reports all of the property subject to the lease, even if some is still subject to the tax. Absent an election, property still subject to the tax will be reported by the lessor.
  • Clarification that assessors and Boards of Review may correct and adjust EMPP affidavits, allowing the claims to be processed without an appeal to the Tax Tribunal.

Stewart Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC )


Updated March 2016

Michigan Property Tax Appeal Deadlines

Michigan, a few jurisdictions will send out assessment notices in January, but most will send them out in February or early March. Depending on the jurisdiction, appeals to assessor boards or local boards of review will be in February or March. For the property of most businesses, the Tax Tribunal’s 2016 appeal deadline will be May 31, 2016.

Stewart Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)


Updated December 2015

Michigan Personal Property Tax Exemption

Michigan’s exemption for manufacturing related personal property begins next year and taxpayers should be planning now to take advantage of this important tax benefit. Personal property predominately used for industrial processing or direct integrated support of that processing is eligible for exemption. Qualifying property placed into service after 2012 will become exempt in 2016 and the tax on such property placed into service before 2013 will be phased out over seven years. Property that becomes exempt under this program will be subject to a state special assessment called the State Essential Services Assessment (SESA). Paying the SESA instead of the personal property tax will result in material tax savings, especially for property that is located in jurisdictions with high tax rates.

Most taxpayers will be able to determine now whether personal property at a given location will qualify for the exemption. To qualify, over 50% of the original cost of all the personal property at a location must be used for industrial processing or direct integrated support. Most typical manufacturing locations will easily be over the 50% figure. However, those that are close to 50%, may have to wait until all the acquisitions and disposals are complete for the year to make the calculation.

Taxpayers that qualify for the exemption must claim the exemption by filing a Michigan Department of Treasury form 5278 with the local assessor on or before February 20, 2016. If the form is not received by the local assessor on or before February 20, it will be considered not filed. Unlike some other Michigan tax exemptions, the manufacturer's exemption must be timely claimed to take effect. There is no mechanism to account for late-filed claims or provision for retroactive corrections. However, if a claim is not made in a given year, the taxpayer still has the opportunity to file a claim for future years.

Stewart Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP 
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC )


Updated June 2015

Michigan Personal Property Tax Reform Update

Michigan’s exemption for Eligible Manufacturing Personal Property (EMPP) and imposition of the State Essential Services Act (SESA), both take effect next year.   Recent legislative modifications include an acceleration of the collection of the SESA during the year (from Sept.15 to Aug. 15) and a requirement that the basis of the SESA be changed from the acquisition cost of the current owner to the acquisition cost of the original owner.  This later requirement could have an impact on taxpayers who have purchased used equipment.  Additionally, the legislation authorizes the State Tax Commission to issue guidelines in certain circumstances.  

New Appellate Highest & Best Use must be a Legal Use

Honigman attorneys recently prevailed in a case involving the question of highest of best use of property.    The Court of Appeals affirmed a Tax Tribunal decision that found the highest and best use of the subject property to be “recreational/future development” as opposed to “commercial” as the City claimed.  Under the existing zoning, development of the property as commercial would have required an expensive “ring road” around a quarry located on the property.   With the significant cost of the “ring road” making such a development cost prohibitive, the property’s highest and best use would have been as recreational.

The City claimed that the property should have been valued as commercial assuming that a zoning variance would have been granted, enabling development with a less expensive cul-de-sac.  However, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that when determining highest and best use, it could not be assumed that the property owners would be granted a zoning variance.  As a result, the property’s highest and best use was as recreational and the resulting value reduction was more than eighty percent.

Stewart Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)


Updated March 2015

Are There Reasons to Appeal Assessed and State Equalized Values in Michigan? 

For Michigan property tax purposes, each parcel of property has an assessed value (AV), a state equalized value (SEV) and a taxable value (TV). AV and SEV should be 50% of market value. TV, on which taxes are based, is often less than AV and SEV because the annual growth of TV is generally limited to inflation or 5%, whichever is less. Many parcels now have material spreads between their TV and their AV and SEV. This, coupled with the fact that the tax rates are applied to the TV, leads many to conclude that the other values are irrelevant and can be ignored. However, there are reasons why an artificially high AV and SEV could negatively impact taxpayers. One problem is that if the AV and SEV are higher than the TV, the property’s TV will be increased each year by the rate of inflation even if market values are flat. Also, artificially high AVs and TVs could distort valuations performed for other reasons, such as for financing or estate and/or gift taxes. Finally, high AVs and SEVs could scare away potential buyers, who understand that the year after a transfer of ownership, the TV will be increased to equal the SEV, which in turn, will cause them to pay significantly more tax than the seller had been paying.

Stewart Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)


Updated December 2014

Michigan Personal Property Tax Reform Implementation

Michigan voter's approval in August of Proposal 1 ensures that the phase-out of manufacturing personal property will proceed and the "small business" exemption, which became effective in 2014, will continue. While the manufacturing exemption does not take effect until the 2016 tax year, there are some additional reporting requirements in 2015 for those planning to claim the exemption in 2016. The 2015 personal property statement will require that additional information be provided concerning if and when the property reported in 2015 will become exempt under the new law. Failure to file the schedule in 2015 will not disqualify a taxpayer from claiming the exemption in 2016, but will result in additional procedural steps to do so.

Mark Hilpert
Stewart Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP 
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)


Updated September 2014

Michigan Legislature May Pass Important Tax Appeal Legislation This Year

For many months, Michigan State Senator Bruce Caswell has been working on a large number of wide-ranging possible changes to Michigan’s property tax appeal system.  The potential changes ranged from who could serve on the Michigan Tax Tribunal, to jurisdiction over property tax classification appeals, to the deadlines for filing Michigan tax appeals.  Additionally, the proposed changes included eliminating the so-called “pay-to-play” requirement, which forced taxpayers to pay disputed state taxes in order to appeal state taxes to the Michigan Court of Claims.  As a result of the Senator’s efforts, there are now three bills pending in the Michigan Senate, SB 1038-40, which would amend Michigan’s General Property Tax Act, the Michigan Tax Tribunal Act and the Michigan Revenue Act.  The three bills currently are tie-barred (i.e., all three bills must be enacted in order for any of them to take effect).

On September 17, 2014, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on these bills.  As a result of the testimony at the hearing, Bill changes are now being proposed and discussed.  It remains to be seen what will be included in the final versions of the Bills, and whether the Bills can be enacted this year, given the relatively few remaining days in which the legislature will be in session the rest of this year.  However, it is quite possible that the Bills will be enacted because the Michigan Department of Treasury is supporting many of the changes that have been proposed.

Stewart Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)


Updated June 2014

Government Effort to Obtain Value-In-Use Taxation Continues

Two northern Michigan communities are continuing their efforts to have Michigan change the standard for valuing real property under the Michigan's General Property Tax Act. Michigan courts have long held that under the Act, properties are valued based on their value-in-exchange, i.e., their usual selling price. In two cases involving the valuation of relatively new big box retail stores, local government units have been asserting that the properties' values should include a value-in-use component because both properties were profitably operated on the valuation dates. The Michigan Tax Tribunal had rejected this contention and valued the properties based on sales of similar big box retail properties. In April the Court of Appeals affirmed the Tribunal's decisions. The local government units have now filed applications for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court. It is likely that the Court will rule on the applications within the next year.

Stewart Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP
American Property Tax Counsel


Updated March 2014

Michigan Appeal Deadline Approaching
Generally, Michigan’s 2014 tax appeal deadline for business property is June 2. Now is the time for taxpayers to carefully review their 2014 assessments with their property tax counsel and determine if an appeal may be worth pursuing.

Tax Tribunal Accepts Taxpayer’s Highest & Best Use Valuation
Honigman recently obtained a Michigan Tax Tribunal decision that reduced a taxpayer’s contested land values by over 90%. The evidence presented established that because of development costs required for industrial/commercial use, the City had erred in using industrial/commercial as the property’s highest and best use. The Tribunal agreed with the taxpayer that the property's highest value was as speculative/recreational, which did not require the substantial development costs.

Legislature Passes Personal Property Reform Bill
The Michigan legislature has passed a comprehensive personal property tax reform package. Governor Snyder is expected to sign the bills. The package will be subject to a statewide vote on August 5, 2014. If the ballot question is approved, the tax on most industrial personal property will begin to be phased out in 2016.   In addition, with passage, taxpayers who own or lease less than $80,000 worth of personal property in a given locality will be able to obtain exemption.

American Property Tax Counsel


Updated December 2013

Michigan Personal Property Tax Reform Update
The first piece of Michigan's multi-faceted personal property tax reform plan is scheduled to take effect in 2014. If a taxpayer's personal property in a particular assessing jurisdiction (city or township) has a market value less than $80,000 it is eligible for exemption. The taxpayer must file an affidavit by February 10 each year to claim the exemption. The plan was recently amended to provide that the value of property owned by related entities is combined when determining eligibility for the exemption.

The more significant pieces of the plan will not become effective until the 2016 tax year. Starting in 2016, eligible manufacturing personal property (EMPP) placed into service after December 31, 2012 will be exempt. Also, beginning in 2016, EMPP that has been in service for at least ten years will also be exempt. Hence, by 2023 all EMPP will be exempt. The definition of EMPP was also recently amended to include all personal property primarily used for industrial processing or direct integrated support of Industrial processing.

At this time, the entire personal property tax reform plan is subject to repeal if in August of 2014 Michigan voters do not approve a ballot question regarding the distribution of State funds used to reimburse local governments for lost revenue. However, many observers expect that some form of the plan will ultimately move forward regardless of the outcome of the vote.

Stewart L. Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP
American Property Tax Counsel


Updated September 2013

Transfer of Ownership Developments
For Michigan property, and interests in entities that own Michigan property, whether a transfer of ownership occurs is an important issue. The year after a transfer of ownership, the property's taxable value (on which taxes are based) "uncaps," and equals the property's state equalized value (which should be half of market value). Due to relatively frequent legislative action, the law in this area continues to change. Additionally, over the summer the Michigan State Tax Commission issued new transfer of ownership guidelines. The law in this area presents many traps for the uninformed. Accordingly, taxpayers with Michigan property would be wise to confer with knowledgeable counsel before transferring either Michigan property or an interest in an entity that, directly or indirectly, owns Michigan property.

Personal Property Taxation Changes
On December 20, 2012, Michigan Governor Snyder signed several bills that could exempt certain personal property starting in 2014. The Administration and legislative leaders are now planning to modify the legislation enacted last year. Taxpayers with substantial personal property in Michigan should determine the impact of the currently proposed statutory changes, before they are enacted. For more details, you can call a Honigman tax appeal attorney.


Updated June 2013

New Michigan Transfer Tax Decision

In 525 Redevco Inc, v Department of Treasury, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled that a developer using Certificates of Participation (COPs) was not subject to the Michigan State Real Estate Transfer Tax (SRETT) at the time a deed was actually transferred, because at the time of the transfer, the developer received no consideration. The SRETT is imposed on sellers of real property or interests in entities whose real property ownership equals or exceeds certain statutory amounts. The tax is .75% of the value of the property transferred. The SRETT has an exemption for transfers where the consideration is less than $100.

In this case a developer built a project which the State of Michigan was to lease. The lease provided the State a bargain purchase option pursuant to which the State could make certain rent prepayments at any time, to take title. For federal income tax purposes, the deal was financed with COPS, which allowed investors to purchase certificates through a trust. The COPS were secured by the State's rental payments, which were paid directly to the trust. In addition, the developer was not obligated by the COPs in any way because if the rental payments were stopped, insurance coverage had been procured to make the holders of the COPs whole.

About four years after the lease commenced, the State elected to prepay rent and take title. The State attempted to levy an SRETT on the developer, but the Court ruled for the developer agreeing that at the time of the transfer of the deed, the developer did not receive any consideration and the transfer was therefore exempt.

Michigan has two separate real estate transfer taxes (RETTS). One is levied by the State and another by the County in which the property transferred is located. These taxes have several subtle differences. Careful structuring of real estate transactions can beneficially impact not only one or both RETTs, but also the question of whether and how the taxable value of the property becomes uncapped for property tax purposes in future years. Before consummating a transaction involving Michigan property, conferring with legal counsel knowledgeable about these issues, could prove very beneficial.


Updated March 2013

2013 Property Tax Assessment Notices and Appeals to the Board of Review
Michigan Taxpayers have recently received, or soon will be receiving, their 2013 assessment notices. While owners of properties classified on the assessment roll as commercial and industrial real property do not have to protest their assessments to the local Board of Review in order to appeal to the Tax Tribunal, there are times when a March 2013 Board of Review appeal is still required to preserve Tax Tribunal appeal rights for the 2013 tax year. Required Board of Review appeal situations include:

    1. Valuation or exemption appeals for property classified as Residential, agricultural or developmental.
    1. Personal property appeals if the taxpayer failed to file a personal property statement before the first day the Board of Review meets.
    1. 3A challenge to a property's classification.

Filing a letter or fax sometimes satisfies the protest requirement, but taxpayers should immediately check with the local assessor's office to verify the procedural and timing requirements in their jurisdiction.


Partial Exemption for Spec Homes
Michigan Public Act 494 of 2012 provides that for taxes levied after November 2012, certain residential property, defined as "development property," will be exempted from local school operating taxes. "Development property" includes any residential dwelling (including a residential condominium) that has never been occupied; is available for sale; is not leased; and is not used for any business purpose. The exemption lasts for the shorter of three years or whenever the property no longer qualifies as development property. Owners of qualifying property may petition the local 2013 July Board of Review to apply for a refund of school operating taxes levied in December 2012 as part of a winter 2012 property tax bill.


Court Decision Supports Use of Bank Sales in Property Tax Case
In Kassem Abbas v City of Dearborn, the Michigan Court of Appeals (in an unpublished decision) recently held that it was appropriate to consider bank-owned and short sales when determining value for property tax purposes. The taxpayer's appraiser testified that he could not find a sufficient number of private sales that were comparable to the subject property and therefore included some bank-owned sales and short sales in his sales comparison approach valuation. The City claimed that the appraisal must be disregarded because bank-owned sales and short sales are by their nature "forced sales," and Michigan's property tax law prohibits the use of forced sales when determining true cash value. The Court held in this case that the taxpayer's appraiser's sales could be properly used to determine true cash value. This case acknowledges that, during recent years, bank-owned and short sales are often the best, or maybe the only, indicators of market value.

If you have any questions regarding any of these issues or any other in-state or out-of-state real estate tax appeals matters, please contact any of our tax professionals listed on this Alert.

Stewart L. Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP
American Property Tax Counsel


Updated December 2013

Personal Property Tax Reform
Governor Snyder recently signed legislation enacting a long awaited personal property tax reform plan. Disagreement over the manner of reimbursement to local government of a portion of the resulting reduced property tax revenues almost derailed the effort at the last minute. As it is, the final version is linked to an August 2014 statewide referendum on dedicating a portion of the state's use tax to reimburse the local units of government. If the voters reject the use tax referendum, the whole plan will be repealed.

The plan does not eliminate all personal property taxes but instead would provide relief as follows:

    • Beginning in 2014, small commercial and industrial personal property parcels will be exempt. If a taxpayer's commercial or industrial personal property in a given assessing jurisdiction is less than $40,000 of taxable value, the parcel is exempt. If the taxable value exceeds $40,000, tax is owed on the full amount. Taxpayers will have to file an annual affidavit with the local government unit and the Department of Treasury to claim this exemption.
    • Starting in 2016, any Eligible Manufacturing Personal Property (EMPP) that was purchased new after December 31, 2012 will become exempt. EMPP is property that is used more than 50% of the time for industrial processing or in "Direct Integrated Support." Aside from traditional manufacturing and processing equipment, the EMPP definition includes equipment used in research and development, quality control, engineering and warehousing functions that are necessary as a result of industrial processing. Taxpayers will have to file an affidavit in 2016 only to claim this exemption.
    • Starting in 2016, any EMPP that is at least 10 years old will be exempt. In each year after 2016, an additional oldest year of EMPP will become exempt so that all EMPP will be exempt by 2023. For example, EMPP purchased in 2006 will become exempt for the 2017 and later tax years
    • EMPP that is currently subject to tax abatements and/or specific taxes will continue to be exempt from the General Property Tax Act and subject to the specific tax until the time when that EMPP would be exempt under the new law.
    • The existing 12 and 24 mill property tax exemption for commercial and industrial classed property will remain in place (although most industrial personal property will eventually be completely exempt).
    • A new statewide Metropolitan Authority will be created that will levy a portion of the current state use tax for purposes of reimbursing qualified local units for up to 80% of their estimated loss in revenue from personal property used for non-police, fire and ambulance service. The amount of the use tax dedicated to the Authority would be adjusted each year and the State portion of the tax would be reduced accordingly so that the overall rate remains at 6%.
    • Local governments also will be authorized to levy an "Essential Services Assessment" (ESA), which will be a special assessment levied on the real property of taxpayers that benefit from the EMPP exemption. Since the ESA funds only essential services, the rate is expected to be smaller than the current personal property tax rate. In addition, the ESA is capped on a per parcel basis so that it should not exceed the benefit that a parcel receives from the EMPP exemption.

Penalties Rise for Failure to Report Property Transfers
Michigan Public Act 382 of 2012 increases the penalty for failure to notify the local assessor of a transfer of ownership of industrial or commercial property. This changes the prior law which required buyers or other transferees to notify the assessor within 45 days of a transfer by filing the state authorized property transfer affidavit. The penalty for not filing had been a fine of $5/day up to $200. PA 382 increases the penalty to $20/day, up to $1,000 for property selling for $100 million or less. In the case of property that sells for more than $100 million, the fine will be $20,000 after the 45 days have elapsed unless the assessor determines the failure is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect, in which case the lesser fine is imposed. The buyer or other transferee may appeal the determination to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

Some Transfers to Family Will Not Cause TV Uncapping
Public Act 497 of 2012 has been enacted as a result of the Governor's December 31, 2012 approval. This legislation provides that beginning December 31, 2013, which is the valuation date for the 2014 tax year, transfers of residential real property will not cause an uncapping if the parties are related by blood or affinity to the first degree and the use of the property does not change following the transfer.


Updated December 2012

Time to prepare for 2013
Michigan taxpayers will again face some challenges and opportunities in the coming year. For many properties the local assessors still have not fully recognized the steep drop in values resulting from the Great Recession. So, in many cases opportunities for savings remain.
The Proposal A "inflation rate" for 2013 is 2.4% which means that taxable values (on which taxes are based), will increase where a property's state equalized value exceeds its taxable value. Given the foregoing, and with next quarter's delivery of 2013 assessment notices, now is the time for taxpayers to begin planning for 2013 assessment appeals.

Penalties Rise for Failure to Report Property Transfers Michigan Public Act 382 of 2012 increases the penalty for failure to notify the local assessor of a transfer of ownership of industrial or commercial property. Prior law required buyers or other transferees to notify the assessor within 45 days of a transfer by filing a State authorized property transfer affidavit. The penalty for not filing had been a fine of $5/day up to $200. PA 382 increases the penalty to $20/day, up to $1,000 for property selling for $100 million or less. In the case of property that sells for more than $100 million, the fine will be $20,000 after the 45 days have elapsed unless the assessor determines the failure is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect, in which case the lesser fine is imposed. The buyer or other transferee may appeal the determination to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

Despite the increase in the fine, property owners should note that in most cases the greatest exposure resulting from not filing a transfer affidavit is the possibility of retroactive uncapping of the property's taxable value. If a transfer has not been reported, the assessor has the authority to retroactively uncap the taxable value once the transfer has been discovered. In addition to the higher tax, penalties and interest are charged back to the date when the taxes would have been due. With late payment charges that can be as much as 18% per year, this can be a significant amount.

Personal Property Tax Reform
On December 20, 2012, Michigan Governor Snyder signed several bills that could exempt certain personal property starting in 2014. The bills include some relatively complex provisions, the ramifications of which are still being analyzed. It appears that as enacted, the reform package is linked to a statewide vote on dedicating a portion of the State's use tax to reimburse local governments. If, in an election to be held in August 2014, the voters reject the use tax change, the whole plan will be repealed. For more details of the plan, please call a Honigman tax appeal attorney.


Updated September 2012

Michigan Properties and Toll Northville Michigan Supreme Court Decisions
In the cases of Michigan Properties LLC v Meridian Township and Toll Northville LP v Northville the Michigan Supreme Court expanded the ability of the March Board of Review and the Tax Tribunal to correct erroneous taxable values.

Prior to the Court's decision in these cases, taxpayers and local units alike were prohibited from claiming an adjustment to taxable value for the current year, based on an error made in a previous year, unless that previous year was timely appealed or the error fit into one of the narrow statutory provisions for a retroactive adjustment.

Obviously, while this expanded authority can cut both ways for taxpayers and local units, we believe there will be many opportunities for taxpayers to take advantage of this new case law in situations where appeals may not have been filed timely.

Interest on Tax Tribunal Refunds
Legislation has recently been enacted that will increase the interest rate that local governments must pay on refunds resulting from property tax appeals. Over the past few years the annual interest rate on Tax Tribunal refunds has barely hovered over 1%. The statutory rate was tied to the 90 day Treasury bill rate and was so low that it was less than the rate at which many local governments could borrow money. Hence, many believed it worked as a disincentive for local units to settle pending tax appeals. The new legislation ties the interest rate to the prime rate. So, for the second half of 2012 interest on Tribunal refunds will accrue at 4.25% instead of the current 1.09%.


Updated June 2012

Michigan Senate Controls Resolution Of Proposed Property Tax Penalties

Buyers of business property in Michigan should be aware of an effort to significantly increase the cost of failing to timely file a property transfer affidavit. Current law requires buyers of real property to submit a transfer affidavit to the local property tax assessor within 45 days of the transfer or pay $5/day up to a maximum of $200. House Bill 4860 increases the penalty for late filing with respect to real property classified as industrial or commercial. If the sales price of the property is $100 million or less, the penalty is $20/day up to $1,000. For properties with higher sales prices, the penalty is $20,000. The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed HB 4860 and it is now pending in the Senate. The Republican majority Senate is often receptive to input from the business community, so if enough taxpayers express opposition it is possible the Senate would take no action on the bill.


Updated March 2012

May 31 Deadline For Most Michigan Business Property Tax Appeals
In recent weeks Michigan taxpayers should have received their 2012 property tax assessment notices. For real property that is classified as industrial or commercial, assessments may be appealed directly to the Michigan Tax Tribunal. The same is true for personal property if the personal property statement was filed before the first meeting of the March Board of Review. For these types of property, Tax Tribunal petitions must be filed on or before May 31.

Sometimes Legislation is the Answer
Most Michigan property tax disputes involve issues of property valuation or exemption, for which a tax appeal is needed to obtain relief. However, there are times when the best and most efficient solution to solving the problem is to seek a change in the law. Honigman can help identify issues that may be handled in that manner. Recently, Honigman successfully completed work in such a matter where a property owner's significant tax problem was resolved through enactment of new legislation. As a result of Honigman's property tax law expertise and experience in working with the legislature, in this recent matter the passage of the legislation was achieved in far less time and cost than it would have taken to resolve the matter through a tax appeal.


Updated December 2011

2012 New Michigan Tax Savings Opportunities And Challenges

In Michigan, taxpayer opportunities and challenges will continue next year. The State still maintains a relatively high unemployment rate which is above the national rate. This continues to negatively impact the real estate market. The Proposal A "inflation rate" for 2012 is 2.7% which means that taxable values (on which property taxes are based), will increase where a property's state equalized value exceeds its taxable value. Given the foregoing, and with next quarter's delivery of 2012 assessment notices, now is the time for taxpayers to begin planning for 2012 assessment appeals.

A group of taxpayers are now working to increase the interest rate for property tax refunds. Under the Tax Tribunal Act, the interest rate for property tax refunds was 3.31% for calendar year 2009, 1.23% for calendar year 2010, 1.12% for calendar year 2011 and will be 1.09% for 2012. In contrast, if taxpayers pay their taxes late they are charged interest rates that range from 12% per year to 18% per year. Not only is this disparity unfair, but it incents taxing units to delay addressing legitimate tax appeals. Taxpayers who would be willing to endorse this statutory change can contact Honigman which is involved in the effort to change the law.

The Michigan Corporate Income Tax will soon be effective. Honigman can assist those seeking counsel with respect to any issues involving this new tax.

Stewart L. Mandell
Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)


Updated June 2011

Corporate Income Tax Replaces MBT
On May 25, 2011, Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan signed into law legislation that dramatically changes the tax landscape for Michigan businesses.  The new law replaces the Michigan Business Tax with a corporate income tax starting in 2012. The new tax will apply only to those entities characterized as a “corporation” under the federal income tax code.  The tax rate is 6%.  The corporate income tax is imposed on a “unitary” business group basis.  Income is apportioned to Michigan based solely on sales.

While exempting pass-through entities and S corporations from an entity level tax, the new law imposes a new withholding regime on pass-through entities for amounts distributed to its non-resident individual and non-individual members. 

With Michigan now having its third major state tax since 2007 there are important issues for taxpayers to discuss with their Michigan tax counsel.  For example, there are no provisions for the use of net operating losses incurred during the years that the MBT was in effect (2008 through 2011), nor does the new tax contain provisions for new credits after December 31, 2011, other than a small business credit.  Another important, of many potential issues: businesses contemplating 2011 transactions are urged to consider the timing of closing; there could be significant tax minimization by delaying closing until January 1, 2012.   Accordingly, taxpayers are urged to contact their Michigan tax counsel regarding these and other issues.

Supreme Court Allows Review Of Tax Commission Orders
On May 23, 2011 the Honigman firm obtained a significant taxpayer victory in the property tax classification saga that has involved many Michigan taxpayers.  Those who have followed Michigan’s property tax classification controversy are aware that in recent years the State had initiated an effort to change the classification of thousands of parcels.  At one time the Michigan Tax Tribunal had over 10,000 such cases pending.

One of the most important legal issues that arose as these cases were litigated was whether taxpayers could appeal state tax commission classification decisions.  With respect to classification appeals that taxpayers filed at the state tax commission, Michigan’s General Property Tax Act provided that the state tax commission was to “arbitrate” taxpayer petitions and that “(a)n appeal (could) not be taken from the decision of the state tax commission regarding classification complaint petitions and the state tax commission's determination is final and binding for the year of the petition.”  MCL 211.34(6).

Notwithstanding this statutory prohibition of an appeal, The Honigman firm appealed a number of state tax commission decisions to Michigan Circuit Courts.  Even though every Circuit Court which ruled on the matter asserted jurisdiction, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the Circuit Courts did not have jurisdiction.

On May 23, 2011 the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the Michigan Court of Appeals and held that the Circuit Courts do have jurisdiction in these cases.  The Court agreed with Honigman that the Michigan Constitution guaranteed a right of appeal and that the statute prohibiting the appeal was unconstitutional.


Updated March 2011

Eventful Opening to 2011 Tax Appeal Season

Michigan Tax Appeal Deadline Approaching.
For most business property, May 31 is the deadline to file 2011 appeals.  Michigan values are still very depressed and a property’s value could still be materially excessive even if the 2011 assessment declined.  While the Honigman firm provides a free evaluation for properties where the  assessment is at least $1 million, it is important that reviews be done soon because of the approaching deadline and number of appeals expected to be filed this year.

Miss Michigan’s Tax Appeal Deadline At Your Peril.
A February Court of Appeals decision confirms the importance of timely filing appeals.  In Allesee v Twp of Bloomfield, confusion over whether a rent-to-own agreement was a land contract caused the taxpayer's taxable value to become uncapped retroactively for multiple years.  The taxpayer did not immediately appeal believing the assessor would correct the error when the facts became known.   Ultimately the taxpayer had to file an appeal and both the Tax Tribunal and the Court of Appeals held that the appeal was too late.  The Court of Appeals expressed a hesitancy to affirm because it appeared there was “some merit to petitioner’s argument,” however under the facts presented and the law, the Court concluded it had no choice.  This case underscores the importance of timely appealing an action of a Michigan assessor, even in cases where a taxpayer believes that the error is so clear that the assessor will have to correct it.

Michigan Decision Supports M & E Personal Property Appeals.
On March 8, 2011 the Michigan Court of Appeals decided Spartech Polycom v City of St Clair in which the key issues were:  (1) the proper methods to value personal property; (2) could  appraisers use website sales information to value personal property; and (3) in a sales comparison approach could the appraiser disregard freight, sales tax and installation, which typically are included in the State Tax Commission’s cost approach.  The taxpayer’s appraiser valued most of the subject assets using the market approach.  The appraiser obtained information about sales and prices from a number of sources including: i)  e-commerce sites, such as eBay “Buy it Now” prices; and ii) manufacturers, sellers and dealers.  The appraiser did not include sales tax, transportation or installation costs in his sales comparison approach.  The City relied on the State’s cost less depreciation approach.  The City argued that the appraiser’s methodology violated state law and even in the Tribunal the State Tax Commission filed a brief supporting the City.  The Tax Tribunal accepted the methodology and conclusions of the taxpayer’s appraisal.  The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the Tax Tribunal.  Especially with this decision, taxpayers with Michigan manufacturing operations should carefully consider whether to appeal a personal property assessment.

Supreme Court Interprets Joint - Tenancy Taxable Value Uncapping
The Michigan Supreme Court recently decided Klooster v City of Charlevoix. The Court interpreted the exemption from property tax (taxable value) uncapping for a transfer creating or terminating a joint tenancy between two or more persons. There were three relevant transactions in Klooster involving property previously acquired by a father in a non-exempt transfer of ownership... More here


Updated December 2010

2011 New Michigan Tax Savings Opportunities And Challenges

In Michigan taxpayer opportunities and challenges will continue in 2011. The State still maintains one of the highest unemployment rates in the country which continues to negatively impact the real estate market. The Proposal A "inflation rate" for 2011 is 1.7%, which means that taxable values (on which taxes are based), will increase where a property's state equalized value exceeds its taxable value. Given the foregoing, and with next quarter's delivery of 2011 assessment notices, now is the time for taxpayers to begin planning for 2011 assessment appeals.

In November the Michigan Tax Tribunal began hearing some of the over 10,000 property tax classification appeals that the Michigan Department of Treasury had filed. In these cases the State sought classification changes that would have increased property taxes and Michigan Business Taxes. In one of the first cases heard, the Honigman firm obtained summary disposition for the taxpayer at the hearing. Shortly after this hearing the State Tax Commission ("STC") announced that it was withdrawing the pending Tribunal appeals and indicated it would be taking other actions with respect to property classification. Honigman attorneys are available to discuss the potential STC action and ramifications of that action as well as new assessment appeals for 2011.


Updated September 2010

Michigan Court Of Appeals To Taxpayers: "Timely File Your Appeals!"

A case the Michigan Court of Appeals (COA) recently issued for publication yet again confirms the importance of timely appealing unlawful Michigan property taxation. In this case, everyone agreed the property's classification was incorrect and yet the taxpayer's failure to timely appeal resulted in excessive taxation.

In Michigan, a valuable tax credit is available under both the Michigan Business Tax and its predecessor, the Single Business Tax (SBT), for property taxes paid on industrial personal property. In this particular case, the Department of Treasury denied the SBT credit the taxpayer claimed for personal property taxes it had paid during the tax year."The Department did not dispute that the property met the the General Property Tax Act definition of industrial personal property. However, the Dept. claimed that the SBT credit was limited for "personal property classified as industrial personal property under ...the General Property Tax Act". The Department contended the taxes paid on the property were not eligible for the credit because the local assessor had not classified the property as industrial and the taxpayer did not timely appeal the property's classification.

The COA agreed with the Department meaning that for purposes of eligibility for the MBT (or SBT) credit, the nature and use of personal property is not dispositive. What matters is how the property was actually classified under the general property tax act. Especially given that classification appeal deadlines expire before MBT returns are filed, taxpayers cannot wait until a credit claim is denied before appealing a property's classification. (Walter Toebe Construction Company v. Department of Treasury, Mich. App. No. 291764, July 27, 2010, approved for publication Sept. 2, 2010.).


Updated June 2010

Michigan Refuses To Issue New Pollution Control Exemption Certificates
Many states, including Michigan, exempt from property taxes facilities for which the primary purpose is to reduce water and air pollution. In Michigan, pollution control property becomes exempt only after the

State Tax Commission ("STC") Issues an Exemption Certificate
The Department of Natural Resources and Environment ("DNRE") has historically advised the STC as to whether specific facilities primarily reduce pollution under the definitions in Michigan law. However, recently the DNRE has refused to continue providing such advice to the STC. As a result, the STC is no longer issuing exemption certificates. This puts taxpayers in the position of having to file suit in order to force the government to act in accordance with Michigan law. At this time, Honigman is not aware of a taxpayer filing an action to obtain an exemption certificate.


Updated March 2010

Clearing the Air Regarding Michigan Classification Appeals
The Michigan Department of Treasury recently announced it had filed almost 10,000 property tax classifications for the 2009 tax year. In light of the MBT credit for industrial personal property tax paid and the reduced property tax rates for industrial and commercial property, Treasury's action likely will increase taxes for many taxpayers. The mass appeals announcement has caused a flurry of "advisories" and newsletters from various consultants and interested parties. It has come to our attention that some of these communications have significant inaccuracies.

To set the record straight, the Tax Tribunal is supposed to send each property owner the Petition that Treasury filed along with notice that the property owner has 28 days, from the date of service, to respond. While this will still require taxpayers to act quickly, and there may be cases where taxpayers do not receive notice, the system should provide much more notice than some have suggested. Additionally, the ramifications of these appeals need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. These appeals will significantly increase taxes for some, but not all, taxpayers. As a result, taxpayers should be on the lookout for such Tax Tribunal notices and they should carefully review their 2010 assessment notices to make sure each property classification is correct. If property is not correctly classified, then a timely appeal must be made to the March Board of Review.

Honigman has been at the forefront of the battle on classification issues and currently is handling the lead case which soon will be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. If you have concerns about the classification appeals and want to know how they could impact your taxes, you can call one of our property tax professionals.

Another Favorable Decision on the Uncapping of Taxable Value
The Court of Appeals in Klooster v Charlevoix recently held that a transfer of property from parents to their son, through the creation and termination of a joint tenancy, was exempt from uncapping, even though a direct transfer of property from parents to their children would have triggered an uncapping of taxable value. Under Klooster and the earlier Court of Appeals' decision in Moshier v White Water Twp, it may also be possible to transfer property to an unrelated third party buyer without uncapping. The manner in which a property transfer is structured is critical to the uncapping consequences. Honigman property tax professionals can provide guidance regarding Michigan transfer/uncapping issues.


Updated December 2009

2010 Provides New Michigan Tax Savings Opportunities And Challenges

This will be a unique year for Michigan property taxpayers. 2010 will mark the first time since Proposal A was passed in 1994 that taxable values for most properties will decline because the annual cap (multiplier) on taxable value permitted increases for 2010 will be less than one. However, the required value decline will only be 3/10 of 1%, and therefore given the trend in commercial, industrial and other Michigan property, many business property owners will be filing appeals to obtain substantially larger reductions.

Although valuation appeal opportunities exist for 2010, taxpayers also may have exposure. The Michigan Department of Treasury has announced plans to appeal property classifications for 10,000 parcels before the end of the year. These appeals seek to challenge the various parcels' current "industrial" classifications and, thus, put the reduced tax rate and Michigan Business Tax Credit for related personal property parcels at risk.

If a taxpayer receives notice of an appeal, a prompt and timely response is necessary to preserve the taxpayer's rights. Also, for personal property owners involved in industrial activity who lease real property, the classification of the landlord's real property could impact the taxes payable on that personal property.

Honigman is handling the lead classification cases that are currently pending at the Michigan Court of Appeals and Honigman attorneys are available to discuss potential tax ramifications on these classification issues.


Updated September 2009

Michigan Taxing Units Initiate Numerous Classification Appeals

Since June, Michigan taxpayers have seen local government units initiate a large number of classification appeals at the Michigan State Tax Commission. As a result of these, and prior efforts, in a relatively brief period there have now been over 1,000 cases in which the government has sought to change a property's classification. The reason for this substantial reclassification effort is that a Michigan's property's classification can determine entitlement to Michigan Business Tax ("MBT") credits (based on property taxes paid) as well as a reduced property tax rate. In the usual case the government seeks to change the property's current and favorable industrial classification. In these cases taxpayers usually are given very little time to respond so it is imperative that taxpayers act quickly when they receive notices of such appeals.

Currently pending at the Michigan Court of Appeals is the first case in which the Court will decide a number of issues relating to the classification of property which the taxpayer contends is industrial personal property. The APTC's Michigan member, the Honigman firm, is handling that case. There is a good chance that the case will be decided in 2010. In the meantime, taxpayers would be well advised to promptly respond to any notice of government action to change the classification of Michigan property.


Updated March 2009

Michigan March Madness: Boards of Review & Classification Appeals?

For decades Michigan has had its own special March Madness; a non-contact sport that sometimes involves nail-biting races against the clock as taxpayers try to file Board of Review protests notwithstanding assessment notices arriving with no time to spare and filing requirements and deadlines that vary among Michigan's thousands of taxing units (including a handful of jurisdictions that put time on their side by establishing February appeal deadlines). Mercifully, since 2007 those with certain properties, including properties classified as commercial or industrial real, have been given a Board of Review bye. However, the Board of Review challenge goes on for many taxpayers including those who wish to change a property's classification.

Recent Michigan tax law changes make it more important than ever to ensure that Michigan property is classified correctly. In short, a property's classification can determine entitlement to Michigan Business Tax ("MBT") credits (based on property taxes paid) as well as a reduced property tax rate. Property classified as industrial personal has these credit and tax rate advantages; property classified as commercial personal also has a somewhat reduced tax rate. Significantly, Michigan courts may ultimately rule that the classification of a real property parcel determines the classification of that parcel's personal property.

To date Honigman clients have had some success in these classification appeals. While the State Tax Commission ("STC") has not granted taxpayer requested relief in the vast majority of classification appeals filed, Honigman was able to persuade the STC to reconsider and reverse decisions it made on a significant issue impacting two Honigman clients. The arguments Honigman prepared were essential to this favorable achievement because another taxpayer, with other counsel making different arguments, had lost on exactly the same issue.

At least as important are on-going efforts in other appeals where Honigman has sought classification relief in local circuit courts. In both of the cases that have been heard to date, the circuit court has issued a writ of mandamus ordering the STC to issue a proper order changing the classification of the property to "industrial personal," as the taxpayer had requested.

While the victories just mentioned are not the end of the story, the key lesson of the chapters written to date is that taxpayers facing unlawfully excessive taxation must act timely. Clearly, time to file 2009 Michigan property tax appeals is winding down. Whether an appeal needs to be filed with a Board of Review, or filed directly in the Michigan Tax Tribunal, taxpayers should act as soon as is possible. Given the complexities and intricacies of Michigan's procedural and substantive property tax provisions, taxpayers also would be wise to confer with experienced Michigan property tax counsel as soon as they can with respect to their Michigan property taxes.


Updated December 2008

Michigan Property Classification Appeals Can Reduce Taxes

Under Michigan law, starting in 2008 certain property classes obtain significant property tax rate reduction. Additionally, 35% of the remaining taxes that are paid on industrial personal property may be taken as a refundable Michigan Business Tax Credit by the business paying the tax.

Prior to these recent favorable property tax changes, few property tax appeals involved a property's classification. Illustratively, in the past, for personal property, it usually was of no consequence whether the personal property was classified as commercial, industrial or agricultural. Therefore, when a property's classification was litigated the issue typically was whether the property was real or personal property.

While the new favorable property tax provisions have made property classification very important, in recent years the legislature has not changed the laws that determine a property's classification. Nor has the legislature changed the provisions relating to classification appeals.

As a result, the area of property classification is one where there is now far more litigation than ever before and many of the cases involve issues of first impression. Furthermore, the issues involved in these appeals include both substantive and procedural ones. In fact, there are significant issues relating to the appropriate path to appeal a property's classification.

To date the State Tax Commission has been extremely involved in these classification appeals. Given the tax dollars at issue in these appeals, it is not surprising that thus far many of the Commission's decisions have not been favorable to taxpayers. However, recently the Honigman firm was able to obtain a favorable ruling that will be of significant benefit to the taxpayers impacted.

Michigan taxpayers are well advised to work with knowledgeable Michigan property tax counsel in order to determine if there is anything that can be done to appropriately reduce property taxes based on their property's classification. For many taxpayers, a favorable classification appeal could result in substantial tax savings.


Updated September 2008

Year End Could Bring Important Michigan Property Tax Changes

Thus far it has been a relatively quiet year in terms of Michigan property tax decisions and legislation. This has occurred primarily because of relatively few new Tax Tribunal decisions, attributable to the high number of Tribunal Member vacancies, as well as a tax legislation stalemate. Michigan taxpayers should not be surprised by significant changes on both of these fronts before the end of the year.

The governor recently appointed Victoria Enyart, Kimbal Smith III and Stuart Trager to the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Victoria Enyart has worked both as an assessor and property tax consultant; she is a past president of the Michigan Assessor's Association and has the State's highest level CMAE IV designation from the State Assessor's Board. Kimbal Smith III has been in the legal profession for almost forty years and his experiences include serving as a Deputy State Treasurer of Michigan and representing taxpayers in the Tax Tribunal. Stuart Trager is also an attorney and he had been involved in property tax litigation and legislative matters while serving as Supervising Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Detroit Law Department. Both Tribunal Members Enyart and Smith have previously served as Tax Tribunal Members. The addition of these Members is expected to result in new Tribunal decisions before the end of the year.

Besides the likelihood of new Tribunal decisions as the year end approaches, the legislature is considering a number of important new tax measures that could be passed before the end of the year. Few expect these pending bills to move before the election. However, it is quite possible that the leadership of the Democratic controlled House and Republican controlled Senate could agree on a large legislative package that results in significant Michigan tax changes. This is likely to be one holiday season where Michigan taxpayers should stay in touch with their Michigan tax advisors and legislators.


Updated September 2008

In Michigan, It Is Now Seller Beware

Buyers of Michigan real property are generally aware of the potential adverse tax consequences on the purchase of real property due to real property transfer taxes and the "pop up" property tax (uncapping of taxable value) which is triggered when property is purchased. However, sellers may now also be subject to significantly adverse tax consequences on the sale of their real property.

Under the recently enacted Michigan Business Tax ("MBT"), taxpayers pay both a business income tax ("BIT") and a gross receipts tax ("GRT"). The base on which the MBT is levied starts with federal taxable income and therefore captures any gain reported for federal income tax purposes. The GRT base is defined as all gross receipts from the taxpayer's business.

The MBT, unlike the Internal Revenue Code, makes no distinction between capital gain and ordinary income. Therefore, sellers of Michigan real property will find themselves subject to the MBT on both the gain on the sale (BIT) and the gross receipts of the sale (GRT). A limited GRT exclusion is provided for property used in a trade or business.

Example: Assume Seller sells property for $6 million with a basis of $3 million. For federal income tax purposes, Seller will receive capital gain treatment. The MBT liability would be $239,710, calculated as follows:

Sale Price $6,000,000
Basis $3,000,000
Gain $3,000,000

MBT Liability
Business Income Tax (BIT) $ 148,500 (4.95% of $3M)
Gross Receipt Tax (GRT) $ 48,000 (0.8% of $6M)
Subtotal $ 196,500
MBT Surcharge (21.99%) $ 43,210
Total MBT Due Based on Sale $239,710

Recapture of investment tax credit taken for Single Business Tax purposes may also increase Seller's MBT liability. Many sellers of Michigan real property have already been surprised by this tax bite. However, with careful planning, sellers of real property may be able to lessen the impact of the MBT.


Updated March 2008

Crain's Detroit Business Recognizes Honigman Results

For the second year in a row Southeastern Michigan's Top Verdicts and Settlements featured in Crain's Detroit Business included a property tax appeal handled by Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP. In Transwestern Fountain Walk LLC v City of Novi, the City valued a new lifestyle center as having market value of over $74 million on December 31, 2003. This property had over 750,000 square feet and featured such retailers as Dick's Sporting Goods, The Great Indoors and Cold Stone Creamery. Each year after 2004, the City continued to value the property at over $74 million until the case was settled in 2007. Pursuant to the settlement, the City agreed to reduce the property's market value to $57.5 million for tax years 2004-2006 and $47 million for 2007. The resulting multi-million dollar tax savings was one of only ten 2007 cases that Crain's featured.

In 2007, Crain's Top Verdicts and Settlements featured four cases that the Honigman firm handled. Of the four cases, two were Michigan Supreme Court victories for taxpayers.


Updated December 2007

Michigan Offers Personal Property Tax Savings Opportunities - Timely Payment Required for SBT Credit

2007 is the last year for the Michigan Single Business Tax (SBT). The new Michigan Business Tax (MBT) becomes effective January 1, 2008. However, a refundable credit against the 2007 SBT equal to 15% of Michigan industrial personal property taxes paid in calendar year 2007 remains available.

For property classified as industrial personal property, the 2007 tax must be paid on or prior to December 31, 2007 for the payment to be eligible for the SBT credit. Therefore, it is imperative that the 2007 tax bills for industrial personal property, including the recently issued winter 2007 tax bills, be paid on or prior to December 31, 2007.

Conferring with knowledgeable Michigan tax counsel could pay substantial dividends if you believe that you have industrial personal property but that property does not appear to be classified as such or if you need assistance in determining and filing for this credit.


Updated September 2007

External Obsolescence Results In Significant Tax Reduction

In recent years, Michigan industrial and commercial properties in particular have suffered from substantial external and economic obsolescence; obsolescence that is not attributable to a flaw in the property itself, but due to external forces. A recent Michigan Tax Tribunal case involved an agricultural processing facility that highlights how significant external obsolescence can be. In this case, the total assessment on the tax rolls reflected most if not all of the property's depreciation from physical and functional flaws. However, if the property owner had tried to sell this processing facility, no buyer would have bought the property for its existing use because foreign competition had forced non-farmer producers to exit the market. Accordingly, the property would have sold as basic industrial property, worth substantially less than the assessor contended. Notwithstanding this, and that an appraisal confirmed substantial economic obsolescence, the assessor refused to make any assessment reduction. Ultimately, after several days of trial, including intense cross-examination of the government's purported expert that prompted some significant observations from the Tribunal Judge, the case settled with downward revisions that totaled an almost 40% reduction from the original value on the tax roll. Very careful preparation is often required to persuade government representatives to make reductions based on external obsolescence. However, a lesson of this case is that tax appeal counsel who has experience with this issue can present cases that even persuade resistant government officials to make these reductions.

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