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Property Tax Resources

Jan
01

Arizona Property Tax Updates

UPDATED July 2017

Rooftop Solar Systems Cannot be Assessed by the Arizona Department of Revenue

In a unanimous published opinion at the Arizona Court of Appeals, the Court held that rooftop solar systems cannot be assessed or taxed by the Arizona Department of Revenue (“ADOR”).  Starting in 2013, ADOR reversed years of practice by unilaterally deciding that it could assess and tax rooftop solar systems owned by companies that lease and install the systems on customers’ properties.  ADOR argued that the panels were subject to assessment as equipment involved in the operation of an electric generation facility.  Taxpayers – represented by Mooney, Wright & Moore, PLLC – sued for declaratory relief in the Arizona Tax Court, arguing that ADOR did not have authority to assess the rooftop solar systems because they were not part of an electric generation facility.  Taxpayers also argued that the systems had no value for property taxation purposes pursuant to A.R.S. 42-11054(C)(2) because they were designed primarily for on-site consumption. 

Taxpayers sought a quick resolution, filing a motion for summary judgment within thirty days of filing the lawsuit.  Through various discovery delays, however, ADOR did not respond to the motion for summary judgment for over seven months.  Ultimately, ADOR responded with a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing that ADOR had the authority to tax the solar systems and that, alternatively, A.R.S. 42-11054(C)(2) was unconstitutional and the systems should be assessed by local counties.  The Tax Court issued a declaratory judgment agreeing with Taxpayers that ADOR had no authority to assess the rooftop solar systems.  The Tax Court further ruled, however, that the rooftop systems were assessable locally by the counties and that A.R.S. 42-11054(C)(2) was unconstitutional. 

Both parties appealed.  In a complete victory for Taxpayers, the Court of Appeals (Division 1) affirmed the Tax Court’s ruling that ADOR did not have authority to assess or tax the systems.  The Court also reversed the Tax Court’s ruling that A.R.S. 42-11054(C)(2) was unconstitutional (under either the Exemptions Clause or Uniformity Clause).  The Court also reversed the ruling that the counties in Arizona should be taxing such equipment.  The also reversed the Tax Court’s denial of attorneys’ fees to Taxpayers – holding that the Tax Court abused its discretion by failing to grant Taxpayers their fees and costs as the prevailing party pursuant to A.R.S. 12-348.  Finally, the Court granted Taxpayers request for attorneys’ fees on appeal.  The opinion represents a victory for all taxpayers in curtailing an overreach by ADOR and a significant victory for the solar industry in Arizona.  It can be found at SolarCity Corp. v. Arizona Dept. of Rev., No. 1 CA-TX 15-0008 (May 18, 2017) (2017 WL 2180393).

 
Mooney, Wright & Moore, PLLC
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)

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Jan
15

Inflated Taxes Threaten Phoenix Property Owners

The "new normal" for Phoenix is likely a prolonged era of deleveraging as the market absorbs these distressed assets. For Arizona property owners, the decline in real estate values has not always translated into a commensurate drop in taxes, however. This has occurred for three reasons..."

By Douglas S. John, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor Online, January 2012

As 2012 begins, the real estate collapse ravaging Phoenix continues. Phoenix real estate prices have fallen from their height in early 2008 by 28 percent for retail, 52 percent for industrial and 71 percent for office, according to Navigant Capital Advisors, a Chicago-based investment bank. Phoenix ranks No. 7 on Real Capital Markets' list of the most distressed U.S. markets for commercial real estate.

The city's delinquency rate for commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) loans is the third-highest in the nation, accounting for 3.6 percent of total U.S. CMBS delinquencies. And Phoenix's delinquency count is expected to increase next year.

The "new normal" for Phoenix is likely a prolonged era of deleveraging as the market absorbs these distressed assets. For Arizona property owners, the decline in real estate values has not always translated into a commensurate drop in taxes, however. This has occurred for three reasons.

First, the general decline in assessed property values has not kept pace with the actual decline in asset prices. Second, even though taxable property values have dropped, Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, has increased its property tax rates: for fiscal 2011, tax rates increased by 18 percent from the previous year.

The third and final reason stems from Arizona's unique system of calculating property tax liability from two statutory values — a full cash value and a limited property value. A property's full cash value can decline while its limited property value, determined statutorily, increases, causing an escalation in tax liability.

Taxpayers must be diligent to ensure they are paying no more than their fair share of taxes. Consider the following points before deciding whether an appeal may be beneficial.

Start early

Arizona's property tax system is complex, difficult to navigate, and requires perseverance. Tax year 2013 property tax notices will be mailed in February 2012. The system entails multiple forms and filing deadlines which, if missed, will result in a taxpayer losing appeal rights.

The process will conclude in October 2012 with State Board of Equalization hearings. Owners should start planning now to challenge their 2013 tax assessments. To do so, they should pay close attention to how their properties are assessed.

Mass appraisal?

To determine if a property has been overvalued, it is important to understand that assessors use computer-based statistical models to derive value. These models have several limitations that can result in a property being over-valued.

phoenix graph2First, the assessor's valuation of an individual property is only as accurate as the data and assumptions used in the statistical model to generate a value for a given submarket. The value created by a mass appraisal system may not account for the specific characteristics of a property, which may make it less valuable than predicted by the mass appraisal model.

Second, the mass appraisal system is dependent on correct, complete, and current property data. Oftentimes, the data that assessors use is not only incorrect but outdated by as much as six to eight months, which can inflate assessments. Part of the reason for outdated data is the existence of statutory cut-off dates for collecting data.

Valuation approach

While appraisers use three generally accepted approaches to value - the cost approach, the sales comparison approach, and the income capitalization approach - the appropriate valuation method depends on the property type. In Maricopa County, assessors value 70 percent of commercial properties using the cost approach, which measures the current replacement cost of the improvements minus depreciation, plus the value of the site. But the application of the cost approach in real estate transactions is limited and is rarely used by investors to determine market value.

 

In a depressed real estate market, the use of the cost approach typically results in an assessment that exceeds market value unless all forms of depreciation, especially obsolescence, are deducted.

Market value vs. property tax value

Even if an owner believes the assessor's valuation is reasonable based on his/her understanding of market value in the business world, the property may still be overvalued. Market value as commonly understood differs from property tax value in two key respects. First, Arizona law requires assessors to determine full cash value based on a property's current use, rather than its highest and best use. In many instances these two value concepts produce radically different values.

Second, market value for property tax purposes is limited to the value of the real estate. Arizona law prohibits the inclusion of personal and intangible property in the assessor's valuation.

Limiting assessments to real property is crucial to lowering the taxes of businesses such as hotels, assisted living facilities, and shopping centers and malls, which derive significant income from personal property and intangibles.

Because of the many deadlines, procedures, and valuation methods used, owners should begin reviewing their property tax values now to maximize their chances for success.

dough johnsmall Douglas S. John is an attorney in the Tucson, Ariz. law firm of Bancroft & John, P.C., the Arizona and Nevada 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..

American Property Tax Counsel

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