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Property Tax Resources

Our members actively educate themselves and others in the areas of property taxation and valuation. Many of APTC attorneys get published in the most prestigious publications nationwide, get interviewed as matter experts and participate in panel discussions with other real estate experts. The Article section is a compilation of all their work.

May
05

Property Tax Assessments Spiral Out Of Control In New York

Massive assessment hikes in New York City confirm that Mayor Bill de Blasio intends to extract as much revenue as possible from real estate, one of the city’s most important industries. This will kill the golden goose underlying the city’s economic recovery.

The city released its tentative assessment roll for the 2015-2016 tax year on Jan. 15, 2015, revealing painful and substantial increases in market value for both residential and commercial properties. The city pumped up the value of residential properties by almost 11 percent, while driving up commercial assessments by 12 percent over the prior tax year.

These increases are nearly double the rate of increase effected by last year’s final assessment roll, where residential market values increased by 6.6 percent and commercial market values increased by 7 percent over the 2013­-2014 roll.

The compound effect of year-after-year increases is a crushing burden to owners and tenants, but the higher end of the commercial property spectrum was particularly hard hit in the latest assessment roll. Owners of trophy office buildings saw their market values spike by more than 31 percent over the prior year’s values.

Even worse, owners saw the market value of luxury hotels soar almost 65 percent over the previous year’s values for assessment purposes. The city is rough-handling these properties with mounting harshness on both sides of the income and expense equation.

As a result of the new citywide assessments, real estate taxes in the city continue to substantially erode owners’ and developers’ bottom lines. Based on an analysis of the most re­cent assessment roll, the percentage of income now dedicated to paying real estate taxes is so high that the city has essentially become a silent partner in these properties — without the inher­ent risks of ownership, of course.

Consider the example of a non-exempt Manhattan residential property, with annual net operating income of $1 million before real estate taxes. Factoring in the current municipal residential tax rate and the prevailing capitalization rates used by the City Department of Finance, our hypothetical property yields a taxable assessed value of approximately $3.6 million and a property tax bill of about $463,000.

That burden means the property owner in this example is paying 46 percent of his or her net income in real estate taxes alone. Even analyzing the numbers based on a gross income of $1.4 million (based on the Department of Finance’s most recent expense guidelines), city property taxes account for more than one-third of the property’s overall expenses.

The situation is similarly oppressive for commercial properties, although they currently enjoy a lower property tax rate and higher capitalization rates than their residential counterparts — at least according to the most recent New York City Department of Finance Assessment Guidelines. Utilizing a similar analysis to the residential example above, the owner of a midtown Manhattan office building with a net operating income of $1 million would be paying just under 40 percent of its net operating income and almost 30 percent of its gross income in real estate taxes.

Based on the de Blasio administration’s ever-increasing crusade for revenue, owners and developers can expect this trend to continue. However, there are a number of avenues for them to pursue in order to ameliorate the effects of this rapid and seemingly endless rise.

While the release of the 2015-2016 assessment roll may have upset many taxpayers, it also marks an opportunity. That’s because the roll’s release begins the process under which owners and developers can initiate challenges to their property tax assessments. Based on the situation described above, it is likely that most of them will be doing exactly that.

Owners must challenge their assessments by filing applications and supporting documentation to the New York City Tax Commission. The owner’s representative must prepare a detailed analysis of conditions at the property, an analysis of leasing and vacancy, and a carefully prepared set of comparable properties to support the relief sought.

The Tax Commission is the administrative agency charged with annually hearing owners’ real estate tax challenges. The agency has the power to offer a reduction in the challenged assessment. Owners who are dissatisfied with the results of this Tax Commission review are entitled to challenge their assessments in New York State Supreme Court.

JoelMarcusJoel R. Marcus is a partner in the New York City law firm of Marcus & Pollack LLP, the New York City member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Apr
30

Fallacious Cap Rates Unfairly Increase Tax Burden

Commercial property owners must challenge burdensome and unfair property taxes, and more often than not that task requires challenging the assessor’s assumption of a market cap rate.

The process may begin as informal meetings with assessing authorities, followed by administrative appeals and ultimately, if needed, court proceedings. The parties to these dialogues all recognize that the preferred method to determine the value of commercial properties is the income approach, and will usually agree on the factual elements related to the value calculation.

The most critical element in the income approach is the cap rate, however, and that point is also the most likely source of disagreement.

Cap rates by nature are subject to opinion and manipulation, because cap rates reflect judgments of multiple factors. In defending their value opinion, assessors frequently cite a “market-derived cap rate.” While there is some validity to determining a cap rate from sales of similar properties in the same market, the method as widely used by assessors yields errant results.

Sometimes the assessor’s market-derived cap rate is supported by sales, but the assessor rarely provides an analysis of those sales, showing some performance history of the sold properties. The assessor simply matches market income against the sale price, magically determining a cap rate. The assessor then applies the rate thus determined to case after case, in a one-size-fits-all analysis. It’s all pretty impressive and takes on an air of finality, as if carried down from the mountain on stone tablets.

The fallacy is that a cap rate derived as described bears no relevance to the value of the commercial real estate under appeal.

The assessor, by law, is limited to valuing real property. But the sales used as the basis for the assessor’s market-derived cap rate are the sales of entire enterprises, and consequently indicate value for the entire enterprise. It fails to achieve the goal of finding a value indicator of the real property that houses the enterprise.

The cap rate derived from sales of going concerns is different from one derived from sales of the properties that the enterprises occupy.

Taxpayers must challenge the assessor’s market-derived cap rate to achieve equitable taxation. The flawed methodology is as inappropriate as using the sales comparison approach of going concerns to determine real property value.

The enterprise value cap rate is based on the return on the investment, in the form of property value appreciation and rental income, plus the return of the investment in the form of business revenue. In addition to tangible components, enterprise value entails tax-exempt intangibles such as advertising, a trained work force, market niches or dominance, furniture, fixtures, affiliation such as franchise rights, all of which must be separated from the real property component in a property tax assessment.

Real property value is just one component of enterprise value, so an assessor’s market-derived cap rate that fails to segregate non-real-estate components is useless in valuing the property.

Plan of attack

Prepare to challenge an assessment by analyzing the assessor’s data base used in the valuation. What sold, and at what sale price? Investors buy and sell commercial properties as going concerns, which may generate returns that are more or less than the return from the property alone.

Consider the design and function of the properties used in the assessor’s data base as compared to the subject property. For instance, an assessor in the Midwest recently valued a large corporate headquarters building using a market-derived cap rate. Its data base consisted of regional office building sales, including gross income at the time of sale, sales price, size and location. It used market rents to determine property income.

The assessors study used sales of fully occupied, multitenant buildings, then applied that information to a single-tenant structure which had been designed as a national corporate headquarters and was roughly 33 percent occupied. Typical of such studies, the data was inapplicable to the single-tenant, largely vacant subject building.

To say that the going concern cap rate for hotels is X, or that the rate for golf courses is Y, fails to shed light on the cap rate for the real property component of a property.

Market-derived cap rate studies invariably end up being used as indicators—at best—of the value of going concerns, of which one component may be real property. They may look impressive, even somewhat persuasive, but they must be carefully reviewed to determine just what they represent, otherwise the taxpayer may be saddled with a grossly excessive property tax assessment.

Wallach90Jerome Wallach is the senior partner in The Wallach Law Firm based in St. Louis, Missouri. The firm is the Missouri member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Jerry Wallach can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Apr
30

FIGHTING BACK - Big-Box Owners Contest User-Based Tax Assessments

The big-box concept changed the face of retail in the 1960s. It also skewed the way that assessors value retail property for tax purposes. To this day, taxpayers across the United States have been fighting back—and in Wisconsin, Kansas and Michigan, they are winning.

The problems arose out of financing arrangements such as prearranged sale-leasebacks or build-to-suit transactions to construct or develop a big box. Companies used these methods to keep cash available for core business purposes, and repaid the sale proceeds as rent.

These arrangements created financing rents that assessors mistakenly adopted as market rents. Further, once the above-market lease was in place, owners typically sold the lease and property to an investor at a sales price reflecting the value of the longterm, above-market lease in place to a high-credit tenant. The sales never reflected the fair market value of bricks and sticks alone, because the transaction transferred more than real estate.

Assessors then relied upon these sales without adjustment to calculate fee-simple value. Finally, assessors used the above-market rents and leased-fee sales to value owner-occupied retail stores, spreading the problem to all retail.

Guiding Principles

The concept of valuing property at its fair market value of the fee simple vanished in many locations as governmental assessors adopted this leased-fee concept, occasioning substantial valuation increases for property tax purposes. The user of the property and their contract rent trumped longstanding appraisal concepts of use and market rent. The trend eroded the requirement for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation at fair market value. The same land and building could now have vastly different real property values, depending on the tenant.

For instance, a building leased to Walmart would have a higher value than if the same were leased to a local department store. How was it possible that the value of a building depended on the name of the tenant? Assessors could not distinguish between sales of properties with an income stream related to the property and sales of properties with an income stream related to the business value of the tenant.

Taxpayers successfully fought back in Wisconsin, Kansas and Michigan.

In 2008, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with Walgreens that the assessor had not valued its properties in fee simple. The court focused on the issue of an above-market lease and the impact on valuation, and concluded that a “lease never increases the market value of the real property rights to the fee simple estate.”

The ruling directed assessors to use market rents, not the contract or financing rents. The court was not persuaded to move away from fee-simple valuation to a business valuation, as argued by the assessor. The assessor’s methodology could cause “extreme disparities and variations in assessments,” something the court was not willing to tolerate.

The Kansas Court of Appeals case followed in 2012, prosecuted by Best Buy, the single tenant in the building. The decision made three things clear for commercial property owners. First, Kansas is a fee-simple state. The court rejected the county appraiser’s argument for a leased-fee value. Second, build-to-suit rates are not market rents and cannot be used unless after review of the lease it can be adjusted to market rental information. Finally, market rents are those rents that a property could expect to pay in an open and competitive market. Market rent is not whatever financing arrangements a tenant can procure based on their costs and credit ratings.

Most recently, the Michigan Supreme Court addressed how these financing arrangements are impacting valuations of owner-occupied big-box retail. In 2014, the court ruled on cases brought by Lowe’s Home Improvement and Home Depot, both owner-occupants.

The court dismissed the township’s argument to consider the user of the property, rather than the use of the property. The county method would mistakenly arrive at a value in use, rather than a market value, the court found.

The court concurred with the taxpayers that the sales comparison approach to value was the most appropriate method to value owner-occupied properties, noting the approach must be developed using market sales of fee-simple interests. Leased fee sales may only be used if adjusted to reflect fee simple. The court was unimpressed by the township appraiser’s conclusion that no adjustments were necessary, with the court finding his report to be shockingly deceptive on this point.

Whether it was failing to understand basic appraisal theory or the desire to inflate values, assessors plugged bad information into market-based valuation models, and it has taken years to begin unwinding the damage and restoring basic appraisal concepts of fee simple, uniformity and equality. Taxpayers are taking the lead from Wisconsin, Kansas and Michigan, and have cases pending in many, if not all, jurisdictions.

TerrillPhoto90Linda Terrill is a partner in the Leawood, Kansas. law firm Neill, Terrill & Embree, the Kansas and Nebraska member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Apr
01

LA's Seismic-Retrofitting Plan May Affect Property Taxes

Mayor Garcetti’s “Resilience by Design” plan may expose building owners to property tax assessments for new construction.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently unveiled his plan to require owners of older buildings to seismically retrofit their properties.  The Mayoral Seismic Safety Task Force published retrofitting requirements on Dec. 8 as part of a report called “Resilience by Design.”

The question for taxpayers with regards to this report is whether building improvements mandated by the plan may trigger property reassessments that are required on new construction.  Before speculating on how the mayor’s plan will impact their properties, owners should take a close look at the relevant new and existing rules.  The question for taxpayers with regards to this report is whether building improvements mandated by the plan may trigger property reassessments that are required on new construction.  Before speculating on how the mayor’s plan will impact their properties, owners should take a close look at the relevant new and existing rules.

The Seismic-Retrofitting Plan

Mayor Garcetti’s plan targets two types of properties for earthquake upgrades: soft, first-story buildings and reinforced concrete buildings.  The first category consists of wood-frame buildings where the first floor has large openings.  These may include tuck-under parking, garage doors and retail display windows.

The second category includes concrete buildings built before the implementation of the 1976 building code.  Those structures are at higher risk of collapse because parts of the building, such as the columns and frame connectors, are too brittle and may break in strong shaking.  The weight of the concrete in these buildings makes them particularly deadly when they fail.

The Seismic Safety Task Force recommended the passage of ordinances that would require soft, first-story building owners to report if seismic retrofitting is required within one year of the ordinance’s approval, and to complete such retrofits within five years.  The proposed ordinance would also require owners of concrete buildings to report whether seismic retrofitting is required within five years, and to complete such retrofits within 25 years.  Concrete buildings would have to meet the Basic Safety Objective of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Standard 41 or an equivalent standard.

Is Retrofitting Assessable as New Construction?

As a general rule, new construction is assessable for property tax purposes in California.  Consequently, the seismic retrofitting required under the plan would constitute assessable “new construction,” thereby raising property tax assessments on the retrofitted properties.  However, under a law approved by California voters in 2010, seismic-retrofitting is excluded from property tax assessment.

The 2010 law exempts from property tax assessment “seismic retrofitting improvements and improvements utilizing earthquake hazard mitigation technologies.”  In layman’s terms, this refers to reconstructing an existing building to remove falling hazards, such as parapets, cornices and building cladding that pose serious dangers.  It also means strengthening an existing building to resist an earthquake and reduce hazards to the life and safety of building occupants exiting the building during an earthquake.

The new law also exempts from taxation new construction performed on an existing building that the local government has identified to be hazardous to life in the event of an earth-quake.  Notably, the law excludes entirely new buildings or alterations to existing buildings that are made at the same time as the seismic-retrofitting, such as new plumbing or electrical systems.

Retrofitting Under LA’s Plan Will Likely Be Exempt

The Mayoral Seismic Safety Task Force did not take into consideration the possibility that seismic-retrofitting work performed under the task force’s proposed ordinances would be assessable as new construction, and therefore subject property owners to increased property tax assessments.  The Task Force could have done so by incorporating the seismic retrofitting construction standards specified in the law approved by voters in 2010.

Nevertheless, some fairly broad language in the property tax exemption statute will likely permit the property tax exemption for seismic retrofitting to be extended to construction work that building owners perform in compliance with Mayor Garcetti’s proposed plan.  It is also possible the city will amend the ordinances proposed by the Seismic Safety Task Force to incorporate the seismic safety standards referenced in the 2010 property tax exemption law.

Claiming the Seismic-Retrofitting Exemption

Although seismic-retrofitting work is generally exempted from property taxation, such exemption is not automatic.  The 2010 law requires owners of properties who have carried out seismic retrofitting to submit a claim form to their county assessor to receive the property tax exemption.

The owner must submit the form prior to or within 30 days of completion of the seismic-retrofitting work.  They must submit documents supporting the claim no later than six months after completing the seismic-retrofitting project.  The property owner, his contractor, architect, or civil or structural engineer may complete the claim form and provide the supporting documentation.

Once the taxpayer has submitted the claim form and supporting documents, the city’s building department must identify the portions of the project that were seismic-retrofitting components.  That will determine whether the property is exempt from a new assessment, or has undergone new construction unrelated to the seismic retrofit that will trigger a new assessment. 

Cris ONeall

Cris K. O'Neall is a partner with Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Mar
24

Georgia Taxpayers Risk Losing Arbitration Rights in Tax Appeals

IT'S DECISION TIME

"Georgia taxpayers risk losing arbitration rights in tax appeals."

Although the Georgia General Assembly enacted statutory provisions governing property tax arbitration procedures in 2009, counties file motions to dismiss tax-payer arbitration requests.  An appellate court has yet to weigh in on the issue, but a court decision would help to avoid the repetitious filings of dis-missal motions by counties, and put an end to taxpayers having to continually fight for the right to have their appeals heard in arbitration by a licensed professional appraiser.

- - - - -   It is time for an appellate court decision that could well put this matter to rest.   - - -

The arbitration statute provides that taxpayers may elect to have their real estate property tax appeal heard by a real property arbitrator — an appraiser as classified by the Georgia Real Estate Commission and the Georgia Real Estate Appraisers Board.  After hearing evidence, in the style of baseball arbitration, the arbitrator is required to select either the board of tax assessors’ value or the taxpayer’s value as set forth in the certified appraisal.  The law makes the arbitrator’s decision binding and precludes further appeal.

County tax assessors have filed motions to dismiss and briefs in support in more than one county across Georgia contending that the arbitration provisions violate the Georgia Constitution.  The assessors seek to have the tax appeal arbitration statutory provisions declared unconstitutional and the arbitration appeals dismissed.

Here are the assessors’ main contentions, and the taxpayers’ arguments against those same points.

Judicial authority: Assessors con-tend the arbitration statute violates provisions of the Georgia Constitution that require that the judicial power of the state shall be vested exclusively in the courts.  The assessors’ position is that the arbitration statute creates a separate judicial forum that is required to declare what the law is and apply the law to the case.  They contend that in order to determine the fair market value of a property the arbitrator is required to declare and apply Georgia law.

Taxpayers respond that the Georgia Constitution is not violated because the arbitrator is not a court or a judge.  The arbitrator’s actions are authorized because the General Assembly can create administrative agencies which are permitted to perform quasi-judicial functions.

Separation of powers: Assessors argue that the statute violates provisions of the Georgia Constitution that provide for separation of powers.  The assessors contend that by enacting the arbitration statute, the legislative branch has encroached upon the powers of the judicial branch.

Taxpayers respond that the specified provisions do not apply to local governments, and that there is no prohibition against administrative officers exercising quasi-judicial powers.

Uniform valuation: The assessors further contend that the arbitration statute violates the constitutional requirement that property must be valued uniformly with other property of the same class, because the statute requires that the arbitrator must select either the value set forth by the county tax assessors or the value set forth by the taxpayer.  Similarly, the assessors contend that the arbitration statute violates the equal protection clause of the Georgia Constitution because owners of like properties are not provided equal protection of the law.

Taxpayers respond that just because an arbitrator may possibly not agree with the value set by the county board of tax assessors does not mean that the uniformity provisions of the Georgia Constitution are violated.

The Taxpayer Position

The taxpayers contend that the Georgia Superior Courts have no jurisdiction over the matter because the arbitration provisions only require that the Chief Judge be involved for the purpose of selecting an arbitrator if the parties cannot agree, and issuing an order requiring the arbitration to proceed.  The taxpayers also contend that the tax assessors have no power to sue and cannot obtain a declaration by the court that the statute is unconstitutional.  The taxpayers point out that the assessors have no constitutional rights that have been violated.

At the time of this writing it is unknown which party will prevail, but interesting questions have been raised.  Tax arbitration provisions in various forms have existed on and off in Georgia for more than a century, and if the arbitration provisions are declared unconstitutional, taxpayers will be deprived of a statutory format designed to afford relief from unjust valuations through the mechanism of a decision made by a knowledgeable professional, based on information supplied by the county tax assessors and a certified appraisal obtained by the taxpayer.

It is time for an appellate court decision that could well put the matter to rest, and save taxpayers the need to expend time and effort fighting for their statutorily established right to property tax arbitration.

StuckeyLisa Stuckey is a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Ragsdale, Beals, Seigler, Patterson & Gray, LLP, the Georgia member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Mar
06

Tax Equation: Know When Your Property Tax Assessment Is Excessive

Restaurant owners and operators manage a long list of expenses, but one cost item that may offer significant savings– real estate taxes – often goes overlooked.  Even if the restaurant leases its space, it may have the right under the lease to protest tax assessments.

Restaurateurs often look at property tax as a fixed expense, one that warrants little attention unless there is a drastic change from one year to the next.  But failure to examine a property tax assessment may mean the taxpayer is leaving money on the table.

For example, the owner of a free-standing restaurant assessed at $1 million files a protest and convinces tax authorities to lower the assessment to $800,000.  Using a local tax rate of 2.5%, the lower assessed value would equal $5,000 per year in savings.  In some areas the tax rate may be significantly higher, meaning greater savings.  Depending on the jurisdiction, that savings could continue for years.

HOW TO REVIEW ASSESSMENTS
What is an assessor attempting to measure in an assessment, and what constitutes a bad assessment?  Procedures vary from state to state, but in most places property taxes are based on the fair market value of the property as determined by the local assessor.  The market value is typically considered to be the price that the property would sell for in an open-market, arm's length sale as of the assessment date.

There are a number of reasons why some assessments miss the mark in attempting to establish a fair taxable value.  Many initial assessments are done by mass appraisal firms on a city- or county-wide scale, without much consideration for the individual situation of a particular property.  Assessors also may have inaccurate data on a given restaurant building, such as incorrect square footage or age, or amenities that do not actually exist.

An assessment may be unfairly high because it is based on a sale that occurred in a better market, or because it reflects costs to construct the building but lacks appropriate deductions for depreciation.  An assessment may also reflect a lease with an above-market rental rate negotiated in different market conditions, or negotiated many years prior to the assessment date.

Given so many opportunities for error, it's a good idea to review each assessment.  The first thing to check is the factual data the assessor used in the determination of value, including building area, acreage, year built, type of building and finish and amenities.  Experienced legal counsel can help with these points and proceed with a more technical review of the assessment to determine whether or not to protest the assessed value.

HOW TO PROTEST
Appeal deadlines vary from state to state.  Some states have an annual filing deadline, such as Ohio, where the deadline is March 31.  Other states allow a certain amount of time – for example, 30 days –from the mailing of the assessment notice or tax bill.

Some jurisdictions have informal procedures prior to filing the formal appeal, where it is possible to meet with the assessor and share information.  In some cases, providing the assessor or reviewing body with income and expense information or comparable sales data will be enough to get the assessment corrected.  Other cases will require a formal appraisal prepared by an independent appraiser.  Appraisals done for tax purposes are unique and in most instances will require testimony from the appraiser.

In many jurisdictions, there is no filing fee for the initial appeal, while others may charge a modest filing fee in the neighborhood of $100.  If the state requires a formal appraisal, that can cost $2,500 or more, de-pending on the property type and complexities of the case.  Legal fees also vary, but property tax attorneys often work on a contingency basis where there is no charge for the initial review of the assessment.

Because valuation methods and appeal procedures differ greatly, not just from state to state but even within states, it is helpful to have an experienced tax professional assist in reviewing the assessment and in taking any necessary steps to correct it.  Knowledge of the local law, appeal procedures, personalities, and appraisers are invaluable in successfully lowering tax liability.

Real estate taxes needn't be a fixed expense that is entirely out of the taxpayer's control.  Review property tax assessments carefully for possible tax savings that could even increase the bottom line.

Cecilia Hyun 2015

Cecilia Hyun is an associate attorney at the law firm Siegel Jennings  Co, L.P.A., which has offices in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  The firm is the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania member of American Property Tax Counsel. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Jan
16

Reducing Hotel Property Taxes By Properly Valuing Intangible Assets

Most, but not all, taxing authorities acknowledge that hotels include intangible and tangible assets. Reducing property tax costs by removing intangible value has long been controversial due to the challenging task of valuing intangible assets. Intangibles include items such as the assembled workforce, service contracts, reservations systems, web presence and hotel management and franchise agreements.

Most, but not all, taxing authorities acknowledge that hotels include intangible and tangible assets. Reducing property tax costs by removing intangible value has long been controversial due to the challenging task of valuing intangible assets. Intangibles include items such as the assembled workforce, service contracts, reservations systems, web presence and hotel management and franchise agreements.

Fortunately for hotel owners, a recent decision by the California Court of Appeals makes clear that measuring a hotel’s intangible value solely by deducting franchise fees and management fees understates a hotel’s intangible value. Assessors must exclude all intangible value to tax the hotel’s real property properly. Proper exclusion of intangible value will necessarily result in lower taxes.

The debate
It is axiomatic that investors buy operating hotels based on the income generated by the hotel’s business. The income is generated by the combination of the property’s real estate, tangible personal property, and intangible personal property. All of these components are essential and the absence of any of these elements severely compromises a hotel’s ability to generate revenue.

Ad valorem taxing authorities are not investors or lenders. They are charged with valuing only the real estate component of a hotel for tax purposes. Isolating a hotel’s taxable value requires that the assessor remove from the hotel’s overall value both the value of tangible personal property and the value of the intangible personal property used in conjunction with the operating business.

Valuing the hotel’s tangible personal property, such as beds, furniture and the like, is relatively easy. Valuing intangible assets poses a far greater challenge. How should the assessor separate the value of intangible assets from the hotel’s overall value? The answer to that question has been the subject of heated debate.

Evolving methodology
The Appraisal Institute’s current curriculum recognizes the presence of intangible value in hotels but avoids the issue of how to calculate this value. This omission implicitly acknowledges that the value of an operating hotel lies at the intersection of real property appraisal and business valuation, and both skill sets are required to value a hotel property appropriately.

Stephen Rushmore developed the initial approach to the problem over 30 years ago. To account for a hotel property’s intangible value, the Rushmore Approach simply subtracts management fees and franchise fees from the hotel’s revenue and capitalizes the remaining revenue to determine real estate value.

The debate about valuing intangible property in a hotel has been long, loud and heated. While revolutionary at the time, the Rushmore Approach has been criticized for years. Rushmore’s defenders have responded to the criticism on several fronts.

Critics argue the Rushmore Approach offers the attraction of simplicity at the expense of understating the contribution made by intangible personal property to the hotel’s revenue. Critics further argue that the Rushmore Approach’s assumption that the deduction of management and franchise fees effectively accounts for a hotel’s entire intangible value is contrary to the experience of market participants in owning and operating a hotel. Rushmore’s detractors often advocate an alternative method known as the business enterprise approach, which casts a wider net to account for intangibles.

Rushmore’s supporters note the absence of hard data to quantify sales of a hotel’s individual components. The absence of this data, however, is unsurprising, considering investors buy and sell hotels based on income generated rather than on the value of individual components.

Rushmore’s advocates also suggest that alternative approaches overstate intangible value, thereby reducing the mortgage-asset-secured value lenders rely upon for hotel financing.

Courts weigh in
The Rushmore Approach certainly accounts for some intangible value, but, does it reveal the full intangible value associated with a hotel such as licenses to use software and websites?

Until recently, Glen Pointe Associates vs. Township of Teaneck, a 1989 New Jersey opinion, was the seminal hotel property tax decision that adopted the Rushmore Approach to extract the real estate value of an operating hotel. A May 2014 California Court of Appeals opinion, however, suggests the tide may be turning against the Rushmore Approach and in favor of the business enterprise approach.

In SHC Half Moon Bay vs. County of San Mateo, the California Court of Appeals held that “the deduction of the management and franchise fee from the hotel’s projected revenue stream pursuant to the income approach did not - as required by California Law - identify and exclude intangible assets” such as an assembled workforce and other intangibles.

In overturning the taxing authority’s methodology as a matter of law, the appellate court held that the taxing authority had failed to explain how the deduction of the management and franchise fee, i.e. the Rushmore Approach, captures the value of all of the hotel’s intangible property. Considering that consumers increasingly make hotel reservations online instead of using a flag’s reservation system, it is increasingly difficult to argue that the Rushmore Approach sufficiently captures the value of the hotel’s website or its relationship to on-line providers outside of the flags.

The arrival of Airbnb in the market also provides food for thought. Airbnb is a controversial web platform where an apartment owner advertises an apartment online for overnight paying guests. The platform boasts over 800,000 listings in 33,000 cities in 192 countries. Many local governments argue Airbnb allows apartment owners to avoid hospitality taxes or other hotel regulations.

Airbnb’s success demonstrates the difficulty of isolating a hotel’s real estate value by only excluding management and franchise fees. Airbnb doesn’t charge management or franchise fees, yet the service allows owners to increase the income potential of their apartments far beyond market rent.

The debate between advocates and critics of the Rushmore Approach rages on. The challenge for valuing hotel real estate remains. The beauty of the Rushmore Approach is its simplicity, but in the days of the Internet and Airbnb, simplicity may not equate to accuracy. In the wake of the decision from California, the tide may be running out on the Rushmore Approach.

ellison mMorris Ellison is a partner in the Charleston, S.C., office of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP. The firm is the South Carolina member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Morris Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Jan
12

Michigan Provides Property Tax Lessons for Big Box Retail

"Probably the most important concept affirmed in these Michigan decisions is that assessors must value big box properties based on their value-in-exchange and not their value-in-use."

Owners of big box retail buildings can take lessons from Michigan on the proper way to value these large, free-standing stores for property tax purposes. The state’s well-developed tax law offers a clear model that is applicable in any state that bases its property tax valuation assessments on the fee simple, value-in-exchange standard.

Many states, including Michigan, base real estate taxation on the market value of a property’s fee simple interest using value-in-exchange principles. In other words, a property’s taxable value is its market value, and market value is commonly considered the property’s probable selling price in a cash-equivalent, arms-length transaction involving willing, knowledgeable parties, neither of whom is under duress.

In recent years, the Michigan Tax Tribunal has decided with remarkable consistency a dozen cases involving big box stores. In 2014, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed two of these Tax Tribunal decisions, recognizing that the Tribunal’s key rulings in this area rested on established law.

Probably the most important concept affirmed in these Michigan decisions is that assessors must value big box properties based on their value-in-exchange and not their value-in-use. Assessors and appraisers hired by local Michigan governments repeatedly — and improperly — reached value conclusions based on value-in-use rather than value-in-exchange principles.

The violation of this fundamental point was not obvious from a cursory review of the valuation evidence. For example, the assessor’s evidence included both big box property sales with nigh per-square-foot prices and big box properties with high rental rates. Consequently, for the Michigan Tribunal to decide these cases correctly, taxpayers needed to present evidence, including from expert witnesses, which convincingly established the following:

  1. Each big box retailer either builds or remodels its stores to be consistent with the retailer’s marketing, branding and merchandising operations (built-to-suit);
  2. When a big box property sells, the buyer will spend substantial dollars reimaging the property so that it conforms to the new owner’s appearance, layout and other specifications;
  3. Given that big box properties can be costly to build because of their built-to-suit nature, and that the subsequent purchasers will make substantial modifications at significant cost, these properties sell for far less than their construction cost; and
  4. Actual sales confirmed that these properties sell for far less than construction cost.

With evidence establishing each of these points, the Michigan Tribunal has repeatedly recognized that taxable value for a big box property must reflect its value-in-exchange.

For example, the Tribunal could grasp that a sale would not reflect market value if the property had a rental rate designed to compensate the developer for construction to the retailer’s specifications, rather than a rent negotiated between a landlord and tenant for an existing building.

Similarly, with such evidence the Michigan Tribunal could discern that a sale would not reflect market value if the original owner/user of the property sold and leased back the space. A sale-leaseback is typically a financing transaction between two parties with multiple relationships (landlord/buyer and seller/tenant) that are different from an arms-length transaction. That means the rent in a sale-leaseback does not reflect the property’s market rent, which would be used in an income approach to determine value. Similarly, the sale price in such a transaction is not evidence of market value.

Likewise, the Michigan Tribunal recognized that if the assessor used leases with above-market rents to value these properties, it would impermissibly be valuing something other than the property’s fee-simple interest. This is important because it applies anytime a property with above-market rent is used as either a comparable sale or a rent comparable.

Finally, the Michigan Tribunal rejected the claim that each property’s highest and best use as improved was the continued use by the specific retailer that occupied the property. Generally, highest and best use is that which is legally permissible, financially feasible, maximally productive, and physically possible.

To define that use as the continued use by the retailer occupying the property would improperly make the value depend on the identity of the property’s owner. Additionally, it would lead to a value conclusion that reflected the value of the property to that owner, or its value in-use. Thus, the Michigan Tribunal concluded that the highest and best use was simply retail use.

Michigan’s many recent big box property tax decisions spotlight issues applicable to many types of properties, wherever the law requires assessors to value properties based on the market value of a property’s fee simple interest. Perhaps the most important takeaway is that in such cases, taxpayers need to provide evidence from appraisers and other experts to carefully document a property’s market value, and where that value is significantly less than construction cost, explain why this is true.

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Stewart Mandell is a Partner and Tax Appeals Practice Group Leader, in the law firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, the Michigan member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC). He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Jan
09

Finding Relief - Property Tax Appeals for Industrial Assets Yield Rewards

While it is common knowledge that tax relief is available for newly constructed industrial facilities that bring jobs and infrastructure to a region, business owners often overlook the opportunity to reduce property taxes on their existing facilities. That’s a pity, because successful property tax contests are a source of found money that goes straight to the company’s bottom line.

Those savings can be significant. In Pennsylvania, a 2.5 million-square-foot manufacturing plant that had not challenged its assessments in more than a decade was overvalued by $30 million. An appeal ultimately yielded $500,000 in annual tax relief.

Public perception vs. reality. Tax appeals for industrial properties present unique challenges. In rural areas, the property owner is often the region’s largest employer and the largest taxpayer in the jurisdiction, so that reducing the assessment also reduces funds available to local schools. Development costs are both widely publicized and somewhat misleading, because investment in equipment, site preparation, training arid other items frequently exceeds the real estate’s fair market value. News stories about that $100 million plant can come back to haunt the owner who tries to argue for a more realistic assessment.

Moreover, for properties developed with the help of government incentives or tax abatements, an owner seeking a tax reduction may run into community resentment when local media report on the contest.

Expect a fight. Taxing jurisdictions will fight hard against a tax contest. Authorities typically delay the litigation, often from a sense of outrage rather than anything else. When an appeal seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax relief stretches into multiple years, winning a favorable ruling becomes progressively more difficult for the property owner. At trial, the case is typically decided by a local judge, who is mindful that a reduction would have a negative effect on local districts. The property owner must strike a delicate balance, continuously pushing the litigation forward while staying sensitive to its larger impact.

“Face-to-face meetings, both internal and external, are essential when managing property taxes for a large industrial property owner”, said Christine Rohde, manager of property tax and incentives at Alcoa Inc., where she oversees tax protests. When possible, I make every effort to inspect our sites and meet with plant management to explain the process and answer questions. Meeting personally with out-of-state assessors helps build relationships and allows both parties to work through the valuation issues to arrive at assessments that are fair to all concerned.

The property owner’s tax counsel must also push the litigation. Courts seldom specify a timetable for bringing the case to trial and jurisdictions will try to delay the process by asking for continuances. Tax counsel must produce an appraisal promptly, call the jurisdiction’s counsel regularly, invite representatives of the jurisdictions to inspect the facility and ask the judge to schedule conferences or pre-trial meetings. As Rohde noted, tax counsel should meet face to face with the jurisdiction’s representatives whenever possible and be prepared to travel to the property repeatedly.

Valuation challenges. Differences among industrial properties - heavy manufacturing, light manufacturing, office/flex, warehouse and distribution centers - greatly affect valuation, so hire professionals with demonstrated expertise in appraising the specific category of the industrial property in question.

Owner-occupied properties, which have no rental income to capitalize, present another challenging situation. Or the property may have a mix of uses, as with a corporate headquarters campus that has offices, research and development space and training facilities.

Finding comparable properties for the appraisal can be an issue as well. A special-purpose property, such as an ethanol plant, cannot be easily used by another user. Even generic manufacturing space is subject to external obsolescence or incurable factors that affect valuation and are beyond the physical boundaries of the property. External obsolescence might reflect a scarcity of a natural resource used in the manufacturing process, or extended travel time to the closet interstate highways, either of which can severely impair value.

If the property is the only one of its kind in the state, the appraiser may seek comparable sales out of state. The assets being used as the basis of comparison are often attracted by economic incentives to places where they would not otherwise go perhaps far from suppliers or interstate highways. These locational issues detract from fair market value and the associated comps can reduce the assessment and property taxes for the contested property.

The checklist. Evaluate industrial property for potential tax appeals annually, and know the jurisdiction’s idiosyncrasies. Can the property owner meet informally with the assessor? Does the taxing authority have a reputation for being litigious?

Keep the property owner’s public relations department involved, and be mindful of how an appeal is presented and perceived. Get an appraisal from the most experienced professional in the property type and one who presents well on the stand. And finally, push the appeal through to conclusion.

sdipaolo150Sharon DiPaolo is a partner in the law firm of Siegel Jennings Co., L.P.A., the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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Dec
16

Recent Cases Affirm Tax-Exempt Status of Intangible Value

Whether a business is a seniors housing facility, a racetrack or other service-oriented operation - or even a manufacturing plant - part of the business’ value may be intangible and exempt from property tax. Recent court cases underscore this critical premise and provide valuable reference points for taxpayers struggling against unfair tax practices.

Local governments in all states have authority to impose property tax on the value of real estate. Local governments in all but seven states also impose property tax on the value of at least some tangible personal property, or property that can be moved, such as equipment.

But in most states, local authorities are prohibited from taxing any additional value of a business as a going concern, meaning value attributable to a brand, reputation for product quality, intensive management, licenses, contractual rights, proprietary technology, and other intangible assets.

For example, if a manufacturing plant receives additional revenue because it packages items with a well-known brand’s label instead of a generic one, that brand is an intangible asset. In numerous cases it has been seen that the value of intangible assets equal or exceed the value of the taxable property. Whatever the business, removing intangible assets from the property tax bill is key.

California tests intangibles

Some states provide clearer guidance than others on identifying and quantifying intangible assets. California, in particular, has been a hotbed of controversy over the treatment of intangibles in valuation for tax purposes lately.

Stephen Davis, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Cahill, Davis & O’Neall, summed up the latest developments during a presentation at the Seattle Chapter of the Appraisal Institute Fall Real Estate Conference in October by saying that major cases in the last two years capped two decades of controversy. He should know, since his firm was counsel of record in the SHC Half Moon Bay vs. County of San Mateo case, decided in May 2014. Davis commented that the result of this new case law has been “a few new controversies instead of a clean resolution,” but much was resolved favourably for taxpayers and provided helpful lessons that should apply anywhere in the nation.

The main takeaway from California’s recent cases is the importance of an appraisal of each intangible asset in order to deduct that value from the overall business value.

In SHC Half Moon Bay vs. County of San Mateo, the four-star Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay Hotel proved that the assessor inappropriately included in the hotel’s taxable value approximately $2.8 million of exempt value attributable to its workforce and to contractual rights involving a parking lot and golf course. Granting a significant victory to taxpayers, the appeals court made clear that merely subtracting franchise fees from the value indicated by the income approach to value did not account for the value of the hotel’s franchise rights and other goodwill.

What does that mean for taxpayers? Under this case, an appraisal that provides evidence of the value of each intangible asset should result in removing those intangible values from property tax assessments. The reasoning espoused in this decision from California should apply in any state where intangible property is exempt from property tax.

For example, just last year the Montana Supreme Court declared invalid a Montana Department of Revenue regulation that attempted to narrow that state’s broad exemption for intangibles, such as by requiring valuation of goodwill only by the accounting method.

A growing volume of cases argues for valuing the intangible assets of a wide range of businesses by using generally accepted appraisal practices, bolstering the position of taxpayers defending themselves against unfair taxation of those assets.

Source URL: http://nreionline.com/tax-strategies/recent-cases-affirm-tax-exempt-status-intangible-valueRecent

MDeLappe Bruns Norman J. Bruns and Michelle DeLappe are attorneys in the Seattle office of Garvey Schubert Barer, where they specialize in state and local tax. Bruns is the Idaho and Washington representative of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Bruns can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. DeLappe can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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Dec
02

Beware the Income Approach to Property Tax Assessments

A hotel business relies on much more than the combination of daily room rentals to generate income. Understanding this fact is critical to achieving a fair and accurate property tax assessment, because only the tangible portion of the hotel operation is taxable.

A fundamental issue in virtually every hotel property tax case is the question of how to allocate value among the taxable tangible assets and non-taxable intangible assets. Tangible assets include the land, building, furniture, fixtures and equipment. The intangible assets generally include the hotel brand or franchise, the management team, the assembled work force, contracts with vendors and customers, and any goodwill stemming from the hotel’s operations. The appraisal community has debated how to allocate among these assets for the last 30 years, yet significant divisions remain.

When valuing a hotel for property tax purposes, most assessors will attempt to utilize the income approach: They simply deduct the expenses from the hotel’s revenue and divide the resulting net operating income by a capitalization rate, just as they would if appraising an office building or an apartment complex. The resulting value is meant to mirror what the property would sell for under prevailing market conditions.

The problem with this analysis, of course, is that it fails to recognize the significant portion of hotel income that flows from non-taxable intangible assets. These non­taxable assets are present in nearly every hotel transaction, but should not be incorporated into a property tax assessment.

To understand this misapplication of the income approach, it is helpful to view the relationship between a business’ income and the real estate the business happens to occupy. On one end of the spectrum are office buildings and apartment complexes. These commercial enterprises derive almost 100 percent of revenue from the direct rental of real estate.

On the other end of the range are service oriented businesses like law firms. A law firm’s revenue derives purely from services rendered, and bears almost no relationship to the rent paid to occupy office space. As a result, an appraiser would never determine the value of a law firm’s office space by capitalizing the firm’s net operating income. Yet this is exactly how many assessors value hotels.

This is not to suggest that hotels are pure service businesses like a law firm. Hotels are hybrid businesses that fall somewhere in the middle of the range between these two extremes. While a hotel’s revenue is not limited to rent, there are certainly portions of the income which are directly attributable to the hotel’s real estate and taxable personal property. The key is to differentiate, if possible, how the income is derived from the different classes of assets.

Parsing out the income streams attributable to the taxable and non-taxable assets is an absolute requirement when an assessor applies the income approach to a hotel’s property tax assessment. Tax assessors routinely ignore this task, however. If they recognize the concept of intangibles at all, many simply deduct a standard percentage – say 20 percent – to reflect the hotel’s non-taxable assets.

The taxpayer must demand more. If the assessor is using the same methodology to value your hotel as he or she uses to value an office building, there is a problem. Engage an expert who understands the allocation of intangible assets, and ensure that your hotel’s property tax value is limited to the value of your taxable assets.

Mark_Hutcheson90Mark Hutcheson is a partner with the Austin, Texas law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC. The firm devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Hutcheson can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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Nov
19

Property Taxes Are Not A Fixed Expense

If you have taken an accounting class, your professor likely explained that property taxes are one of the fixed expenses on real estate financial statements. While your professor was technically correct that property taxes are considered a fixed expense in accounting, many property owners, asset managers and investors are finding out that "fixed" certainly doesn't mean always consistent or predictable.

In a recent third quarter earnings call of a large, publicly traded hotel REIT, the discussion contained all the typical metrics on financial performance and forward-looking guidance. The call was overall very positive; however, one particular comment from the chief financial officer raised a critical issue. The REIT had significantly missed its pro forma expenses on property taxes, which had negatively impacted actual earnings. The REIT's miscue on projecting property taxes and the sizable impact on its financial results indicated that planning for this expense item can be particularly difficult, especially during an upswing in the current real estate cycle.

Hotel performance has bounced back from a cyclical low in late 2008, and many U.S. markets are approaching the peak performance levels last reached in 2006. Additionally, investment capital in-flows into the hotel sector are at record highs for public and private REITs, private equity funds and other investors. All these factors have led to record investment volume and investors chasing after a limited number of deals (especially in top-tier markets) and subsequently are driving up hotel asset pricing.

While all this is good news for existing hotel owners and investors, it often creates a budgeting challenge for changes in property taxes. With strong market fundamentals, improving performance metrics and sales volume on the rise, assessors have been quick to increase tax valuations on hotels. Many assessors are recouping much of the value lost during the downturn and have typically been more aggressive than in past cycles.

For example, in late 2013, a mid-sized hotel investor had just acquired its first Texas hotel. The investor had done its own due diligence and projected property taxes to increase by 3 percent ever year of ownership — sound familiar? In early 2014, after closing on the acquisition, the investor reached out for help when the hotel's tax valuation notice had increased 100 percent, almost whiping out projected cash flow. Had the investor called for help prior to closing he could have been warned about the possibility of an increase and properly budgeted for the future tax years.

So, what can owners and investors do to help identify pitfalls in underwriting for property taxes? Here are a few budgeting points that will help to avoid surprises:

Understand the assessment laws and practices in the jurisdiction. All states and many assessors within the same state operate differently, so get the facts straight on local practices. For example, some assessors reappraise at the time of transaction and others only revalue on a set cycle that could vary dramatically from every year to multiple years between a revaluation.

Is there a disclosure requirement? And to what degree will it be used to establish future tax valuations? In Texas, sales disclosure is not required by law. Therefore, a deal with non-disclosure agreements between the parties can be an important aid to budgeting.

Get to know the local political landscape and legislative undercurrents. Any proposed law changes or political pressures on a specific property classes can be a major influence on a prudent budget. Recently, there has been a push in a few areas around the country to increase taxes on commercial properties to try to reduce the escalating tax burden on residential properties.

Find out what is taxable. Hotels are a truly unique asset class and present a major appraisal challenge that could significantly impact property tax projection. Hotels contain real estate, business personal property and intangible value. Some states don't tax personal property (furniture, fixtures and equipment) and others don't tax business intangibles, value associated with a business operation and related to the brand affiliation, contracts, trained workforce, loyalty programs, etc.

Make reasonable assumptions. Using a standard 3 percent growth rate or some other unsupported assumption "just to push the deal through" almost always comes back to haunt budgets later.

Enlist help from a local and knowledgeable expert. If you are budgeting for an acquisition then make sure to consult the experts prior to going under contract on a deal. Make sure the expert understands hotel taxation and valuation. Ask about the specific valuation models and techniques employed by local assessors. If your expert doesn't know those answers, then find an expert who does. Taxpayers managing an existing hotel should seek expert tax advice every budget season.

While no list is exhaustive for every situation, these points will make sure you are on the right path to proper and more accurate budgeting for property taxes.

michael-shalley-activeMichael Shalley is a principal in the Austin, Texas law firm of Popp Hutcheson PLLC, which focuses representation of taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas Member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Shalley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Nov
18

How Government Machinations Can Slash Property Tax Liability

Taxpayers and tax professionals researching market conditions to determine fair market value should consider any impending government actions. Even a rumor of a government project that would require acquisition of a property through eminent domain, or would impose restrictions on future use, can reduce the property's market value and taxable value.

Property values begin to suffer even before community leaders approve the final plans or begin work on such a project. That's because the belief that the project will occur places a cloud on the property owner's ability to sell and on the price attainable in a sale.

A potential buyer would be reluctant to acquire a property that will be involved in future condemnation litigation, with its inherent costs and delays, nor would a buyer welcome the uncertainty that those plans place on the property's future use.

The government taking may not involve acquisition of the property as a whole. Rather, it may remove some rights of use through restricting zoning, creation of conservation corridors or the diversion or rerouting of traffic, for example.

The property value declines because the wheels are turning to take away some of the rights of ownership, perhaps as much as 100 percent of those rights. The property owner carries the burden of convincing the taxing authority of diminished value resulting from rumored or pending acts of government.

Fair market value determinations must match reality. A title search would not reveal the threat of a government taking, but the valuation process cannot assume clear title in the face of the cloud imposed by the contemplated taking of some of the owner's bundle of rights.

An array of public improvements has the potential to affect property values, with an equally wide range of implications for taxable value. "They sky is falling because a highway is coming through here someday" is at the extreme, but other property owners may learn of the future imposition of a conservation easement on coastal properties, or a restriction on land use, allowable sign dimensions, or other rights. Any of these limitations would have a direct and immediate effect on value.

Calculate the damage

When the reality of a government action hits, it may take up to 100 percent of the property's fair market value. The taxpayer should weigh the seriousness of the threat and the probability and timing of it actually occurring. Then the taxpayer should measure the weighted estimate against the value of the property without the threat.

If the property is in "the path of progress," questions to consider in determining its value are: Who will buy it? What is its anticipated economic life? And what purpose will it serve?

First, determine the seriousness of the threat. What is the likelihood of it occurring? Next, calculate the remaining life of the present use of the property in the face of the impending government action. If it is going to happen, when will that be?

In the case of projected highway takings, the probability is high. Once announced, the highway's completion is almost assured. The present use has a limited and uncertain life.

Market observations show that buyers avoid properties in the path of progress. The development of a highway project is a time-consuming process that can hang over a property for years, suppressing value.

Another diminishing value aspect of an impending road taking is that the property/s neighbors may defer, or altogether cease, to maintain their properties, a condition sometimes called "condemnation blight." Broken windows won't be replaced, leaking roofs won't get patched and buyers won't buy. Buyers will purchase, however, a competing property unthreatened by condemnation.

Regulatory threats

Anticipated or threatened taking for regulatory reasons likewise diminishes market value. Suppressed industrial expansion is one example, such as when a local authority announces it doesn't want noise or the use of industrial-use pollutants in proximity to a new residential development.

The force of regulation frequently drives industrial uses away from new residential development or expanding metropolitan uses. Community leaders may deem junkyards or outdoor storage undesirable and force those uses away. Forcing such uses away from the metropolitan area threatens future use of local properties, and therefore limits property value.

Taxpayers need to help taxing authorities understand that the portion of the government that weakens property values by taking away property rights should suffer the resulting loss of property taxes.

Wallach90Jerome Wallach is the senior partner in The Wallach Law Firm based in St. Louis, Missouri. The firm is the Missouri member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Jerry Wallach can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Oct
29

New York Tax Uncertainty

The future of New York City's 421-a tax exemption is highly uncertain, particularly in light of the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose initiatives appear to call for sweeping changes to the program.

The 421-a program, which is scheduled to expire on June 14, 2015, provides substantial real estate tax exemption benefits for the developers of new multifamily buildings. Currently, the city determines the level of exemption provided to an eligible building under 421-a; that determination is based on a geographical and functional basis.

That could change under de Blasio's proposed "Five-Borough, 10-Year Plan." The proposal, relating to the creation or preservation of 200,000 units of affordable housing, frequently references the 421-a program, alluding to its future presence in the real estate market.

The city created the 421-a program in 1971 to encourage multifamily construction by granting a partial tax exemption for the property owner. In 2008, changes to the program had a prospective effect on 421-a projects. These modifications included a dramatic expansion of the Geographical Exclusion Areas (GEA), in which properties must meet additional requirements to qualify for an exemption. The amended laws eliminated as-of-right, or automatic, benefits for new multifamily construction throughout Manhattan. In addition, significant sections of the outer boroughs became part of the GEA, effective for buildings that commenced construction after June 30, 2008.

The law created exceptions for projects within the GEA to obtain a tax exemption. To qualify, at least 20 percent of the units must be affordable to families whose income at initial occupancy does not exceed 6o percent of the area median income adjusted for family size. In addition, projects located in a GEA could qualify for benefits via the purchase of negotiable certificates. Under the negotiable certificates program, affordable housing developers can sell negotiable certificates to market-rate developers, who use the certificates to access tax abatements.

Hints of Change

Based on Mayor de Blasio's proposal, the percentage of affordable housing required per project may increase to provide for more affordable units.

The proposal highlights the establishment of a new, mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program, which will serve a broader range of New Yorkers with varying income levels. The Inclusionary Housing Program offers an optional floor area bonus to developers of new residential buildings, in exchange for the creation or preservation of affordable housing.

The new residential housing can be onsite or offsite, so long as it is within the same community board jurisdiction or within a half-mile radius of the site receiving the floor area compensation. The program seeks to promote economic integration in areas of the city undergoing significant new residential development. In order to qualify under the current Inclusionary Housing Program, the affordable units must be affordable to households at or below 80 percent of the area median income.

In contrast to the current Inclusionary Housing Program, some observers speculate that the mayor's proposed program would require all developers to put aside at least 20 percent of their units for low-income families. These units would then remain permanently affordable.

Currently, developers are able to layer 421-a benefits on top of inclusionary housing benefits, therefore allowing developers to take advantage of both programs. By allowing this double-dipping of benefits, the city creates a greater incentive for developers to provide onsite affordable housing.

However, de Blasio's plan may change the way developers use multiple subsidy programs together. The proposal states that in situations where a developer pursues multiple subsidies, the city will increase the percentage of affordable units required for eligibility and/or require that the developer provide deeper affordability.

No automatic exemptions?

Some observers have speculated that the mayor's plan may expand the GEAs of the city and reduce, if not completely eliminate, any as-of-right areas for 421-a construction. As Manhattan is already a GEA, this proposal would affect those areas in the outer boroughs that were not classified as GEAs in 2008. Moreover, developers in the expanded GEAs would be required to provide a higher percentage of affordable units (some proposals call for as much as 50 percent affordability) and offer apartments to families at 40 percent to 50 percent of area median income.

Proposed changes to the program also include eliminating some of the strict requirements that developers must meet in order to receive a 421-a Certificate of Eligibility. For example, under the current program, a qualifying property must meet one of the following three conditions:

  • All affordable units must have a comparable number of bedrooms to the market rate units, and a unit mix proportional to the market rate units. Or
  • At least go percent of the affordable units must have two or more bedrooms, and no more than go percent of the remaining units can be smaller than one bedroom. Or
  • The floor area of affordable units is no less than 20 percent of the total floor area of all dwelling units.

Mayor de Blasio's proposal seeks to modify or eliminate what the administration terms inefficient regulations," since existing requirements may force developers to build larger units than the market dictates.

Overall, the filing process to receive a Certificate of Eligibility is time consuming, due to regulations such as the unit distribution requirement. Mayor de Blasio's proposal states that it seeks to "streamline the 421-a program, improving its usefulness to developers and its ability to promote affordability, by eliminating outdated and unnecessary programmatic, eligibility, and oversight requirements."

JoelMarcusJoel R. Marcus is a partner in the New York City law firm of Marcus & Pollack LLP, the New York City member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Sep
30

Why Assisted Living Is The New Property Tax Frontier

"Like hotels, these facilities feature non-taxable intangibles."

Assisted living is moving to the forefront of the ongoing debate over the role of intangible assets in property taxation. Over the past 10 or more years, property tax professionals and the courts have focused discussions of intangible assets on hotel and resort properties, which tend to rely on brands, assembled workforces and other intangible assets in their operations.

Intangibles are exempt from property taxation in most states, so hospitality property owners have fought to exclude the value of those intangibles from their property assessments.

The courts have resolved the question of whether the value of intangibles can be included in the value of hospitality properties, establishing case law through key decisions such as those by California's Supreme Court and Court of Appeal in Elk Hills Power vs. Board of Equalization and SHC Half Moon Bay v. County of San Mateo.

In those cases, the courts have explained that assessors must remove the value of non-taxable intangible assets and rights from a property's value so that only real property is assessed for property tax purposes.

Owners should take page from hotel playbook

Now tax industry professionals are asking whether the principles used to exclude intangibles from hospitality property assessments can also apply to assisted living properties. The answer to that question might have been "no" just 15 years ago, prior to the explosion in the number and sophistication of assisted living communities. At that time, it would have been impossible to argue that there were significant intangible assets and rights involved in the operation of most assisted living facilities.

But assisted living operations have become more sophisticated in recent years, incorporating more valuable and more numerous intangibles. That trend has created opportunities to reduce property taxes in the same way that hospitality operators limit tax exposure for their properties.

Today's assisted living facility is much more than a building with a license to provide convalescent care. Top-rated facilities employ staffs with a variety of expertise in caring for the aged, including highly specialized skills to care for residents suffering from memory loss due to dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Staff-to-resident ratios can be as high as 2-to-1. And the personal care for residents occurs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so the number of employees needed to operate an assisted living facility has greatly increased.

In addition, high-end assisted living facilities offer more services to their residents today than properties typically provided in the 1990s, making them increasingly similar to hospitality businesses. Nowadays, residents have full food and beverage services, often with a choice of several meal plans.

Assisted living facilities also offer hairdressing and barber services, laundry, housekeeping, transportation and, in some cases, staff-coordinated activities. The operator provides all of the services mentioned above in addition to any medical supervision, physical therapy or other healthcare offerings.

Nearly all of the recent improvements in assisted living reflect the increased number of intangible assets and rights that assisted living facilities must use in order to deliver the services that their residents require — and the residents' families demand.

Much like a high-end hotel or resort, the many services that upscale assisted living facilities provide to residents bear little relation to the building and location where the service delivery occurs. Rather, the trained workforce provides those services.

Generally speaking, only the building and land are subject to property taxation. Consequently, value created by the workforce and the services it provides is a non-taxable intangible asset, which must be excluded for property tax purposes.

To identify assisted living intangibles, first consider that the facility is an income-producing property. The income produced there derives from more than the rental of space. In fact, rent for residents' living space accounts for as little as one-quarter or one-third of the revenue an assisted living facility generates.

The balance of the income that assisted living facilities receive is payment for services that the workforce provides. In addition, some assisted living properties likely benefit from brand recognition or have accumulated business goodwill.

Three ways to remove intangibles from equation

Property tax practitioners have three primary ways of removing identifiable, non-taxable intangible assets and rights from the value of an assisted living enterprise.

1. Determine the cost of the land and buildings that the facility uses. This method directly values the "sticks and bricks" at the facility, and works well if the facility is fairly new so that there has been little physical deterioration. Some taxing authorities recommend this method, as does a textbook on the appraisal of assisted living facilities, published by the Appraisal Institute.

2. Identify facilities where an operator leases the land and buildings, so the rental payment only represents rent for use of the land and building. Similarly, professionals who appraise or value assisted living facilities for property tax purposes should seek sales of assisted living center land and buildings only for a proper comparison. Unfortunately, leases and sales of only land and buildings for assisted living tend to be elusive.

3. Value the specific intangible assets and rights in use and deduct the value of those intangibles from the full business enterprise value of the facility. This method applies to most assisted living facilities. Assessors already use this method for hospitality properties, so it is readily applied to assisted living.

Property taxes are a significant expense for assisted living operators. Fortunately, the hospitality industry has already blazed the path to tax relief. With some ingenuity, the taxpayer can borrow the same methods that help control hospitality property taxes and use them to reduce taxes on assisted living facilities as well.

 

CONeallCris K. O'Neall is a partner with Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Sep
30

How To Discover Whether Your Tax Assessment Is Fair

Many taxpayers pay more than their fair share of property taxes. Yet in a tax arena fraught with nuance, it can be difficult for a taxpayer to recognize an inflated assessment. The key to spotting a bad assessment lies in knowing precisely what the assessor is measuring and the requirements of the state's property tax law.

What, then, is being assessed? The simplistic answer is that real estate is being assessed, but that response doesn't fully address commercial real estate, where values often hinge on contracts, encumbrances and regional legal definitions.

That said, all states attempt to tax at similar levels properties that are similar to one another.

The challenge to meeting that goal is that commercial real estate is subject to a variety of contracts and encumbrances, creating situations where nearly identical properties are taxed at significantly different assessments. Causing more trouble is assessors' tendency to rely on recent sales to determine values, resulting in tremendous differences in assessments among similar properties.

In a Pennsylvania case, an owner filed to reduce his property's taxable value based on a long-term lease in place at below-market rent. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that assessors must weigh all the interests associated with a parcel, specifically the impact of leased-fee interests and leasehold interests on value. However, the typical commercial property sale only reflects the leased-fee portion of the sale, because the buyer is essentially buying a rental income stream.

Kentucky has yet to fully address the uniformity problem. The Kentucky constitution states that "all property, not exempted from taxation by this Constitution, shall he assessed for taxation at its fair cash value, estimated at the price it would bring at a fair voluntary sale." As a result, nearly identical buildings could be taxed at significantly different amounts.

Ohio legislators recently passed a statute to achieve uniform taxation. Ohio simply stated that the assessor must assess all real property at the fee-simple value as if it were unencumbered. In this way the state is requiring the assessor to use market terms regardless of above-market or below-market rents in place at the property.

The remedy to unfair taxation based on recent sales is to tax all property using market terms and market rates applied to the conditions specific to the property. Without knowing what the assessor is measuring, however, a taxpayer may consider a sales price to be a fair assessment value. As demonstrated by these examples, understanding how the states assess properties goes a long way to knowing whether a taxpayer is paying a fair share in that particular state.

KJennings90J. Kieran Jennings is a partner in the law firm of Siegel Jennings Co. LPA, the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Sep
23

Does a Property's Sale Price Really Equal the Taxable Market Value

The question arises all too often: Is the recent sale price of a property the best evidence of the property's taxable value?

Basic appraisal principles dictate that market value is the price upon which a willing buyer and willing seller would agree. Coming out of the recent recession, however, assessors continue to question whether the purchase prices paid for commercial or industrial properties reflect the properties' market value.

The confusion derives from the distressed sales that dominated commercial real estate transaction activity during the recession. As tenants defaulted on leases and property incomes plummeted, many owners were either compelled to sell their real estate in order to avoid foreclosure, or gave their underwater properties back to lenders. A number of lenders simply sold those assets after foreclosure at liquidation prices, adding to the volume of sales at distressed pricing levels.

Where the majority of sales of similar types of property are distressed, those sales may become the market, establishing pricing even for non-distressed sellers. To assert a higher taxable value on a property in this scenario, the assessor would have to demonstrate that these sales defy current economic conditions.

Now, as the country's economy begins to improve and property owners remain cautiously optimistic that the recession is ending, which recent sales truly represent market value? It is a challenging question for property owners and assessors seeking to use recent transactions for sales comparisons in order to determine current market value and taxable value of a property.

In many parts of the country, there was a complete dearth of sales and little construction activity during the downturn. In those areas, the sale of a property may have been the only transaction that occurred in that market in several years, with no other sales available for comparison.

With the uptick in the economy, assessors are latching onto recent transactions as fully indicative of a new market, and are inflating assessed taxable values in the process. Distinguishing the value indicated by a property's sale price remains vital to having it correctly assessed.

One reason that evaluating a sale for tax purposes requires more than just looking at the closing price is that the sale price may reflect financial incentives and tax-exempt components included to motivate the buyer or seller. For example, sale prices paid for restaurants, hotels, nursing homes and some industrial plants may reflect the value of the business enterprise, as opposed to just the real estate.

In Oregon, California and Washington, many intangible assets may be exempt from taxation for most properties. Thus, for purposes of determining the property's taxable market value, the appraiser or assessor must determine and exclude the value of the intangible rights relating to the business.

In Oregon, properties other than those used in power generation or other utility services may have tax-exempt intangible assets including goodwill, customer contract rights, patents, trademarks, copyrights, an assembled labor force, or trade secrets. Properly separating real estate value from the business enterprise value can substantially reduce the assessed value.

Additionally, an often overlooked influence on the sale price may be the existence of a sale- leaseback provision. In Oregon and many other states, real market value for tax purposes involves a willing seller and willing buyer in an open-market transaction, without consideration of the actual leases in place.

Thus, in the sale of a building fully leased to an ongoing enterprise that sets the buyer's anticipated rate of return, the assessor must extract the existing lease value and instead apply market lease and occupancy rates to arrive at the real market value for taxation purposes. In other words, whether the leases in place at a sold property are at, above, or below market rates affects the relationship of its sale price to taxable value.

Assessment requires more than simply assuming that the sale price is the sole indicator of value. For a vacant property, the sale price may be the best indicator of value. But any transaction used to establish market value for tax purposes needs to be thoroughly vetted. Taxpayers should keep these principles in mind when reviewing the assessor's process to set the taxable value of their real estate.

CfraserCynthia M. Fraser is a partner at the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer where she specializes in property tax and condemnation litigation. Ms. Fraser is the Oregon representative of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Ms. Fraser can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Sep
12

Honigman State and Local Tax (SALT) - Michigan Legislature Responds to MBT Apportionment Case

Public Act 282 of 2014, which makes a number of "technical fixes" to the Michigan Business Tax (MBT), was quickly passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Snyder last

night. Taxpayer advocates have pushed for the MBT changes for several years now, but the sudden movement of the bill is really the result of a special
enacting section that was added this week.

The enacting section repeals the Multistate Tax Compact (MTC), (PA 343 of 1969), retroactively to January 1, 2008. The MTC provides rules for the apportionment of the tax base of multistate taxpayers. The repeal of the MTC is intended to overturn the Michigan Supreme Court's recent decision in IBM Corp v Department of Treasury, where the Court held that the taxpayer could elect to use the MTC's three-factor apportionment formula, instead of the single factor sales formula dictated by the MBT. Although the MBT was replaced in 2011 and the MTC was amended that year to remove the election, the Department of Treasury claims that the state would be liable for an estimated $1.1 billion in tax refunds if the decision were allowed to stand. However, even though the legislation has become law, there are unresolved questions regarding whether the MTC changes are constitutionally valid. If you have an MBT apportionment case pending or are considering filing for a refund based on the IBM case, we suggest you contact one of our SALT attorneys to discuss the available options.

PA 282 also makes the following changes to the MBT. These changes are retroactive to January 1, 2010. The amendment requires that any taxpayer filing a claim for refund as a result of these changes must do so during the 2015 calendar year and provides that refunds will be paid in annual installments over 6 years beginning in 2016.

  • Allows gross receipts to be adjusted to exclude amounts attributable to a taxpayer arising from discharge of indebtedness per Section 61 (A)(12) of the Internal Revenue Code, including the forgiveness of nonrecourse debt.
  • Provides that, if the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is claimed, the adjusted proceeds from the sale or other disposition of assets would be recaptured only to the extent that the credit was used and would be based on the ITC rate in effect when the credit was claimed.
  • Provides taxpayers more flexibility in calculating the MBT Renaissance Zone credit, if they were located within that zone prior to December 1, 2002.
  • Clarifies that, for purposes of sales apportionment, dock sales that are picked up by the purchaser within 60 days of the sale transaction are not considered to have been delivered to the purchaser at the dock and thus not treated as a sale made within the state.

If you have any questions or would like further information about the new law, please contact one of the SALT attorneys listed below:

Lynn A. Gandhi
313.465.7646
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June Summers Haas
517.377.0734
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Mark A. Hilpert
517.377.0727
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Stewart L. Mandell
313.465.7420
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Brian T. Quinn
517.377.0706
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Steven P. Schneider
313.465.7544
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Khalilah V. Spencer
313.465.7654
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Daniel L. Stanley
517.377.0714
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Alan M. Valade
313.465.7636
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Patrick R. Van Tiflin
517.377.0702
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Aug
13

Honigman Property Tax Appeals Alert - Michigan's Proposal 1 Could Phase Out Some Personal Property Taxes

Next Tuesday Michigan voters will decide whether to approve the phase out of personal property taxation involving small assessments and industrial taxpayers. Specifically, the ballot question asks whether a portion of the state's use tax should be assigned to local governments to reimburse them for tax revenues no longer collected on personal property. If the ballot question fails, the entire phase-out plan will be repealed.

The personal property exemption for small assessments actually started in 2014. Businesses with personal property having a true cash value of $80,000 or less in a particular assessing jurisdiction could claim an exemption for that property. If a business owned, leased or was in possession of personal property with a true cash value of more than $80,000 in that jurisdiction, the full tax was owed. Under the plan, taxpayers must file an affidavit with the local assessor each year by February 10 to claim the exemption for personal property with a true cash value of $80,000 or less. In a few instances this year, we did see assessors ask to see calculations using the State Tax Commission valuation tables to verify the exemption claim. If the voters approve the phase-out there could be such requests in the future.

The phase-out plan provides that industrial personal property placed into service after December 31, 2012 will become exempt in 2016. Any industrial personal property in place for at least 10 years will also be exempt. As a result, in each tax year after 2016 a new vintage year of industrial personal property will become exempt until all industrial personal property is exempt by 2023.

Proposal 1, even if enacted, does not completely eliminate the tax on personal property. Commercial personal property that is not otherwise exempt and utility personal property will remain taxable. In addition, the plan includes and is not currently limited to a state levied, special assessment on industrial personal property. The special assessment will be imposed on certain industrial personal property and will equate to approximately 20% of what the tax would have been if the personal property were not exempt.

Legislature to consider changes to tax appeal procedure

A state senator is proposing a number of changes to the property tax appeal process. The proposed changes include moving the annual appeal deadline to July 31 for all types of property (the current deadline is May 31 for commercial and industrial property). Proposals also include allowing 60 days to appeal administrative rulings, standardizing the appeal processes for various exemptions and allowing petitions for the correction of assessment errors to include the current year and three previous years. The Legislature will be pressed to address all of these issues before the end of the year, but at least some of them may well get a hearing and could be enacted this year.

For more information regarding this alert or any another property tax appeals related issue, please contact any of our Tax Appeals attorneys.

Last week Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved Proposal 1. While Proposal 1's passage will significantly reduce or eliminate personal property taxes for many Michigan businesses, contrary to some articles, it will not eliminate Michigan personal property taxation. The program consists of a phase-out of the tax on certain industrial and industrial related personal property. In addition, there is an exemption for businesses with small amounts of personal property in a given locality.

"Small Business Exemption"

Starting in 2014, businesses with personal property having a true cash value of less than $80,000 in a particular assessing jurisdiction can claim a personal property exemption for that property. If a business or a related entity owned, leased or was in possession of personal property with a cumulative true cash value of $80,000 or more in that jurisdiction, then the full tax is owed. Under the plan, taxpayers must file an affidavit with the local assessor each year by February 10 to claim the exemption for personal property with a true cash value of less than $80,000. If the claim is based on a valuation method that differs from the State Tax Commission's valuation tables, then the claimant must explain the method used. However, if the required affidavit is filed, the taxpayer does not have to file a personal property statement for that tax year. Claimants are subject to audit and must maintain adequate records for at least 4 years from the year the exemption was claimed. If a claim for exemption is denied, then the taxpayer may appeal to the local Board of Review and then the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

Industrial Processing and Direct Integrated Support Equipment

In 2016, a phase out of the personal property tax on Industrial Processing and Direct Integrated Support Equipment will begin. This exempt equipment is referred to as Eligible Manufacturing Personal Property (EMPP). EMPP placed into service after December 31, 2012 will become exempt in 2016. Going forward, any EMPP in place for at least 10 years also will be exempt. As a result, in each tax year after 2016 a new vintage year of EMPP will become exempt until all EMPP is exempt by 2023.

The exemption could be determined on a parcel-by-parcel basis, or a group of contiguous parcels. If over 50% of the original cost of the personal property on a parcel or group of contiguous parcels is used in industrial processing or direct integrated support, then the whole parcel or group is exempt. Use in industrial processing is determined by whether the asset would qualify for the industrial processing exemption under the Michigan Sales/Use Tax Acts. Direct Integrated Support involves functions related to industrial processing including R&D, testing and quality control, engineering, as well as some warehousing and distribution activities.

Taxpayers will be requested to file a form in 2015 estimating the amount of personal property they plan to claim for exemption for the 2016 tax year. If that form is filed, then the taxpayer will only have to file for the exemption in the first year (not each subsequent year) and will not be required to file personal property tax returns on the exempt parcels.

State Essential Services Assessment

The plan also creates a State Essential Services Assessment (SESA) which begins in 2016. The SESA is a special assessment applied to EMPP and used to offset some of the revenues lost from the new exemption. Generally, the SESA will amount to about 20% of what the tax would be if the EMPP were not exempt. An electronic filing and full payment to the Department of Treasury will be due by September 15 of each year. If payment is not made by November 1, then the tax exemption will be revoked.

Other Exemptions

The plan also addresses EMPP that is already exempt under other statutory provisions, including PA 198 industrial abatements and PA 328 personal property exemptions. Exemption certificates under these acts for EMPP that were in place prior to 12/31/12 will be automatically extended to the year that the EMPP would otherwise become exempt. For example, a twelve year PA 198 abatement for EMPP that was set to expire on 12/30/13 will now be extended to 12/30/15. Such a PA 198 abatement would expire at the end of 2015, but the EMPP will become exempt in 2016 under the new law. Also, the SESA will apply to some EMPP that is subject to PA 198 or PA 328 depending on which exemption applies and the date the certificate became effective.

As Proposal 1 is implemented, undoubtedly there will be many questions and issues that arise.

If you would like further information about this client alert or any other tax appeals related issue, please contact:

Scott Aston
313.465.7206
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Sarah R. Belloli
313.465.7220
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Mark A. Burstein
313.465.7322
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Jason S. Conti
313.465.7340
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Aaron M. Fales
313.465.7210
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Carl W. Herstein
313.465.7440
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Mark A. Hilpert
517.377.0727
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Jeffrey A. Hyman
313.465.7422
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Leonard D. Kutschman
313.465.7202
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Stewart L. Mandell
313.465.7420
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Steven P. Schneider
313.465.7544
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Michael B. Shapiro
313.465.7622
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Daniel L. Stanley
517.377.0714
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Aug
10

Honigman Real Estate Tax Appeals Alert - Michigan Enacts Historic Personal Property Tax Changes

"Michigan enacts historic personal property tax changes..."

Last week Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved Proposal 1. While Proposal 1's passage will significantly reduce or eliminate personal property taxes for many Michigan businesses, contrary to some articles, it will not eliminate Michigan personal property taxation. The program consists of a phase-out of the tax on certain industrial and industrial related personal property. In addition, there is an exemption for businesses with small amounts of personal property in a given locality.

"Small Business Exemption"  

Starting in 2014, businesses with personal property having a true cash value of less than $80,000 in a particular assessing jurisdiction can claim a personal property exemption for that property. If a business or a related entity owned, leased or was in possession of personal property with a cumulative true cash value of $80,000 or more in that jurisdiction, then the full tax is owed. Under the plan, taxpayers must file an affidavit with the local assessor each year by February 10 to claim the exemption for personal property with a true cash value of less than $80,000. If the claim is based on a valuation method that differs from the State Tax Commission's valuation tables, then the claimant must explain the method used. However, if the required affidavit is filed, the taxpayer does not have to file a personal property statement for that tax year. Claimants are subject to audit and must maintain adequate records for at least 4 years from the year the exemption was claimed. If a claim for exemption is denied, then the taxpayer may appeal to the local Board of Review and then the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

Industrial Processing and Direct Integrated Support Equipment  

In 2016, a phase out of the personal property tax on Industrial Processing and Direct Integrated Support Equipment will begin. This exempt equipment is referred to as Eligible Manufacturing Personal Property (EMPP). EMPP placed into service after December 31, 2012 will become exempt in 2016. Going forward, any EMPP in place for at least 10 years also will be exempt. As a result, in each tax year after 2016 a new vintage year of EMPP will become exempt until all EMPP is exempt by 2023.

The exemption could be determined on a parcel-by-parcel basis, or a group of contiguous parcels. If over 50% of the original cost of the personal property on a parcel or group of contiguous parcels is used in industrial processing or direct integrated support, then the whole parcel or group is exempt. Use in industrial processing is determined by whether the asset would qualify for the industrial processing exemption under the Michigan Sales/Use Tax Acts. Direct Integrated Support involves functions related to industrial processing including R&D, testing and quality control, engineering, as well as some warehousing and distribution activities.

Taxpayers will be requested to file a form in 2015 estimating the amount of personal property they plan to claim for exemption for the 2016 tax year. If that form is filed, then the taxpayer will only have to file for the exemption in the first year (not each subsequent year) and will not be required to file personal property tax returns on the exempt parcels.

State Essential Services Assessment  

The plan also creates a State Essential Services Assessment (SESA) which begins in 2016. The SESA is a special assessment applied to EMPP and used to offset some of the revenues lost from the new exemption. Generally, the SESA will amount to about 20% of what the tax would be if the EMPP were not exempt. An electronic filing and full payment to the Department of Treasury will be due by September 15 of each year. If payment is not made by November 1, then the tax exemption will be revoked.

Other Exemptions  

The plan also addresses EMPP that is already exempt under other statutory provisions, including PA 198 industrial abatements and PA 328 personal property exemptions. Exemption certificates under these acts for EMPP that were in place prior to 12/31/12 will be automatically extended to the year that the EMPP would otherwise become exempt. For example, a twelve year PA 198 abatement for EMPP that was set to expire on 12/30/13 will now be extended to 12/30/15. Such a PA 198 abatement would expire at the end of 2015, but the EMPP will become exempt in 2016 under the new law. Also, the SESA will apply to some EMPP that is subject to PA 198 or PA 328 depending on which exemption applies and the date the certificate became effective.

As Proposal 1 is implemented, undoubtedly there will be many questions and issues that arise.

If you would like further information about this client alert or any other tax appeals related issue, please contact:

Scott Aston
313.465.7206
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Sarah R. Belloli
313.465.7220
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Mark A. Burstein
313.465.7322
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Jason S. Conti
313.465.7340
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Aaron M. Fales
313.465.7210
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Carl W. Herstein
313.465.7440
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Mark A. Hilpert
517.377.0727
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Jeffrey A. Hyman
313.465.7422
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Leonard D. Kutschman
313.465.7202
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Stewart L. Mandell
313.465.7420
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Steven P. Schneider
313.465.7544
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Michael B. Shapiro
313.465.7622
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Daniel L. Stanley
517.377.0714
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Jul
16

Ohio Property Owners Face "Adversarial Culture" Over Taxes

Schools, board of revision routinely thwart efforts aimed at "fair taxation."

When is the best time to submit an appraisal and other evidence in a tax appeal? That depends largely on tax policy and government culture, which dictate how taxpayers manage tax appeals.

In a perfect world, taxing entities would embrace fairness and equality, remembering that their mission is ultimately to serve the taxpayers. The reality is that government tax policy - and more importantly, governmental practice - is subject to the culture that permeates a department.

In Ohio, state lawmakers have been trying to make the state more taxpayer-friendly. For instance, legislators created a more equitable measure of tax by clarifying that property tax is based on the fee-simple, unencumbered market value of the real estate. So from a policy standpoint, Ohio appears to be becoming more taxpayer-friendly. At the local government level, however, taxpayers can face a different and often adversarial culture.

In a perfect world, taxing entities would embrace fairness and equality. The reality is that government tax policy is subject to the culture that permeates a department.

Schools, Counties Have Clout

Ohio taxpayers face two principal antagonists that seem equally determined to thwart the state legislature's pursuit of fair taxation. One opponent is the schools. In Cleveland as well as in other local tax districts, taxpayers encounter resistance and aggression from the schools. School districts routinely file complaints and tie up taxpayers in litigation lasting years.

The Ohio taxpayer's second foe is the county board of revision, which is effectively the judge and jury for tax cases at the local county level and becomes a party to subsequent appeals at the state level.

Recently, Cleveland's Cuyahoga County began posting on its website the evidence that taxpayers submitted in contesting tax assessments. That evidence often includes sensitive information about income and expenses, as well as rent rolls.

And although evidence submitted to a public body becomes a public document and is subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, there is a significant difference between burying evidence in a file and posting taxpayers' private information on the Internet.

The Catch-22 is that the taxpayer must provide sufficient evidence in order to prevail in a tax appeal, and typically that evidence is private income, expenses and rent rolls. Taxpayers understandably want that data to be closely protected, but under the new rules in Cuyahoga County, that personal information will be posted online.

Transparency Versus Privacy

A major hurdle taxpayers have to contend with is that Ohio law requires a complainant to provide the board of revision with all relevant information or evidence within the knowledge or possession of the complainant.

The law further states that if complainants don't provide the information in their initial appeal, they will be precluded from doing so later (unless good cause is shown). The challenge is, how can a taxpayer protect private information and yet still receive due process?

The requirement of private information, combined with the inevitability of it being posted online, can have a dramatic chilling effect. And for certain taxpayers, that prospect of prominent public disclosure becomes an Achilles' heel that prompts them to withdraw their cases, or simply let their assessments go uncontested. The county will have thus won the war without ever having gone to battle.

Tactical Maneuver

Although the facts will dictate how an attorney protects the taxpayer, in certain instances a taxpayer can refrain from hiring an appraiser and submitting sensitive data until after the board of revision hearing. By delaying the production of the appraisal, the taxpayer can still get the data into evidence at the state level via the appraisal even though it did not produce the data earlier.

Thus, the taxpayer can protect the data from Internet exposure and still use it on appeal. The down side of this tactic is the taxpayer does not present its best evidence at the county level.

There is no easy answer to the county board of revision's Catch 22. Each case presents its own set of facts that determine how to protect the taxpayer's privacy and yet prevail. As with all litigation, knowing the opposition, addressing the taxpayer's own weaknesses and understanding the rules and culture surrounding the case goes a long way toward achieving success.

KJennings90J. Kieran Jennings is a partner in the law firm of Siegel Jennings Co., LPA, with offices in Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh. The firm is the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania member of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Jul
15

Protecting Taxpayers: Indiana Shifts Burden of Proof to Assessors

A recent legal change in Indiana has created a model for property tax reform across the country. Starting in 2011, the Hoosier State has compelled assessing officials to defend excessive assessment increases with objective evidence and meaningful arguments in appeals.

The statute applies whenever the appealed property's value has increased by more than 5 percent over its prior year's value. Moreover, where the prior year's value was reduced on appeal and the reduction was not based on the income approach, the assessor now has the burden of proof to support any increase. Failure to defend the assessment automatically reduces the property's assessment to the prior year's level, and the taxpayer can press to further reduce the value.

Assessors on the defensive

This simple change gives Indiana taxpayers greater protections in appeals than taxpayers have in most other jurisdictions. Why? With no burden of proof on appeal, an assessor may contend that her value is presumed correct. Instead of explaining how she derived a property's value, the assessor may attempt only to discredit the taxpayer's case.

With the burden of proof, however, the assessor must produce probative evidence and logical arguments to support her value. She must explain why her assessment meets the jurisdiction's valuation standard. She must walk the local or state tribunal through her analysis. In short, she must explain how she did her job and produce evidence justifying her increased valuation.

An assessor that fails in those steps will likely lose. To avoid the time, expense and potential embarrassment of a loss, the assessor who carries the burden of proof is more likely to settle a case.

Limits on burden-shifting

For the burden-shifting statute to apply, the property under appeal must be the same property for both the current and prior years. It does not apply where the disputed assessment is based on structural improvements, zoning or uses that were not considered in the assessment for the prior tax year.

If significant new construction or demolitions occur at the property between the prior and current assessment dates, the taxpayer maintains the burden of proof. If the increase in value is due to the assessment of omitted property, such as when the assessor added square footage previously overlooked, then the taxpayer maintains the burden of proof.

The burden-shifting statute applies only to an increase of assessed value, not to an increase in tax burden. Taxpayers carry the burden of proof to show the value should be lower than the prior year's value.

The burden of proof can shift several times during an appeal. For example, assume that an Indiana commercial property is assessed at $800,000 in Year 1. In Year 2, the assessment increases by more than 5 percent to $1 million.

The property's physical status and use are the same in both years, and the taxpayer has an appraisal supporting a value of $500,000 in Year 2. The assessor carries the initial burden of proof to show her $1 million value is proper. If she fails to make a convincing case, the property's assessment will at minimum revert to its Year 1 value of $800,000. The taxpayer then has the burden of proof to show that its appraised value of $500,000 is correct.

If persuasive, the appraised value likely will carry the day; the Indiana Tax Court has said that an appraisal compliant with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice is often the best evidence of value. Even if the appraisal is unpersuasive, the property's assessment will still be lowered to its Year 1 value.

What are the drawbacks?

Who has the burden is sometimes unclear, so deciding the burden of proof may add an argument to the appeal. Parties may file motions in advance of a hearing to decide the burden of proof issue. If multiple years are under appeal, different parties may (depending on the values from year to year) have the burden of proof for different years, which could complicate the presentation of arguments and evidence at the administrative hearing.

The burden-shifting statute is one reason that more assessors are hiring counsel and paying for appraisals in appeals, which might prolong the appeals process in some cases. Taken as a whole, however, Indiana's burden-shifting experience has been a positive one for taxpayers. Taxpayers have always had to present evidence and arguments to prevail and now, in many cases, so do the assessors.

Indiana has compelled assessing officials to explain how they did their jobs correctly—or lose on appeal. Assessors who can't or won't defend their assessments are more likely to settle, saving taxpayers considerable time and resources. Taxpayers in other states should consider pressing lawmakers in their jurisdictions to replicate this Heartland property tax experiment.

Brent AuberryBrent A. Auberry is a partner in the Indianapolis office of the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, the Indiana member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the natonal affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Auberry can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Jul
15

Turning the Tide

Court Decision Promises to Reduce California Hospitality Property Taxes

A May 22, 2014, decision by the California Court of Appeal may be a game changer for hotel and hospitality property owners and operators. After many years of litigation before local boards of equalization and the courts, in SHC Half Moon Bay v. County of San Mateo, there now appears to be a definitive ruling on whether the "Rushmore approach" may be used to value hotel properties.

First championed by its creator, appraiser Stephen Rushmore, the Rushmore approach is a technique that appraisers use in valuing hotel properties that is intended to remove the value of intangible assets and rights used in hotel operations.

Intangibles, which are generally exempt from property taxation, include assets such as an assembled workforce, service contracts, and hotel management and franchise agreements. Removal of such intangibles is necessary in certain contexts, such as appraisals for property tax purposes. Intangible assets and rights used in the operation of hotels are often closely intertwined with the real property, land and buildings, which are also used in the hotel's operation.

Appraisers have used the Rushmore approach to value hospitality properties for years, and the method enjoys broad acceptance in some contexts, such as with lenders that require appraisals for financing purposes. Yet the Rushmore approach has been a constant source of controversy in the valuation of properties for ad valorem property tax purposes, primarily because the approach fails to remove the entire value (or in some cases any value) of intangibles.

Insufficient Deduction

Stated most simply, the Rushmore approach is supposed to remove the value of intangibles through the deduction of management and franchise fees as an expense when an appraiser or assessor values hospitality properties by capitalizing the revenues generated by such properties.

In its recent decision, the appellate court specifically held that "the deduction of the management and franchise fee from the hotel's projected revenue stream pursuant to the income approach did not—as required by California law—identify and exclude intangible assets" such as workforce and other intangibles. The court also said that the taxing authority had not explained how the deduction of the management and franchise fee captured the value of the intangible property.

Unfortunately, the court's decision upheld the use of the Rushmore approach to remove the value of goodwill for the hotel in the SHC Half Moon Bay case. The court made the decision because the local board of equalization received insufficient evidence on the issue. Because the hotel's goodwill basically represented the value of its franchise, or flag, the court's decision left in place the assessment of that nontaxable intangible.

Fortunately, the appellate court provided a road map for other taxpayers to remove the value of their hotel's franchise value in the future. To achieve that result, taxpayers will have to provide more specific evidence for the value of their hotel franchise or flag, or for other significant hotel intangibles.

Savvy hospitality property owners will find several silver linings in the SHC Half Moon Bay decision. For one, although the ruling came down from a California court, its reasoning has application nationwide.

In addition, the case supports California's general standard for addressing intangibles, which is to identify, value and deduct. For hospitality properties, this means pointing out to the taxing authorities the specific intangibles used in conjunction with the real property and then obtaining an independent appraisal of each identified intangible. The appraised values for all the identified intangibles should then be added together and deducted from the overall value for the hotel, the overall value being calculated from total hotel revenues.

Franchise Value

Also, the taxpayer in the case sought to remove the intangible value of the hotel's franchise using an accounting analysis that was intended for use in financial reporting and which assigned all residual value to goodwill. Careful reading of the Court of Appeal's decision shows that had the hotel separately valued the franchise, as it did for the workforce and other identified intangibles, the outcome might have been very different.

The SHC Half Moon Bay decision has one other benefit in that it confirms that failure by a taxing authority to remove an identified intangible is a legal issue entitled to de novo review by the courts. De novo enables the court to review the case afresh, without reference to previous reviews or assumptions by lower courts or boards. In California, such review is rarely available in judicial appeals of decisions by local boards of equalization, which are difficult to reverse in the courts.

Hospitality property owners should show the SHC Half Moon Bay case to their local assessors and follow the decision by presenting valuations for all of the intangible assets and rights used in their property's operations. If the assessor declines to remove the intangibles in accordance with the appellate court's decision, the owner should pursue their rights before the county board of equalization and in the courts.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall is a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. O'Neall can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Jun
16

Accounting For E-commerce In Retail Property Values

"Computing value can get complicated if stores are required to mix online sales with physical sales."

Shopping via smartphones and tablets is here to stay, but the new-found convenience has introduced new uncertainties and complexities to shopping center owners, developers and investors.

The uncertainty stems from the ways e-commerce complicates shopping center valuations and development. Appraisers, assessors and property investors are forced to reconsider previously accepted answers to fundamental questions: What is the relative value of in-line stores and anchors? How should stores on contiguous parcels comprising a regional mall be valued? How fundamental is location? In an e-commerce world, the answers to these questions are increasingly uncertain and complex.

For example, the existing ad valorem tax system taxes a property's real estate value rather than its profitability. The current system assumes rents, which form the basis of commercial property values, relate directly to profitability. Rents in a regional mall are based upon profitability. For example, a jewelry store in a mall's center court may pay $75 per square foot while a family apparel store pays $20 per square foot. What really matters is occupancy cost. When occupancy costs (the total costs paid to the landlord including rent and reimbursable items such as CAM) exceed 12 percent of sales, the tenant may be headed for trouble. Higher sales permit higher occupancy costs. Indeed, appraisers often incorrectly equate real property value to the profitability of the property's business operation when the real property should be valued in fee simple in a tax appeal.

Conventional wisdom suggests strong anchors improve a center's real estate value, stabilize a property's financial statement, reduce an owner's risk and increase the price a buyer would pay for the center. For example, a Nordstrom will often bring inline tenants that would otherwise not go to the mall. A recent variant on this theme is the proliferation of mixed-use centers, which often include office, apartments and other life style uses designed to draw potential shoppers for the retail tenants. Put simply, retail sales historically relate to the center's location, trade area population, trade area household income and foot traffic, not to factors such as web presence. Additional uses also theoretically provide more stability to the project's value.

E-commerce is challenging conventional wisdom about the effect of anchors on overall value as online sales increase pressure on bricks and mortar retailers and diminish their role in overall retail sales. In February 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 2013 fourth quarter retail e-commerce sales, adjusted for seasonal variation but not for price changes, increased 16 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012, as compared to a 3.9 percent increase in total retail sales for the same period in 2013. E-commerce accounted for 5.8 percent of total sales in 2013 compared to 5.2 percent for the same period in 2012.

On a non-adjusted basis — that is, excluding sales in categories not commonly purchased online — Internet Retailer magazine estimated e-commerce accounted for 7.6 percent of total retail sales during 2013, a 6.8 percent increase from the same period in 2012. Forrester Research projects that by 2017, direct online purchases will account for approximately 10 percent of all U.S. retail sales, representing a nearly 10 percent compound annual growth rate from 2012. Looking beyond purely online purchases, Internet Retailer estimates that by 2017, 60 percent of U.S. retail sales will involve the web.

In some ways, these figures understate e-commerce's impact on bricks and mortar retailers. For example, the figures do not account for lost profitability and price pressure created by consumers who price shop online and visit a center to make a purchase. Further, how many consumers now shop on-line for groceries and either have those groceries delivered to their homes via a provider such as Amazon.com, or collect them from a drive-through checkout line?

Forrester Research predicts U.S. e-commerce spending will increase because larger retail chains will invest in omnichannel" efforts — tying together stores with the web and mobile — along with more consumers using smartphones and tablets, and what the report calls "increased comfort with web shopping."

Onmichannel marketing will likely decrease inherent real estate values and lower ad valorem taxes since e-commerce decreases the importance of bricks and mortar stores and foot traffic. If 60 percent of retail sales will involve the web by 2017, how important is location? How important are anchors?

The answers may be, "Not very much." E-commerce's impact is already evident in store closings by retailers once considered national credit or anchor tenants. In 2013, a major South Carolina grocery chain that anchored many small shopping centers closed most of its stores. Nationally, in early March 2014, RadioShack announced the closure of approximately 1,100 stores while Staples announced plans to close 225 stores. Is it coincidental that Staples is now the number 2 e-tailer behind Amazon?

Historically, the risk in leasing to a large anchor was much lower than leasing to smaller tenants. Different uses generally involve different capitalization rates, or expected rates of return relative to the purchase price. The risk involved with office leases differs from the risk of renting to national retailers. Historically, inline stores arguably should have had a higher capitalization rate than the anchor stores did, since there was more risk. This was never the case as all the department stores have credit ratings below investment grade and are larger stores and therefore have a greater risk than smaller inline stores with better credit. Most malls trade on cap rates in the 6 to 8 percent range, whereas the few department stores that were leased when sold traded in the 10 to 12 percent range. Taxing authorities traditionally only paid lip service to these risk differences in calculating one overall capitalization rate, and tended to gravitate to a lower rate thought to be inherent in the anchor. But in an increasingly online world, is the riskier tenant the inline store, or is it the anchor?

The evolving significance of anchors also raises questions about the inter-relationship between separate parcels. Unsophisticated assessors tend to ignore state laws requiring parcels be individually valued. Instead, taxing authorities value the project by grouping multiple parcels together and applying one blended capitalization rate, regardless of the multiplicity of uses and tenants. Unquestionably, inline stores and anchors have a symbiotic relationship, but how does one measure that relationship value particularly when the anchor is on a different parcel from the mall itself?

The physical location of a closed anchor in a mixed-use center can exacerbate the problem. For example, what happens when a failed anchor, located in the middle of the mall, creates parking or access issues for patients visiting medical offices? How is this impact measured?

While the solutions are still unclear, a few basic issues confronting the industry are coming into focus through the cyber static:

  • Appraisers and tax authorities need to recognize most power centers and malls are complex businesses, where anchors and inline stores depend on each other (and internet presence) for profitability.
  • The historic relationship of the capitalization rates applied to inline stores versus anchors needs to be scrutinized more closely.
  • Some jurisdictions specifically require parcels be valued individually for tax purposes. If so, how does one measure the interdependency of the tenants that comprise the center?
  • How does an owner address increased vacancies within mixed-use centers for both profitability and tax purposes?
  • How does one calculate a property's real estate value when it is part of the retailer's onmichannel sales effort?

The challenges posed to owners by e-commerce spans the gamut from development to taxes. Valuing regional malls, power centers and even local shopping centers for property tax purposes is increasingly difficult in the e-commerce era. An owner who appropriately quantifies the different and increasingly complex risks associated with these businesses is far more likely to adapt successfully to the e-commerce world, and simultaneously reduce property tax bills. Recognizing the questions and challenges posed by e-commerce is the first step in obtaining the answers.

ellison mMorris A. Ellison is a partner in the Charleston, S.C. office of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice L.L.P., and is the South Carolina member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

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May
30

Multifamily Boom May Skew Property Tax Assessment Systems

Since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007 the home ownership rate in the United States has fallen by a considerable 4 percent, according to the Census Bureau. While the U.S. may not have become a nation of renters, that long-cherished and widely promoted American dream of home ownership appears to be less attainable and less desirable than it was a decade ago.

This shift in housing demand has sparked a construction boom in the multifamily sector. Across the nation, developers are building a vast amount of multifamily units. According to Cassidy Turley's most recent U.S. Macro Forecast, developers are set to deliver 160,000 new units this year, the most robust construction period in 15 years.

There has been a lot of ink spilled regarding the significance of this sea-change in housing. Often overlooked, though, is the effect this construction boom will have on property taxes in the multifamily sector in general. To understand the implications for property taxes, however, taxpayers must first understand how tax assessors typically value multifamily buildings.

Many tax jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, employ a computer-assisted mass appraisal (CAMA) system to value multifamily buildings. CAMA systems are designed to simplify the assessment process across a product type, with the goal of producing more uniform assessments, as opposed to property-specific valuations.

To accomplish this, the taxing entity first stratifies properties into different categories and sub-categories. For instance, the D.C. assessor's office first categorizes multifamily buildings as either high-rise (five floors or more) or low-rise (four floors or less). It then further segments properties by submarket; in D.C. there are three general areas.

With properties categorized by the taxing jurisdiction's specifications, the assessor's office enters actual rental, expense and vacancy data for products within each specific category into the CAMA system. The computer model then produces statistical market-based indices for the various categories.

Assessors use these market-based indices to assess individual properties within categories, rather than using rental and expense information that is unique to that property. While adjustments can be made on an individual basis for property-specific issues, the goal of the CAMA system is to produce uniform assessments within the stratification.

Notwithstanding general grievances with CAMA valuations (and this writer has many), CAMA systems are based on general market data, which makes them prone to break down during periods of rapid market change, or when the stratifications are not updated in a timely manner.

One such scenario involves an oversupply at one end of the sector, as is now occurring in many cities due to the construction of class-A multifamily product. Too much construction of class-A apartments can result in lower occupancy levels and downward pressure on rents for these properties. In another, less understood scenario is a process that has been described as "filtering," in which new class-A product, with its higher levels of finish and greater amenities, displaces existing class-A product at the high end of the market. The older, formerly class-A buildings effectively join the class-B category, achieving lower rental rates than the newer product.

In the latter scenario, the stratifications within the CAMA system must be updated in a timely manner to reflect the new market realities. If they are not, the CAMA system will break down as it aggregates data from dissimilar properties, thus resulting in inflated values for the former class-A buildings.

Washington D.C. is beginning to experience the onset of this market dynamic. Research by Delta Associates indicates that while class-A rents rose slightly across the district, they actually decreased in established submarkets with relatively little new product, such as in the Upper Northwest. The district hasn't adjusted its market stratification's to reflect this new phenomenon, however. Instead, the system lumps together markets that have seen decreased rental rates with markets that are experiencing rent growth due to the influx of new class-A product.

Moreover, in the district all high-rise buildings are included in the same pool of comparable properties, regardless of when they were built, or what levels of finish or amenities they offer. Consequently, unless D.C. updates its CAMA system to reflect these new market norms, it is likely that in the next few years we will begin to see the CAMA system overstate assessments for older class-A product.

While taxing jurisdictions should be cognizant of these market changes and make timely adjustments to their CAMA systems, it will often fall to the property owners to be vigilant in monitoring and, when necessary, appealing property assessments. Watching a building's rent levels decrease due to competition from newer product is bad enough—having the city also tax that building as if it were the newer product just adds insult to injury.

 

Cryder600 Scott B. Cryder is an associate in the law firm of Wilkes Artis Chartered, the District of Columbia member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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