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Property Tax Resources

May
10

New York City Assessors Elevate Forms over Substance

"New York City has launched an all-out effort to deprive taxpayers of hard fought tax exemptions and find new ways to impose high penalties for late and defective filing. The measures are all calculated to bring in additional revenue..."

By Joel R. Marcus, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - online, May 10th, 2013

The New York City Department of Finance has generated millions of dollars in additional revenue for the city coffers by directing new and greater efforts to serve penalties and remove tax exemptions from property owners who fail to make complete and timely filings of routine information statements. In the process, however, the city has deprived many property owners of valuable tax exemptions that they were entitled to, or charged stiff penalties for what amount to minor infractions and late or incomplete returns.

Late last year, property owners received notices to file a certificate of continuing use for commercial tax exemptions like the Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program and the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program. The notices warned that even though a property owner may qualify for continued benefits on these multi-year, legislative as-of-right incentive programs, failure to timely file the renewal form would result in the exemption's cancellation.

This form only asked a few routine questions, requiring the property owner to list the square footage of commercial or industrial space, the number of permanent employees at the building, and report the number of employees who were New York City residents. In fact, the city had discontinued the form for the past 10 years.

Many owners were either unfamiliar with the form or failed to receive notices that were mailed to the wrong address, in many cases because the city failed to note a change in ownership that occurred during the past decade. To complicate matters, only a form specifically generated by the Department of Finance for each property could be used, requiring those who did not receive it to request a duplicate. So where a property owner had multiple parcels and lacked the correct form for one or more of its properties, the city refused to accept a standard form that did not carry its barcode.

The city allowed no margins for error. If the property owner left even one question blank, as in the number of permanent city residents that worked in a shopping center or office building, this was grounds to declare the form incomplete and invalid.

Not-for-profits received a similar request to renew Educational, Charitable and Religious exemptions by returning a different renewal form on a timely basis. Many houses of worship and schools that failed to receive the notice or were negligent in completely filling out and returning the form on time saw their exemptions removed.

Many not-for-profit organizations had enjoyed an exemption for decades, if not longer, and considered the exemptions to be granted by the State Constitution and state legislation. Some of those organizations were unfamiliar with this new policy and ill-equipped to delineate details of tax exempt uses and purposes. After all, this information previously was only required on the initial exemption application, filed long ago by people long since departed.

In the process, a great many of these venerable institutions lost an exemption for which they were absolutely qualified. In many instances they were forced to engage counsel and file appeals at the tax commission, which found that the removals were unjustified.

The most severe of the form-failure penalties fell on Real Property Income and Expense (RPIE) filers. The RPIE is a mandatory report of income and expenses, but some properties fall into one of several filing exemptions, such as those with new owners. Although exempt from filling out the entire form, new owners had to check a box on the form affirming that they were exempt from filing. Therefore a failure to report back to the city that they weren't required to file the form became a reason to charge a penalty for failing to file a form on time. Here the penalties, rarely if ever experienced before, became commonplace.

Last year the city collected fines of $100,000 or more for minor infractions of the filing deadlines. To make matters worse, the city imposed many penalties a year or more after the alleged infractions, with the unfortunate result of saddling new owners with penalties because the previous owners failed to file two years earlier. Filing errors not being of record, title companies are unable to insure against such losses.

Notwithstanding that for more than 20 years RPIE compliance has been greater than 99 percent and only three examples of fraud are on record, the Department of Finance now is proposing legislation to tighten the screws again. The department refuses to trust taxpayers to file these returns themselves, and has asked the City Council to move the annual due date up from Sept. 1 to June 1, with a new requirement that the form be completed and certified by a certified public accountant (CPA).

Property owners who submitted RPIE statements digitally on the Department of Finance website each September previously will now have to file using a CPA ertificate by June 1 each year. That means owners will incur certification fees for all commercial properties with an assessed valuation of $1 million or more (a CPA fee is usually $10,000 or more depending on the property). This burden never existed before.

Since the Department of Finance online entry system doesn't adhere to generally accepted accounting principles, and because it excludes large categories of income and expense, it may prove impossible for many CPA's to comply. Also, by excluding these categories, the report doesn't mirror the owner's actual operating information, making it impossible for anyone to sign or attest to it.

These policies elevate "form over substance" to an entirely new — and sinister — level.


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

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Apr
09

A Tax Recipe for Failure in District of Columbia

"Washington is unique in its reliance on property taxes, and in particular commercial property taxes, for a disproportionate share of its revenue. This is due in large part to factors outside of the council's control, such as the large amount of federally owned, tax-exempt property in the district, and to Congress' decision to prevent the district from taxing income earned in the district by non-residents..."

By Scott B. Cryder, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - online, April 9th, 2013

Most property owners in the District of Columbia would welcome a plan to increase the accuracy of tax assessments by providing assessors with the most up-to-date information available. But if that plan also reduced the time D.C. assessors have to conduct their assessments to two months, rather than the current six months, many of those same taxpayers might reconsider. And if this plan would also reduce the time for assessors to handle initial administrative appeals, which has been an efficient mechanism to pare down the number of formal appeals, to six weeks instead of the current four-month window, most reasonable people would likely balk at the entire notion.

The truth is, legislation mandating these exact changes is pending before the Council of the District Columbia. And if statements from key councilmembers and District officials are any indication, this legislation has a good chance of becoming law in the next few months. How did we get here?

First, understand that Washington is unique in its reliance on property taxes, and in particular commercial property taxes, for a disproportionate share of its revenue. This is due in large part to factors outside of the council's control, such as the large amount of federally owned, tax-exempt property in the district, and to Congress' decision to prevent the district from taxing income earned in the district by non-residents.

Nonetheless, this heavy reliance on property taxes has created the public perception that Washington's assessment division is a revenue-generating department. Misplaced as this view may be—and it is misplaced—it has resulted in the assessment division being subject to frequent charges of "giving away" taxpayer dollars.

The most recent iteration of this line of criticism came to a head last year when the Washington Post published a series of articles suggesting that the Real Property Assessment Division was improperly settling commercial assessment appeals. To pile on, the Washington D.C. Office of the Inspector General issued a report shortly thereafter roundly criticizing many key practices and policies in the Assessment Division.

Although many of the criticisms levied at the Assessment Division were unmerited, the top staff of the Assessment Division determined that action needed to be taken. Naturally, one would anticipate that a working committee of stakeholders was convened and suggestions of the assessors sought, since they would be implementing any changes.

One would also expect such a committee, or someone in authority, to thoroughly review implications of any proposed changes. Unfortunately, though not unsurprisingly, none of this occurred. Instead of engaging in an "all—of-the-above" type of conversation, district officials quickly rolled out a wholesale overhaul of the assessment process without anything resembling the thorough vetting needed.

Good intentioned as those public servants proposing these changes may be, most professionals involved in the assessment and appeal process (including every assessor the author has queried) agree that the recommended changes will have a negative impact on the quality of assessments, and will ultimately increase both the number of appeals and the average time required to resolve an appeal. While this is surely not the outcome that district officials desire, it will likely be the one they achieve.

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.

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Oct
17

Bay Area Real Estate Recovery Creates Property Tax Appeal Opportunities

The uneven recovery of the Bay Area real estate market over the past year has created opportunities for real estate owners to challenge their property tax assessments. Areas that have experienced the strongest growth, as well as markets in which the recovery is lagging, may be ripe for challenges to property tax assessments.

By Cris K. O'Neall, as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, October 2012

Pregnant propositions

Under California's Proposition 13, property taxes are based on the purchase price paid for a property or on the cost of constructing the property. Thereafter, Proposition 13 caps value increases (and property tax increases) at 2 percent annually.When property values decline, Proposition 8, the bookend to Proposition 13, requires county assessors to reduce taxable property values below Proposition 13 value caps to reflect current market conditions. As real estate values recover following a downturn, assessors restore taxable values back to Proposition 13 levels.

Over the past year or so, core Bay Area markets (primarily San Francisco and the Silicon Valley) have experienced strong growth in market rents and declines in capitalization rates, particularly as compared to other Bay Area real estate markets. Because of the brisk recovery in core markets, county assessors have aggressively moved to restore 2012 values, determined as of Jan. 1, 2012, back to Proposition 13 levels. Such value restorations can bring major increases in assessments and taxes.

ckoneall

Assessors exercise value judgment

In order to restore property values to Proposition 13 levels, California requires county assessors to evaluate market sales and rental information. In so doing, assessors consider ranges of information on sales and rentals, and exercise their judgment as to whether values should fall in the top, middle or bottom of a range.
While assessors generally determine values for residential properties using computerized mass appraisal techniques, commercial properties tend to be more complex and require individual attention by assessor staff.

This year, the assessors in San Francisco and Santa Clara County have restored property values and assessments to levels at or near Proposition 13 amounts, which, in some cases, has dramatically increased tax bills as compared to 2011. In doing so, assessors may have justified assessments using more recent rental rates or cap rates, rather than using average rates during the 12 months prior to Jan. 1, which tends to accelerate value increases.

In 2012, most Bay Area counties announced increases in their property tax rolls.
The 2012 roll increases are due, at least in part, to increasing sales and leasing activity, which tend to be reflected in higher property tax values and assessments. However, these increases also reflect Proposition 13 value restorations described previously, and highlight those counties which merit increased consideration as far as whether to review and appeal property tax assessments.

Property tax appeal opportunities

The current situation presents several types of property tax appeal opportunities. First, for properties in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, it is possible that assessors have been overly aggressive in restoring values to Proposition 13 levels. Taxpayers should request backup information supporting full or partial restoration of Proposition 13 levels and if the assumptions appear excessive, file an appeal.

This same advice goes for properties in secondary and tertiary markets, particularly where there have been Proposition 13 value restorations. Properties in these markets should also be reviewed, however, to determine whether they have participated in the economic recovery that San Francisco and the Silicon Valley have experienced. Economic recovery among Bay Area counties has been uneven, and hasn't benefited every city within a county consistently. In San Mateo County, for example, property values in Atherton have increased significantly, but values in East Palo Alto have continued to decline. Similarly, in Contra Costa County, values in five cities increased while in the county's remaining 14 cities values generally declined.

Finally, property owners should not assume that a "no change" assessment or that a lower assessment by the local assessor is correct. Values in some areas declined during 2011, which means that market values as of Jan. 1, 2012 may be lower than 2011 values, and should not reflect value increases that have occurred during the first nine months of 2012.

CONeall Cris K. O'Neall specializes in property and local tax matters as a partner in the law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Oct
17

Contingent Fee Consultants Target Large Property Owners for Tax Increases

While the taxing jurisdictions' consultants maintain that they are not doing appraisal work or appraisal consulting work, a review of USPAP definitions suggests differently. The Uniform Standards define appraisal consulting as "the act or process of developing an analysis, recommendation, or opinion to solve a problem, where an opinion of value is a component of the analysis leading to the assignment results."

By John E. Garippa, Esq. & Brian A. Fowler, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, October 2012

As U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall observed two centuries ago, "the power to tax involves the power to destroy." That statement applies today in the Delaware Valley, where taxing jurisdictions are delegating the tax assessment function to outside consultants.

Incredibly, these consultants are compensated on a contingent fee basis for the additional tax revenue they can accumulate for the jurisdiction. In a typical contract, the fee has been 25 percent of the additional revenue received over a three-year period.

In practice, these consultants can pick and choose which properties to recommend for reassessment. It's not surprising that the most valuable commercial assets, which offer the largest potential for gain in a reassessment, attract the most attention from these bounty-hunting consultants.
Here's how the process typically works. Once consultants have determined which properties are under-assessed, the school districts file affirmative appeals to raise the assessments on the affected properties. Property owners who choose to defend their existing assessments must hire attorneys and independent appraisers at considerable cost.

This system of taxation grows less uniform with each reappraisal. And while it may seem absurd to hand over the reins of tax policy to an outside consultant, the practice is becoming routine under current Pennsylvania law.

Taxing questions

Experience has shown that at any given time there will always be disparities in tax assessments within a given jurisdiction. However, most taxpayers assume that the assessment function is being performed by tax assessors in an ethical and uniform manner, and that those assessors are not paid based on the increased revenue they find.

The increasingly prevalent use of tax assessment consultants raises serious issues that communities must address.
First, the Pennsylvania legislature has prohibited contingent fee agreements where it has deemed them to be contrary to public interest. Specifically, Pennsylvania law prohibits real estate appraisers from accepting an appraisal assignment where the fee is contingent on the valuation reached.
While consultants to taxing entities might argue that they are not appraisers, the fact that they are concluding to a value or value range arguably makes their work product an appraisal.

Second, Pennsylvania has adopted the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), which can help to level the playing field for the property owner in appealing an assessment. Those rules include minimum standards for the retention of records, referred to as the "record-keeping rule." An appraiser or consultant must prepare a work file for each appraisal, appraisal review or appraisal consulting assignment.

A work file must exist prior to the issuance of any conclusion, and a written summary of any oral report must be added to the work file within a reasonable time after the issuance of the oral report. Any appraiser or consultant who willfully or knowingly fails to comply with the obligations of this record keeping rule is in violation of the state's ethics rule.

While the taxing jurisdictions' consultants maintain that they are not doing appraisal work or appraisal consulting work, a review of USPAP definitions suggests differently. The Uniform Standards define appraisal consulting as "the act or process of developing an analysis, recommendation, or opinion to solve a problem, where an opinion of value is a component of the analysis leading to the assignment results."

The Uniform Standards also indicate that an appraisal may be numerically expressed as a "range of numbers or as a relationship (e.g. not more than, nor less than) to a previous value opinion or numerical benchmark (e.g. assessed value, collateral value)." Clearly, concluding that certain properties are under-assessed requires a conclusion of value and a comparison to an existing assessment benchmark. The point is, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck--or in this case, an appraisal.

Allowing consultants to wander the tax lists on the basis of bounty hunting for under-assessed properties is essentially a free trip for the taxing authorities, which bear no burden of cost. When the targets are identified and appeals are filed to increase the assessments, the consultants are rewarded for their efforts by being paid a fee contingent on whatever additional revenue is raised.

If taxing authorities had to fund these efforts on an ongoing basis, rather than on a contingent fee basis, much of this bounty hunting would end. Moreover, if state licensing authorities would examine this conduct under existing appraisal law and the Uniform Standards, the inevitable conclusion would be that appraisal consulting services are taking place. Again, this would serve to restrain the current, unbridled practice of targeting large taxpayers.

 

Garippa155 John E. Garippa is senior partner and Brian A. Fowler is an associate in the law firm of Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario with offices in Montclair, N.J., the New Jersey member of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
FowlerPhoto90  
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Sep
28

What Revaluation Means for Chicago

"In Chicago specifically, the most telling statistic may be the lack of property sales. From an average of 50,000 to 55,000 Cook County sales per year in the boom years, sales in the last three years have not exceeded 5,500 per year..."

By James P. Regan, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, September 2012

Cook County, Ill. systematically revalues all properties for taxation every three years, and 2012 is the reassessment year for Chicago. The last revaluation took place in 2009, shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the Great Recession. The county has already sent reassessment notices to real estate owners in the northern sections of Chicago and will notify those in the rest of the city of the proposed assessed value of their properties over the next six months. The 2012 assessment will be used to determine each Chicagoan's real estate taxes through 2014.

Homeowners and business owners alike should pay close attention to this year's revaluation. Real estate has undergone a significant value loss since 2008, and that alone makes the 2012 revaluation a defining event for Chicago's property owners.

Assessment officials strive to make the process as transparent as possible, and the notices contain a wealth of information about the property and its assessment history. At neighborhood meetings throughout the city, officials stress that the proposed 2012 assessment contained in the notice is only the first step in a process, and that every taxpayer has the opportunity to provide evidence which shows that the proposed assessment inaccurately reflects the property's value. The assessor calculates values using mass appraisal techniques applied to data amassed on all segments of the city's real estate markets, but recognizes that each property is unique and that market data can be made more precise by information provided by the property owner.

Despite the efforts at transparency, the process of producing a final tax bill is not restricted solely to valuation. The budgets of local agencies funded by real estate taxes affect the bill as well.

The assessment process

Real estate taxes are an ad valorem tax, or dependent upon how much the property is worth. Illinois relates taxes to the fair cash value of the property. Simply said, the assessor must determine how much the property would have sold for as of Jan. 1, 2012. The primary purpose for assessment valuation is to determine the fair share of taxes and to assure that each property is uniformly taxed in accord with its value.

Value loss must be considered in that context. The real estate markets—residential and commercial—were at the heart of the boom of the last decade. In the last three years real estate has, in turn, felt the full force of the burst bubble. According to the Moody's REAL Commercial Property Price Index, as of the first quarter 2011, office, industrial, apartments and retail properties had all fallen back to 2003 value levels.

regan reevaluationChicago

In Chicago specifically, the most telling statistic may be the lack of property sales. From an average of 50,000 to 55,000 Cook County sales per year in the boom years, sales in the last three years have not exceeded 5,500 per year.

Office vacancy rates in the Central Business District have gone from 11.5 percent in 2008 to more than 20 percent as of the first quarter of 2012, according to MB Real Estate Services. Concessions and rent abatements continue for new tenants.

Retail rents declined from $18 per sq. ft. in 2009 to $16 per sq. ft. by 2011, according to Colliers International. And the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Prices Indices show that Chicago condominium prices in 2010 had fallen to 2002 levels, and that home prices closely followed the downturn in condos. Home prices were down 18.7 percent on an annual basis.

One could strongly argue that the decline in value, together with the paucity of sales, demands new methods to arrive at fair cash value. Income data is available to determine values more accurately determine, even for the residential and condo markets, and extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions.

The budget process

The other contributor to the real estate taxpayer's bill is the aggregate budget requirement of local schools, police, fire, county, city governmental, park districts and libraries, which determines the dollars that must be collected from real estate taxes. The assessment determines the proportion of that aggregate amount the individual taxpayer owes, based on property value.

Chicago's usage classifications further obfuscate the process: Residential properties are assessed at 10 percent of value while commercial properties are assessed at 25 percent. That triggers a state equalization factor, which is included in the computation of every taxpayer's bill. Experienced tax counsel can help taxpayers evaluate all these factors and determine whether to protest their assessment.

reganJames Regan is the managing partner of the Chicago law firm of Fisk Kart Katz and Regan, the Illinois member of the 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
28

Tax Trap in Dallas

"Just because a value may have decreased from a previous year assessment doesn't translate into a correct assessed value. Make sure that the property is being valued correctly with the appropriate approaches to value—income, cost and sales comparison..."

By John Murphy, as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, September 2012

Since the beginning of the economic decline in 2008, property values have fluctuated in many Texas counties, including Dallas County. Now that the Dallas commercial real estate market is on the mend, commercial property owners must continue to monitor their property values and consider remedies available to appeal errant assessments.

Generally, the Dallas County real estate market has fared well over the past five years, having proven itself largely immune to the effects of the recession. In fact, the Dallas Central Appraisal District (DCAD) in July announced that overall property values increased this year for the first time since 2008, climbing by 1.4 percent. Commercial real estate drove the increase with a 4.6 percent gain that trumped a slight decline in residential values to boost the total tax roll.

Each July, DCAD produces an estimated value report which, after certification by the Dallas County Appraisal Review Board, is published as the Certified Estimated Value Report. This report summarizes tax roll estimates by property type, including commercial, business, personal and residential property. The report also provides a total value for all classes.

It is important to note that the appraisal district bases values on an effective date of Jan. 1 for each year, and that the certified estimated value is 100 percent of market value.

Popp Hutcheson conducted a market research study to determine changes in asking price per square foot for commercial properties in Dallas as of Jan. 1 for each year from 2008 through 2012. Please note, in the chart below, the research data represents an average of the three dominant commercial property types: office, industrial and retail.

dallas-values-600

Asking price per sq. ft. has fluctuated over the five years measured but does not correspond directly to the Dallas County Certified Estimated Values. Although the Dallas market did not suffer nearly as much as most counties in Texas and the U.S., it is clear that the market failed to adjust asking prices appropriately during and after the recession. This is especially true in 2009, when the average asking price increased despite market-wide value declines at the deepest point of the downturn. Arguably, DCAD tracked the recession more appropriately with decreases in Certified Estimated Values for each year.

 

What does this mean for the taxpayer?

The apparent disconnect between market value and asking prices in Dallas underscores the potential for overestimating taxable property values. While this is a macro-level view of certified values and asking prices, the point of all this is quite simple. The property owner must be diligent in tracking assessed value. Carefully review each notice of appraised value from the appraisal district and watch for any increases in assessments.

Just because a value may have decreased from a previous year assessment doesn't translate into a correct assessed value. Make sure that the property is being valued correctly with the appropriate approaches to value—income, cost and sales comparison. For example, an appraiser may value a 15-year-old, income-producing commercial property via the cost approach. That typically isn't the most appropriate method, because an assessor seldom appropriately captures all forms of depreciation (physical, functional and external) using the cost approach.

dallas-values-600

The income approach may be the most appropriate method for appeal purposes, and careful consideration should be taken in applying a true market rent, vacancy rate, collection loss, expense ratio and, of course, capitalization rate to arrive at an appropriate market value. Cost can be used as additional support, however, provided that all forms of depreciation are properly captured. The value indicated via these approaches should be very close, thus arriving at a reasonable concluded value.

Also make sure that the appraisal district has the correct building square footage, age, physical characteristics and land size on its record cards. DCAD, like most jurisdictions, has a difficult job tracking and making sure that each and every property is valued correctly. As with anything, mistakes happen and more often than a property owner may realize.

Additional remedies

Dallas taxpayers, as well as all Texas property owners, have a right to equal and uniform appraisals. Taxpayers need to seek professional help to determine whether their property is valued the same, from an equality and uniformity perspective, as competing properties in Dallas County.

DCAD's shrinking value estimates over the years do not ensure accurate assessments. Inappropriate valuation methods, clerical errors and unequal appraisals can all inflate taxable values, and it is extremely important to keep these risks in mind.

john-murphy-activeJohn Murphy is director of real estate assessments at the Austin, Texas-based law firm Popp Hutcheson which represents taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Jun
14

Taxpayers Increasingly Use Appraisal Standards in Tax Appeals

One useful aid in arguing a property owner's appeal is often overlooked because it comes right out of the appraiser's tool box. The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) can help to level the playing field for the property owner.

By John E. Garippa, as published in National Real Estate Investor Online, June 2012.

Property owners throughout New Jersey have observed that more tax appeals are headed to trial. More than ever, cases that would have been settled had they occurred a few years ago are now routinely in the litigation track.

What's behind this trend? The most significant reason is that government is under increasing pressure to preserve the municipal treasury. And as the drive for tax revenue brings more taxpayers to court, many of those property owners find an uneven playing field during litigation. The assessment is presumed to be correct until it is overcome by the preponderance of the evidence. The level of proof the taxpayer must provide to reach this standard has become increasingly more difficult to attain.

One useful aid in arguing a property owner's appeal is often overlooked because it comes right out of the appraiser's tool box. The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) can help to level the playing field for the property owner. Taxpayers need to understand this set of regulations because it affords opportunities to attack the credibility of the taxing jurisdiction's presentation.

Any licensed appraiser in the state of New Jersey is subject to USPAP, which mandates that an "appraiser shall ensure that all appraisals shall, at a minimum, conform to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice." An appraiser's failure to comply with the provisions of USPAP may be construed to be professional misconduct in violation of New Jersey tax law.

For example, USPAP sets minimal standards for the retention of records, referred to as the "recordkeeping rule." An appraiser must prepare a work file for each appraisal, appraisal review or appraisal consulting assignment. A work file must exist prior to the issuance of any report, and a written summary of any oral report must be added to the work file within a reasonable time after the issuance of the oral report. Such a work file must include the report as well as the information used in creating the report.

The standards set time requirements as well. The work file must be retained for at least five years after preparation or at least two years after final disposition of any judicial proceeding in which the appraiser provided testimony related to the assignment, whichever period expires last. Any appraiser who willfully or knowingly fails to comply with the obligations of this recordkeeping rule is in violation of the state's ethics rule.

In further clarifying the recordkeeping rule, USPAP states that it applies to "appraisals and mass appraisal, performed for ad valorem taxation assignments."

USPAP is adopted by statute, so a violation of its standards may leave a violating appraiser susceptible to sanctions imposed by the governing professional association. In addition, New Jersey's tax statute provides explicitly that for engaging in an act of professional misconduct, the professional licensing board may penalize the offender by suspending or revoking any certificate, registration or license.

It is not unusual to find situations where appraisers are brought in to assist tax assessors in setting assessments. This is certainly understandable when complicated properties are being appraised. Now, however, as the appraiser advises the assessor as to value in setting an assessment, that advice and conclusion is now discoverable by the taxpayer. This presents a significant opportunity for taxpayers to discern the machinations behind the setting of an assessment.

Under USPAP, the appraiser must have a work file demonstrating all of the evidence relied upon to determine that value. It does not matter whether the advice given the assessor is written or oral; the work file must contain written evidence supporting the advice and conclusions given to the assessor. This now becomes a potential gold mine of information that can be used to damage the presumption of correctness of the assessment.

In another common scenario, taxing jurisdictions that rely on outside appraisers to assist the assessor in setting the assessment will typically retain those same appraisers to defend the assessments before the tax court. Because of the backlog of cases in the tax court, this means that an appraiser that originally assisted in setting an assessment could be testifying about value several years after the assessment was set.

This presents an opportunity for the taxpayer to probe the appraisal report prepared for trial and compare it to the work file prepared when the assessment was made. Was the value predetermined because of the early work in setting the assessment? Does the early work erode the conclusions of the later work?

These are all important considerations, and will significantly help to level the playing field against recalcitrant taxing jurisdictions. Appraisers who lend their licenses and credibility to taxing jurisdictions in setting assessments need to be aware that there could be a day of reckoning.

Garippa155 John E. Garippa is senior partner of the law firm of Garippa, Lotz & Giannuario with offices in Montclair, N.J. The firm is the New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania member of the 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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Mar
26

New York City's Relentless Reassessments Raise Revenue—and Eyebrows

"The New York City Charter grants property owners the right to protest their tentative assessments from Jan. 15 (or the first day following weekends and/or holidays) until March 1..."

By Joel R. Marcus, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, March 2012

In its 2012-2013 tax roll assessment, New York City has once again reported major increases in property values. Bucking the national trend toward flat or downward value changes, the city in January found that overall market value had grown to more than $876 billion, up by more than $31 billion from last year's record $845.4 billion.

Remarkably, the taxable assessment (approximately 45 percent of market value) is only the latest step in a relentless series of increases in the taxpayers' burden, dished out each and every year since 1995. Bar graphs of total assessed values for each year by property class reveal the linear, uninterrupted nature of the changes, with nary a hint of the variations that would be expected during the two most recent economic recessions. (See chart.)

jmarcusgraph

Last year's assessment increase provoked an angry backlash from both residential and commercial property owners. As a result of these widespread protests, the New York City Department of Finance agreed to voluntarily roll back assessments of cooperatives and condominiums (owned by voting taxpayers) that experienced assessment increases of 50 percent or more, choosing to instead limit increases on those properties to no more than 10 percent over the prior year. Properties that had received an assessment increase of 49 percent or less, however, went unchanged onto the 2011-2012 roll.

The Department of Finance had to correct 30,457 property assessments, and the Tax Commission handled 50,022 appeals covering 183,811 separately assessed tax lots. The Tax Commission's remedial actions yielded $560 million in tax relief to aggrieved taxpayers.

Repeat performance?

With the tentative assessment for the tax period running from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013, and showing dramatic value increases yet again for certain residential properties, there is a flurry of legislative activity promoting a new class of property for cooperatives and condominiums. As proposed, this class would have its tax increases capped at no more than 6 percent each year, the same treatment now accorded to one-, two- and three-family homes.

This legislation, if passed, still won't eliminate the precipitous disparity in taxes between apartments and homes. The cap on homes has been in effect since 1982, and now most homes are assessed at a very small fraction of their current market value.

Citywide, the taxable assessed values of one-, two- and three-family homes (Class 1) increased 3.11percent from last year's assessment. Rental apartments, co-ops and condos (Class 2) are up 5.15 percent, and office, hotel, retail and other commercial properties (Class 4) are experiencing an increase of 7.26 percent.

nyc-condo-400A red flag

A red flag

Before publication, the Department of Finance detected massive errors in the assessment roll and delayed its release. Officially, the Department of Finance cited the need "to correct an error in one of the computer systems it uses to calculate values." But insiders report that quality control issues were also a factor in the delay. On Jan. 19, 2012—two days late—the Department of Finance published the city's tentative assessment roll, covering more than 1 million separately assessed parcels of real estate.

The New York City Charter grants property owners the right to protest their tentative assessments from Jan. 15 (or the first day following weekends and/or holidays) until March 1. The law authorizes owners of one- to three-family houses the right to contest their tentative assessments until March 15. The protests must be filed during these time periods with the New York City Tax Commission, an independent city agency authorized to review and correct the Department of Finance's property tax assessments.

In announcing the delayed assessment release, Finance Commissioner David M. Frankel stated that "we will keep the roll open for an additional two days this year." The Tax Commission's legal authority to review protests filed after March 1 and March 15 is questionable, however. In the absence of remedial legislation expressly authorizing the Tax Commission to review protest applications filed after March 1 and March 15, applicants are better off assuming that the current statutory filing dates will continue to govern.

Commercial consternation

During the period after the publication of the tentative assessment and prior to the publication of the final assessment roll on May 25, the Department of Finance is permitted to increase assessed values of nonresidential properties. This authority may only be exercised until May 10, however, and only where the department has mailed written notice to the owner at least 10 days prior to May 10. The mailing of such notices after Feb. 1 extends the protest period for affected owners, who have 20 days after the notice was mailed to apply for a correction of their assessment.

In Frankel's announcement, he also mentioned that the Department of Finance is reviewing whether thousands of properties which have historically enjoyed not-for-profit exemptions remain eligible for such benefits. Previous exemptions for many properties which did not file timely renewal applications prior to Nov. 1, 2011, were removed on the tentative assessment roll, but Frankel advised that these properties can still regain their exemptions for the 2012-2013 tax year if they provide the required documentation by Feb. 13.

Joel MarcusThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a partner in the law firm of Marcus & Pollack LLP, the New York City member of American Property Tax Counsel.

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Mar
05

Inaccurate Records Could Inflate Tax Assessments

Taxpayers should review their individual property tax records maintained by the county tax assessor to determine whether the specific facts of their property are accurate. Is the amount of acreage or square footage accurate and up to date, including any additions or demolitions that have occurred?

By Lisa Stuckey, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, March 2012

In this era of computer-generated recordkeeping, Georgia taxpayers should be aware of several areas in which accurate records are critical in the proper valuation of their properties for ad valorem tax purposes. While software and online filing save time, these tools also increase the opportunity for inaccuracy and unfairly high tax bills.

The importance of accurate written records begins with the initial purchase of the property. Georgia law requires property owners to report real estate sales on a PT-61 form, which is filed online with the clerk of the county superior court. This form is transmitted to the county tax assessor, who is required to consider sales in determining the fair market value of property.

Taxpayers should ask themselves if there has been a proper allocation between real and personal property. Examples of personal property include furniture, fixtures and equipment for the operation of hotels. Has there been a proper allocation of tangible vs. intangible property?

A new statute in the Georgia property tax code requires that tax assessors exclude the value of intangible assets such as patents, trademarks, trade names and customer and merchandising agreements. If the reported sale price of a real property contains these intangibles, then inflated tax valuations are likely to occur.

Sometimes there is no allocation in county records of the underlying business being acquired as part of a property transaction. For example, portfolio purchases of convenience stores or daycare centers may reflect only the aggregate purchase price and not a proper allocation of the individual components being acquired. Has there been a proper allocation of specific assets in a multi-property sale transaction? Inaccurate sale price allocation among properties purchased as a portfolio often results in improper tax valuations.

A purchaser with ownership and control of a property must make certain that internal recordkeeping is accurate, for both real and personal property. Inaccuracies can expand over time throughout the length of ownership and life of the property. For instance, owners of personal property may carry pieces of property on their books and ledgers that have been sold, disposed of, moved from the county to another facility owned by the taxpayer, or which are obsolete or no longer in use.

County tax assessors rely upon taxpayers to accurately report property held by the taxpayer in the county on Jan. 1 of each tax year by filing the business personal property tax return. If owners carry over historical purchase prices of personal property without analyzing the facts surrounding current ownership, location, and use of the individual pieces of property, the inaccuracies will result in improper tax valuations of personal property by the county tax assessor. Each passing tax year can compound problems if additional pieces of property are disposed of or moved but continue to be reported to the tax assessor as being held in the county by the taxpayer on Jan. 1.

Real property owners should periodically review and make sure their internal records are accurate. For instance, for office, apartment, retail and warehouse properties, does the software used by the taxpayer to maintain rental records accurately reflect both actual contract rents and the current market rent of the property? Dated and inaccurate market rental rates can be misleading to county tax assessors, who review taxpayer rent rolls to obtain market information used to value commercial properties.

Similarly, for hotel properties, is the actual and market room rate data accurate in all fields of the software, or have record-keepers merely carried over historical market rates that could mislead the tax assessor and cause improperly inflated valuations?

Another area of proper record-keeping involves the actual county tax records. The new Georgia statute requiring county tax assessors to issue annual tax assessment notices to every real property owner places an even greater burden on the tax assessor than in years past, which may result in more factual errors in the county property tax records.

Taxpayers should review their individual property tax records maintained by the county tax assessor to determine whether the specific facts of their property are accurate. Is the amount of acreage or square footage accurate and up to date, including any additions or demolitions that have occurred? Does the county have the correct age for the property, including all of the portions of the improvements, which may have been built at different times?

Along that line, does the county have the appropriate percentage breakdown for the various areas of use at the property, such as office vs. warehouse or rentable area vs. common area? Are the wall heights correct for all portions of the property? These are just a few examples of the type of data maintained by the county tax assessor which must be correct to assist in the accurate valuation of a taxpayer's property.

Electronic records offer many advantages. But savvy property owners invest some of the time they are saving through modern technology, and make sure that inaccurate records related to their property aren't contributing to an overstatement of their tax burden.

Stuckey Lisa Stuckey is a partner in the Atlanta, GA law firm of Ragsdale, Beal's, Seigler, Patterson & Gray, 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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Feb
12

Can the Property Tax Code Improve D.C.'s Public Schools?

It is well understood in economics that, outside of the margins, the more you tax something the less of it you get, and the less you tax something the more of it you get.

By Scott B. Cryder, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, February 2012

A city is unlikely to maximize its potential without attracting and retaining families with children. Yet attracting and retaining such families is perhaps the greatest obstacle the District of Columbia will face over the next several decades as it seeks to navigate the region's ongoing population boom. And while it may not seem obvious, the real estate tax code may be an effective tool to meet the challenge.

A good problem to have

According to the 2010 Census, the D.C. metropolitan area grew by 16 percent over the last decade. Among the 10 largest metropolitan areas, this was the largest percentage increase of any non-Sunbelt metropolitan area. Growth extended beyond the suburbs, as the District itself stemmed a 60-year population decline by adding nearly 30,000 new residents.

Buoyed by government spending, related contracting, a robust legal and professional field and growing technology and biomedical industries, the D.C. area is well positioned to maintain this growth over the coming decades. In fact, a recent study by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University predicts that over the next two decades the population of the greater D.C. area will increase by 1.67 million people, a 30 percent increase over the current population of 5.58 million. Compared with the problems facing shrinking metropolitan areas such as Detroit and Chicago, the District is fortunate. Nonetheless, this projected growth presents significant challenges to state and local governments.

A city of hipsters and empty-nesters?

Though the District may be spared from some of the more implacable transportation issues facing its suburban neighbors, it faces its own unique set of challenges. The most glaring, long-term impediment to growth in the District is its dismal public education system. The dearth of quality public schools renders the District inhospitable to large numbers of families with school-age children. These families, who would otherwise prefer to live in the District, are forced either to decamp for the suburbs once their children are of school age or enroll them in private schools, an option that is beyond the reach of a large swath of the populace.

This lack of quality public education effectively restricts the District's appeal to a narrow demographic group of new residents—a fact that has not been lost on the multifamily developers who increasingly dominate D.C. residential development. Reacting to market conditions, these developers are focusing on delivering smaller, more affordable units in amenity-laden buildings. These units are, however, largely impractical for families with school-age children.

DC-family-600

Attracting these families presents a Catch-22 conundrum, however: The quality of public schools will improve if more diverse families move into the District, yet these families are hesitant to move into the District because of the lack of quality public schools. Solving this challenge requires innovative thinking by the District government. Policies must be enacted that simultaneously incentivize individual families to move to the District and incentivize residential developers to provide the necessary housing stock, especially in the multifamily segment. This is where a simple tinkering with the real estate tax code could pay big dividends.

It is well understood in economics that, outside of the margins, the more you tax something the less of it you get, and the less you tax something the more of it you get. This same basic principal should be applied to attracting and retaining families with school-age children. Specifically, the District should implement a child property tax credit of $1,000 for each child enrolled in D.C. public or charter schools. This credit could be claimed by either owner-occupants or landlords where the child lives.

By making this credit available to both owners and landlords, the District would not only directly motivate families to move to the District and enroll their children in D.C. schools, but it would also incentivize developers to provide the new housing necessary to support these families. This simple, easily administered tax credit would address two difficult issues simultaneously, in an efficient manner with little regulatory overhang. If the District wishes to reach its potential, it will need to enact precisely these types of policies.

Scott B. Cryder is an associate in the law firm Wilkes Artis Chartered, the District of Columbia's member of American Property Tax Counsel.

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