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Aug
03

COVID-19’s Impact on Affordable Housing Property Tax Valuations

The pandemic leaves affordable housing property owners vulnerable and searching for ways to reduce their property tax liabilities.

After a pandemic year that decimated rental incomes, owners of affordable housing properties should prepare to protest property tax assessments that overstate their liability.

As stay-at-home orders in 2020 forced businesses across the county to change their operations, a large portion of the labor force began to work from home. But many renters, including a large contingent of affordable housing residents, found themselves without jobs and struggling to pay rent.

Job losses and other issues related to COVID-19 adversely affected tenants and property owners alike, straining rental income while adding the cost of new safety procedures and equipment to landlords' operating costs. To reduce property tax liabilities and limit financial losses from the pandemic, it is now crucial for owners of affordable housing to correctly navigate procedures across jurisdictions and weigh all relevant valuation considerations for their properties.

Here are key areas for affordable housing owners to consider in arguing for a lower assessment.

Procedures have changed

The global pandemic transformed interactions between appraisal districts and property owners throughout the 2020 tax year. Many appraisal districts across Texas closed their doors to the public and shifted formal and informal meetings to a virtual setting to combat the spread of COVID-19.

As hearings approach in 2021, appraisal districts are expected to keep many of the pandemic-related practices in place. Telephone and video conferences will likely be the preferred format for hearings and informal meetings, but taxpayers should be prepared to appear in person should the jurisdiction require. Property owners can avoid procedural uncertainty by proactively communicating with the appraisal districts and being sure to meet requirements related to the protest process. Appraisal district websites can also be a helpful resource with regard to procedural guidelines.

Affordable housing performance suffered

The pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for the affordable housing industry. Many tenants lost income as result of job losses and experienced increased financial hardships. The federal government provided economic aid in the form of stimulus checks, which enabled some renters to pay partial or full rental amounts. As the pandemic ravaged on, however, stimulus checks ran out and many tenants ceased to pay rent, cutting into property owners' revenue. Nine out of 10 low- and moderate-income housing providers experienced a revenue decrease as result of COVID-19, according to a study from NDP Analytics.

While tenants' financial difficulties contributed to decreased property revenues, property owners also incurred increased expenses. Property owners were forced to invest in personal protective equipment, increase their cleaning standards and take other measures to ensure the safety of their employees and residents. Research from NDP Analytics also found that low- and moderate-income housing providers across the country averaged an 11.8% decline in revenue and 14.8% surge in operating expenses due to the pandemic. These additional expenses, combined with decreased revenues, created major hardships for many in the affordable housing industry.

Property tax valuation outlook

The Texas Property Tax Code provides two methods for protesting excessive property tax valuations: a market value remedy and an equal and uniform remedy. A market value claim argues that the assessment is excessive based on the three approaches to valuing commercial real estate: income, cost, and sales. Assessors and appraisers typically value an affordable housing property using the income approach. Assessors will gather market income, vacancy, and expense data to arrive at a net operating income, and then capitalize that using a market cap rate reflective of market performance. Taxpayers should evaluate the assessor's cap rate and argue for a more appropriate rate if needed.

Decreased net operating incomes at affordable housing properties in 2020 could result in lower 2021 assessments. When addressing valuation concerns with appraisal districts, property owners should provide evidence of financial strain such as concessions and reduced rent. Data of this sort provides insight to appraisal districts on the performance of a particular property or market and can aid in achieving a value reduction.

The Texas Property Tax Code also requires that properties be appraised equally and uniformly when compared to a reasonable amount of comparable properties. Affordable housing owners should be sure their properties fall within a similar range of values with other like properties on a square-footage basis. Assessors must consider the characteristics of affordable housing projects when choosing comparable properties. Valid comparable selections will allow for a true comparison that reflects the unique characteristics of this property type.

Address tax rates, too

Assessed valuations and tax rates are the two components that determine a property owner's tax expense in Texas. Disgruntled property owners often place the blame of a higher tax bill upon the assessor and forget to address the issue of tax rates.

Taxing entities determine their respective tax rates in the fall, once appraisal districts have certified their appraisal rolls upon completion of the administrative protest process. Property owners should not only protest their property taxes, but attend tax rate hearings and voice their opinions with elected officials to minimize their property tax expense.

Managing Property Taxes

COVID-19 strained affordable housing property owners throughout the past 12 months. Skillfully managing property tax expenses will be vital to the financial health of the real estate. The decision to appeal a tax assessment and partner with a knowledgeable property tax professional will be crucial to successfully reducing assessed values and navigating challenges in the pandemic's wake.

Carlos Suarez is a tax consultant at the Austin, Texas, law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC, the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.

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Deck - Summary for use on blog & category landing pages

  • The pandemic leaves affordable housing property owners vulnerable and searching for ways to reduce their property tax liabilities.
Jul
17

2021 Annual APTC Client Seminar

2021 Client Seminar - Chicago, IL

The American Property Tax Counsel is proud to announce that Chicago, Illinois will be the site of an in-person meeting for the 2021 Annual APTC Client Seminar.

Save the Dates! October 20-22, 2021 - Omni Chicago Hotel - Chicago, Illinois

THEME -  New Solutions to Old Problems in Uncertain Times

APTC seminars provide an exclusive forum where invited guests can collaborate with nationally known presenters and experienced property tax attorneys to develop strategies to successfully reduce and manage property taxes.

Event Information

This year's seminar will address recent developments and current trends in the areas of property taxation and real estate. We will bring together nationally-known economic, technological, appraisal, and legal experts to provide valuable insight on how to navigate the quickly-changing and often turbulent real estate market in these uncertain times. 

APTC seminars provide an exclusive forum where invited guests can collaborate with nationally known presenters and experienced property tax attorneys to develop strategies to successfully reduce and manage property taxes.

See the Featured Speakers appearing at the 2021 Seminar.


Featured Speakers


Victor V. Anselmo, Esq.

Victor V. Anselmo is a partner in the property tax law firm of Siegel Jennings, Co., LPA. where he is a member of the Executive Board and manages the firm's Ohio practice. Mr. Anselmo concentrates his practice exclusively in the field of property tax law representing commercial taxpayers. He has over 30 years' experience in the field of ad valorem property tax litigation both as a taxpayer representative, and prior to coming to Siegel Jennings, as a representative of numerous school districts in Northeast Ohio. He has handled thousands of ad valorem tax cases at the administrative, trial court and appellate levels. His prior experience includes being a Magistrate in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations and extensive civil litigation experience including several jury verdicts of seven figures.


Economist and Futurist Kiernan "KC" Conway, CCIM, CRE, MAI is the mind trust behind Red Shoe Economics, LLC, an independent economic forecasting and consulting firm furthering KC's mission as The Red Shoe Economist by providing organic research initiatives, reporting and insights on the impact of Economics within the commercial real estate industry. KC is a nationally recognized industry thought leader and Subject Matter Expert with expertise in Macro Economics, Valuations, Ports & Logistics, Banking Regulation, Real Estate Finance, MSA level market monitoring, Environmental Risk Management, Housing Economics and Tax Appeals.

A proud graduate of Emory University with more than 30 years' experience as a lender, credit officer, appraiser, instructor, and economist; KC is recognized for accurately forecasting real estate trends and ever-changing influences on markets all across the United States. With credentials from the CCIM Institute, Counselors of Real Estate and the Appraisal Institute, KC currently serves as Chief Economist of the CCIM Institute and as an Independent Director for Monmouth REIT MNR. 

He is a gifted and prolific speaker having made more than 850 presentations to industry, regulatory and academic organizations in the last decade, and has been published in many national and regional newspapers and journals with frequent contributions to radio and television programming.

KC Conway, MAI, CRE

William R. Emmons, Ph.D

 Bill Emmons is an Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and President of the St. Louis Gateway Chapter of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE). He conducts research and speaks frequently on topics including the economy, housing and mortgage markets, banking, financial markets, financial regulation, and household financial conditions.

Mr. Emmons received a PhD degree in Finance from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Mr. Emmons is married with three children.


Brian Grossman is the leader of the Walgreens real estate tax and personal property tax teams. The real estate tax team is responsible for reviewing and appealing (if necessary) the proposed assessments of over 9,200 stores, 18 distribution centers, and the corporate campus. Last year, the personal property tax team filed over 7,800 returns and successfully resolved 49 audits in-house.

Brian has been actively involved in legislation in multiple states. And he is one of the leaders of the Property Tax Retail Roundtable. Walgreens has hosted the Property Tax Retail Roundtable conference for the past three years.

Prior to joining Walgreens, Brian was a partner at a Chicago property tax law firm. During his over 11 years at the law firm, he successfully appealed proposed assessments of various properties including national retail businesses, retail storefronts, hotels, office buildings, industrial warehouses and plants, regional malls, mental health hospitals, apartment buildings, and condominium associations. Brian was a frequent speaker before various property tax groups including IPT, real estate management companies, and condominium associations.

Brian previously was an assistant state's attorney of Cook County, Illinois for over 18 years. His last role was supervisor of the Real Estate Tax Unit where he supervised a team of 14 assistant state's attorneys. They represented the Cook County Assessor, Cook County Board of Review, Cook County Treasurer, and various taxing districts in circuit court and before the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board.

Brian is a former criminal prosecutor who conducted over 300 bench trials, 38 felony jury trials, and hundreds of contested motions and hearings. He drafted numerous appellate court briefs (both criminal and civil) and argued several appeals before the Illinois Appellate Court. Brian was the first chair (lead attorney) in two felony trial courtrooms and prosecuted more than 20 first degree murder cases.

Brian Grossman

Kieran Jennings, Esq.

J. Kieran Jennings is Managing Partner at Siegel Jennings Co., L.P.A. Previously a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Kieran focuses his practice on real property taxation and general state and local tax litigation. He has successfully tried cases before administrative boards, tribunals, courts, and appellate courts, including the Ohio Supreme Court. Kieran has experience in managing real property tax appeals throughout the U.S. and Canada and assists clients in due diligence property acquisitions, tax planning, and structured agreements between taxpayers and taxing jurisdictions.

Kieran is the Vice President and a member of the Executive Board of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), a national organization of which Siegel Jennings is a founding member. Kieran is also on the Board of Directors for the Northern Ohio Chapter of NAIOP. Kieran regularly conducts seminars and workshops on numerous property tax issues for industry groups like the National Retail Round Table, The Ohio Society of CPAs, Institute for Professionals in Taxation (IPT), International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO), National Business Institute, and Lorman Education Service.


David is a principal with Lennhoff Real Estate Consulting, LLC, which is officed in Gaithersburg, Maryland. His practice centers on litigation valuation and expert testimony relating to appraisal methodology, USPAP, and allocating assets of a going concern. He has taught nationally and internationally for the Appraisal Institute. International presentations have been in Tokyo, Japan; Beijing and Shanghai, China; Berlin, Germany; Seoul, South Korea; and Mexico City, Mexico. He has been a development team member for numerous Appraisal Institute courses and seminars and was editor of its Capitalization Theory and Techniques Study Guide, 3rd ed. He was the lead developer for the Institute's asset allocation course, Fundamentals of Separating Real and Personal Property from Intangible Business Assets, and edited the two accompanying business enterprise value anthologies. He also authored the Small Hotel/Motel Valuation seminar. David is a principal member of the Real Estate Counseling Group of America, a national organization of analysts and academicians founded by the late William N. Kinnard, Jr., PhD. He is a past editor-in-chief of and frequent contributor to The Appraisal Journal, and a past recipient of the Journal's Armstrong/Kahn Award and Swango Award.

David Lennhoff, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS

Andrew Lorms

Andrew Lorms joined Cushman & Wakefield of Ohio, Inc.'s Valuation & Advisory group in January 2004, and is a Senior Director in the Columbus, Ohio. Andrew Lorms is part of the Cushman & Wakefield's Advisory & Valuation Retail Division with his specialty practice focused on single-tenant retail, big box retail and multi-tenant shopping center valuations in various capacities inclusive of mortgage financing and Ad Valorem real estate tax appraisal services.

Work scope includes real estate appraisals, feasibility studies and consulting services for local and national lending institutions, national chain retailers, pension funds and REITs. Mr. Lorms has also played a role in development and ownership of multi-tenant retail shopping centers. Primary responsibilities include site selection, marketing, lease negotiation and coordination of center design and materials.


Mary O'Connor, CMI, ASA, CRE is Partner, Forensics and Valuation Services of Sikich LLP, a national accounting and advisory firm. She has worked exclusively in the field of valuation specializing in business valuation and the appraisal of intangible assets for litigation and corporate transactions with special focus in property tax. She has provided consulting and expert witness testimony in Federal, State and local jurisdictions (including US Tax Court, Delaware Chancery and Property Tax Appeal Boards) nationally and internationally in a wide range of complex property tax cases for hotels, senior living centers, big box stores, manufacturing, theatres, healthcare facilities and agribusiness properties. Prominent tax appeal cases include the Glendale Hilton, the Marriott at LA Live, SHC Half Moon Bay, DFS duty-free shopping at San Francisco Airport, and the Desert Regional Hospital. She speaks frequently about intangible asset valuation in property tax appeal to the IPT and APTC and has commented extensively on the various whitepapers published by the IAAO. She is a Senior Member of the American Society of Appraisers accredited in Business Valuation and is certified by Marshall Valuation Service in the application of Cost Approach methodology. She holds the CMI designation from IPT and is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE).

Mary O'Connor, ASA

Jim Popp, Esq.

Jim Popp is Managing Partner of Popp Hutcheson and leader of the legislative affairs team.

Jim entered private practice in 1983. Since then, he has significantly impacted the practice of property tax representation across Texas. He pioneered the concept of start-to-finish client representation, including advocacy at the legislative, administrative, litigation, and appellate levels. This approach has greatly improved the quality and efficiency of representation for his clients.

He has drafted numerous items of legislation resulting in over 100 changes to the Texas Tax Code. Perhaps his most significant legislative contribution remains the 1997 amendment adding the equal and uniform remedy to the Tax Code. Other significant legislative contributions include the simultaneous exchange of appraisals, enhanced settlement discussions, truth-in-taxation provisions, rendition provisions, taxpayer rights before the ARB, the attorneys' fee statute and the new equal and uniform remedy statute. These changes have significantly improved taxpayer rights and remedies and immeasurably benefitted Texas property owners.

Jim started his property tax career in 1979 as Counsel to the Ways and Means Committee of the Texas House of Representatives, just as the Legislature was passing the new Property Tax Code. He then served with the Office of General Counsel of the State Property Tax Board during the implementation of the Property Tax Code.

He continues to be a tireless advocate for taxpayer rights at the Legislature and is the founder of the property tax advocacy PAC, Tax Equity Council. Jim is the exclusive Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), a nationwide invitation-only affiliation of 30 property tax law firms with over 100 property tax lawyers.

Jim received his B.A. with Honors, M.P.A. (LBJ School) and J.D. degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa


Member Speakers


Angie Adolph, Esq.

Angie Adolph is a partner in the Baton Rouge office of Kean Miller. She joined the firm in 2011, and practices in the tax and municipal finance groups. Angie represents Louisiana, national, and international clients in a variety of tax and corporate matters. In addition to representing clients before the Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals, the Louisiana Tax commission, and in the Louisiana courts, she has special experience representing taxpayers in property tax incentive negotiations, including Payments in Lieu of Taxes. Angie is the firm's representative to the American Property Tax Counsel, an association of property tax firms with members throughout the United States and in Canada.

Angie also has extensive experience in bond transactions and in the development of Public-Private Partnerships and Cooperative Endeavor Agreements. She is a member of the National Association of Bond Lawyers, board member of the Louisiana Chapter of Women in Public Finance and is listed in the "Red Book" of bond professionals. Prior to joining Kean Miller, Angie practiced in the tax and municipal finance areas for over 15 years with a local law firm.


Wendy Beck Wolansky concentrates her practice in the ad valorem taxation area, where her expertise is in representing property owners throughout the State of Florida before Value Adjustment Boards in administrative appeals challenging the valuation of commercial property including regional malls, anchor department stores, big box stores, hotels, hotel condominium buildings, major office buildings, low income housing tax credit apartment buildings and major apartment buildings, among others.

Wendy Beck Wolansky, Esq.

William Elias, Esq.

Mr. Elias has been recognized in Oklahoma Magazine's Superlawyer Section as one of the top Oklahoma lawyers. Mr. Elias holds an AV Preeminent rating from Martindale Hubbell, the highest professional rating for attorneys. Mr. Elias is the Oklahoma member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national association of preeminent law firms practicing in the area of property taxation. Mr. Elias has more than forty years of experience in a wide variety of oil and gas, property tax and commercial litigation matters.

Mr. Elias received a B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University in 1977 and a J.D. with honors from the University of Tulsa in 1981. He is a member of the Oklahoma County Bar Association, the Oklahoma City Mineral Lawyers Society, and the Tax and Mineral Law Sections of the Oklahoma Bar Association.

Mr. Elias is a frequent guest speaker and lecturer on oil and gas and property tax related matters at programs sponsored by the Oklahoma Bar Association, the Mid Continent Oil & Gas Association, the Oklahoma Association of Tax Representatives (OATR), the Institute for Professionals in Taxation (IPT), the Texas Oil & Gas Association and the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association (OIPA). In 2007, Mr. Elias received the Distinguished Service Award from the Oklahoma Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association for outstanding service to the petroleum industry and the Association.

For close to five years, Kathleen represented clients in the State of California (including a number of fortune 500 companies) in all aspects of employment law, from compliance to advice to litigating in state and federal court. Kathleen was a member of a three-person trial team that won a unanimous jury verdict in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Kathleen's practice now encompasses a variety of assessment and property taxation matters for both private and public sector clients throughout Ontario and Canada.

Kathleen represents taxpayers and municipalities before the Assessment Review Board and Superior Courts in valuation disputes for all types of properties including office buildings and industrial properties. She advises clients on all matters relating to assessment and municipal taxation.
Kathleen Poole, Esq.

Drew Raines, Esq.

Drew Raines is exclusively dedicated to the representation of taxpayers through the property tax appeal process. His background in the fine arts allows him to approach the law from a unique perspective and mine previously unexplored possibilities in the seemingly limited world of property tax rules.

Mr. Raines has been involved in Evans Petree's Property Tax Group for about two decades, working his way up from a file clerk to an attorney and partner in the firm. He has also clerked for Chicago property tax firm, Fisk Kart Katz & Regan, Ltd, and has been actively involved in the American Property Tax Counsel for several years.

Mr. Raines graduated from Memphis College of Art in 2007 with a degree in the fine arts, with dual-emphases in photography and printmaking, and a minor in art history. He entered law school at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in the fall of 2008.There he served as President of the Law School Art Review Trustees (LSART), a student organization created to facilitate and manage the law school's art collection and display.

Since joining Evans Petree's Property Tax Group as an attorney in 2011, Mr. Raines has argued many successful appeals of a wide variety of property types before the Tennessee State Board of Equalization, helping Evans Petree earn the highest rate of favorable State Board decisions of any group in Tennessee.

Linda Terrill, Esquire is the current President of the American Property Tax Counsel. She is a partner with the law firm Property Tax Law Group, LLC where she is Co-Chair of the Real & Personal Property Tax Law Section. She has over 30 years of experience in state and local tax issues including real and personal property taxes, sales/use taxes and state income taxes.

Formerly, Ms. Terrill served as the General Counsel for the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals. As a member of the American Property Tax Counsel, she serves as the Chair of the Seminar Committee, Chair of the Marketing Committee and as the representative for the state of Kansas.

She is a frequent speaker and author in the field of property tax and valuation. She served on the national Legal Committee of the International Association of Assessing Officers and was a former President of the Administrative Law Section of the Kansas Bar Association.

Ms. Terrill is a graduate of Kansas University, Washburn University, and Washburn University School of Law. She earned her Master of Law in Taxation from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
Linda Terrill, Esq.

Bart Wilhoit, Esq.

Bart Wilhoit is an experienced trial attorney with years of practice successfully representing businesses in civil and commercial disputes, state and local tax controversies, eminent domain litigation, tort and commercial litigation and administrative matters. Bart has successfully represented clients in all Arizona state courts including the Superior Courts, Arizona Tax Court and appellate courts.

Bart is licensed to practice in Arizona and Nevada. He is experienced in all phases of litigation, including investigation and evaluation of cases, complex discovery, settlement and alternative dispute resolution, jury and bench trials, arbitrations and appeals. Bart has broad litigation and trial experience in complex commercial litigation matters with an emphasis on valuation related litigation in commercial disputes, contract disputes, state and local tax controversies and all stages of the eminent domain/condemnation process.

Bart takes a pragmatic approach to his clients' matters – considering and evaluating options and potential outcomes from the onset to effectively and efficiently counsel his clients. He is dedicated to providing quality personal and client service, efficient and aggressive representation and dedicated to strong client relationships.

Bart is a graduate of Arizona State University and the UCLA School of Law. A native of Arizona, Bart is married with three children and enjoys all of the outdoor experiences Arizona has to offer. He also enjoys travel and playing music in his band.


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Jun
10

New York City's Pandemic Property Tax Problems Persist

Property tax assessments show market-wide value declines for the first time in 25 years but fall short of reflecting taxpayers' true losses.

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?

The longstanding physics conundrum encapsulates the situation in which New York City property owners currently find themselves, and for better or worse, they're about to discover the answer to the age-old question. 

City government has squeezed increasing sums of property taxes from its real estate stock in each of the past 25 years, but the pandemic is changing everything.

The basic fact is that 53 percent of New York City revenues come from real estate taxes. Fueled by rising rents
that are tied to high costs of new construction, the city property tax base has grown and enjoyed record tax revenues in recent years. 

Total real property tax revenue was almost $30 billion in 2020, according to the city's annual property tax report. Nothing paused the year-over-year tax increases – not the 2008 financial crisis, nor Hurricane Sandy, nor even 9/11. Only a global pandemic could do that.

COVID-19 has affected every element of New York City's economy, but its effect on real estate and property taxes deserves special attention. Total market value of Class 2 properties (cooperatives, condominiums and rental apartment buildings) decreased by 8% last year, according to the Department of Finance's tentative property tax assessment roll for fiscal 2022. Total market value for Class 4 properties (non-residential commercial properties such as hotels, offices, retail and theaters) fell by a whopping 15.75%, including a 15.5% drop for office buildings. Citywide declines were 21% for retail buildings and 23.8% for hotels.

Impact of Tax Status Dates

New York City assesses all its real estate as of Jan. 5 of each tax year. Therefore, last year's market values set as of Jan. 5, 2020, did not reflect any effects of the soon-to-arrive pandemic. For the 2021-2022 tax year, however, the valuation date of Jan. 5, 2021, must fully account for the impact of COVID-19.

As the tentative property tax assessment roll shows, tax assessors have acknowledged significant reductions in property values. But were these values decreased enough to reflect actual contractions in market value?

Many property owners and tax experts believe that recent assessments fail to adequately reflect the extent to which property owners have suffered due to the pandemic. Taxpayers filed a record number of appeals by the March 1 tax protest deadline and there are massive appeal efforts underway to complete the Tax Commission's review of all the filed cases by the end of the year.

While the newly released assessment values show that assessors addressed many COVID-19 issues, such as the negative effects of state and city executive orders and lockdowns, many properties have not seen adequate assessment reductions. Many hotels, for instance, are experiencing ongoing closures, and some hotels report that their total 2020 revenues are less than their property tax bills, even before accounting for operating expenses and debt service. Theaters do not have a hint of a future reopening in sight. Retail landlords have either lost their tenants or stores are withholding rent payments. Residential renters are not paying rent and new laws prohibit eviction proceedings.

Relief Strategies

Property owners can improve their chances for obtaining further relief on appeal by quantifying property value losses. Hotels should gather documentation showing closure dates, occupancy rates and any special COVID-19 costs they will incur when they reopen. Some 25,000 rooms have been permanently closed, and of the few hotels that did not cease operations, occupancy was about 25% for most of the tax year. Some occupied rooms were for COVID-19 patients and displaced homeless families. Industry forecasts anticipate a four-year recovery period for hotels.

Retail and office property owners should be prepared to show declines in gross income and rents received or paid on their financial reports filed with the city. Make a list of tenants that vacated and of those not paying rent. Additionally, the Tax Commission now requires taxpayers to explain the basis of rent declines greater than 10%.

Tax assessments must reflect the entirety of what this pandemic has done to the real estate industry. Almost every avenue and street in New York City has multiple empty stores and local standby establishments are out of business. Theaters and Broadway are shattered; tourists and all manner of visitors have vanished, leaving an empty, lonely and bleak picture for real estate.

New York City authorities must provide more substantial tax relief for property owners. Taxpayers and their advisors will need to take an active part in obtaining reduced assessments, by carefully assembling proof of the decline in their property's market value.

Joel Marcus is a partner in the New York City law firm Marcus & Pollack LLP, the New York City member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Deck - Summary for use on blog & category landing pages

  • Property tax assessments show market-wide value declines for the first time in 25 years but fall short of reflecting taxpayers’ true losses.
Apr
14

Unwelcome Property Tax Surprises in D.C.

Insights into managing real property tax liabilities in the nation's capital.

After the tumult and disruptions of 2020, the last thing taxpayers need is another surprise. Our society craves predictability more than ever before, and commercial real estate owners want predictability in their property taxes. 

In the District of Columbia, commercial real estate owners keen to make their future expenses more predictable can start by familiarizing themselves with the full gamut of real property liabilities. In addition to the standard annual property tax, the District imposes a variety of charges on real estate that vary by the property's location, use and payment history. 

Managing these real estate charges can help a taxpayer budget for upcoming expenses and minimize the risk of incurring unplanned costs. What follows is a primer to help taxpayers manage real property tax liabilities in the District: 

Start with the basics 

The DC Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) recently launched MyTax. DC.gov, a new taxpayer website intended to streamline the tax assessment and billing processes. This single portal offers insight into taxes on individual income, businesses and real property, as well as fees administered by OTR. 

The site features self-service tools that enable taxpayers to review and pay property tax bills online, view assessment histories, apply for tax relief benefits, request mailing address changes and submit mixed-use declarations, among other features. While this centralized system should help to organize the billing and payment processes, it offers little information about the District's fees and may leave owners still wondering: What are these charges? 

The BID tax 

Many commercial property owners in the District incur a business improvement district (BID) tax. The District defines a business improvement district as "a self-taxing district established by property owners to enhance the economic vitality of a specific commercial area." Each of the District's 11 BIDs assess a surcharge to the real property tax liability, which the District collects and then returns to the BID. Each BID dictates how it spends its funds, typically supporting the community with programs promoting cleanliness, maintenance, safety and economic development. 

The DC Code establishes BIDs and their geographic boundaries. These provisions empower each BID to establish its tax rates. How those taxes are calculated varies by BID. For example, an individual district may base its tax on the number of rooms in a hotel, a building's square footage and a percentage of the tax assessment value. Thankfully, these organizations often have robust, informative websites that can be useful resources for property owners. 

As with real property taxes, a property owner that fails to pay its BID tax on time and in full can incur penalties and interest charges on its tax account. Therefore, mismanaging a property's BID tax can lead to pricey consequences. 

Public space or vault rent 

To optimize the operation of an asset, many property owners rent-adjacent, District-owned space known as "public space." The District categorizes these offerings as either "vault space," which is below ground level; or above-ground "café space." Examples include outdoor café space, above or below-grade parking and areas for storage of utilities. 

The formula for calculating vault rent is Land Rate x Vault Area x Vault Rate. Therefore, changes in a property's taxable land assessment value will result in a change in the rental charge for associated public space. Unlike BID taxes, public-space rent is charged to the renter as a separate bill. This requires extra attention to avoid those pesky penalty and interest charges. 

Special assessments 

A variety of supplementary special assessments may arise to fund city-wide projects. Examples of these charges include a ballpark fee, Southeast Water and Sewer Improvement fee and the New York Avenue fee. The levy of these assessments is governed by specific criteria set forth in the related DC Code provision. 

Given the often-complex nature of the code, taxpayers may choose to consult a tax or legal professional to help navigate these less-common levies. 

Credits 

A credit on a property owner's tax account will likely come as a welcomed surprise, but the taxpayer should give these circumstances the same scrutiny they would give to unexpected charges. Understand that a credit is not free money, nor is it always an accurate designation. 

If a credit appears on the account, it will likely stem from a prior overpayment. This may reflect a reduction in tax liability that occurred after a bill was issued. Other possible causes include a DC Superior Court Refund Order, a dual payment from a third-party vendor or a prepayment of the full year tax liability on a first-half tax bill. 

Before enjoying the benefit of the lowered tax liability, it is important to verify this credit is justified. If the credit was wrongfully applied, a taxpayer will still be liable for the remaining balance. The District may issue a corrected bill for the outstanding amount, or the balance may appear on a future tax bill. A failure to remedy this balance can once again lead to penalty and interest charges. 

Penalties and interest 

The most unwanted surprise charges are penalties and interest. These charges can arise under several circumstances such as when the taxpayer has failed to file a yearly income and expense form with the District, or after missed, late or incomplete payments. 

Penalties and interest can cause a headache for taxpayers. The District will apply any future payment to penalties and interest before the account's principal balance. Therefore, it is easy for a small charge to cause a cascading liability if it is not timely addressed. In addition, while a taxpayer may petition for these charges to be waived, this process is often lengthy and the issuance of such a waiver is at the sole discretion of the OTR. 

The prospect of navigating these charges may seem overwhelming but it is a vital part of owning and managing real estate in the District. Therefore, it is best to learn the tax rules or consult with a local tax attorney who has experience dealing with these issues, as well as with the corresponding governmental entities. A knowledgeable expert can sort through this complicated web of liabilities, penalties and errors.

Sydney Bardouil is an associate at the law firm, Wilkes Artis, the District of Columbia member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Deck - Summary for use on blog & category landing pages

  • Insights into managing real property tax liabilities in the nation’s capital.
Apr
06

Industrial Landlords: Beware of Higher Property Tax Assessments

Find out why not all industrial properties deserve increased tax assessments, contrary to popular belief.

While some commercial property types struggled to stay relevant in 2020, industrial real estate seemed supercharged by the pandemic. This year, tax assessors are likely to use strong investor and occupier demand for some industrial properties to support significantly higher assessments for all industrial real estate. They may see this as a solution to make up for value losses in the hospitality, retail, and office sectors. That means industrial property owners should prepare for major assessment increases and begin building arguments to establish their properties' true taxable value.

E-commerce in perspective

If e-commerce was rising before 2020, it skyrocketed after the initial shock of the pandemic. The e-commerce share of total retail sales jumped to 16.1% at the end of the second quarter of 2020 from 11.8% in the first quarter and 10.8% a year earlier, according to the Census Bureau. As e-commerce grew, so too did industrial leasing demand, as online retailers secured spaces to process incoming goods and fulfill orders for shipment to consumers.

The e-commerce operations driving the surge in demand brought with them a list of demands to serve their logistical plans, however. Their preferences typically included locations close to major transportation corridors, proximity to their customers for deliveries, high ceiling heights and other traits necessary for handling the rapid growth of logistics-related technologies.

For 2021 industrial property tax appeals, it is important to understand that not all industrial real estate is equally suited to meet the demands of e-commerce operations. In practice, occupier demand that makes some properties more valuable will often lower the marketability and value of properties not fitting that demand. This, in turn, can affect a property's taxable value.

A Checklist for Appealing Tax Assessments on Industrial Property

The following are issues to consider in 2021 industrial property tax appeals:

Pick the right approach. There are several appraisal methods that assessors can use to value a property, but taxpayers should pay special attention in 2021 to the sales comparison approach. Though Texas is a non-disclosure state, meaning the state does not require a buyer to reveal the purchase price for acquired real estate, assessors have tools at their disposal to obtain or back-into purchase prices.

For tax year 2021, it will be important to note that although there may have been a few transactions, overall industrial sales volume generally declined from the prior year's numbers among the major metropolitan markets. In the second quarter of 2020 especially, the drop off in sales indicate that lenders and investors had to reevaluate the market and their underwriting assumptions.

For the sales comparison approach to value properties accurately, the properties and transactions used as evidence need to be comparable to the subject property. If that is not the case, calculations may place an unnecessary premium on the property.

For example, sales of warehouses with cold storage capabilities should not be directly compared to a conventional warehouse without a cold storage component. Thus, if an assessing jurisdiction raises an assessed value based on limited sales information, chances are the sale is not representative or comparable to the taxpayer's property. The taxpayer should consider raising this issue in their property tax appeal.

Consider property age and class. The industrial real estate sector serves a wide variety of uses that require special buildouts or designs that must be completed for the intended tenant to conduct their business effectively. For example, older, Class C industrial buildings tend to have smaller square footage and lower ceiling heights than more modern spaces. With the rising cost of transportation and emphasis on logistical efficiency, these attributes make Class C properties less marketable than newer, Class A or B industrial buildings.

According to CBRE, the warehouses built in 2019 are typically greater than 100,000 square feet and have ceilings that average 3.7 feet higher than warehouses built between 2002 and 2007. The increased space is primarily for more inventory and reverse logistics for returns. The newest buildings also feature more bay doors and parking space for large trucks. If the assessor is comparing properties and valuing a 2002-built warehouse the same way as the newer product without adjustments for class and age, the taxpayer may have an additional issue to raise in their appeal.

Location is critical. Location is becoming more important than ever to the tenant. Since land is more expensive the closer it is to the central business district of any city, the potential for using the space efficiently becomes more crucial as well. Assessors may increase the value of properties that are close to these markets.

E-commerce businesses demand locations that can speed last-mile deliveries to consumers. Proximity to transportation corridors is a significant advantage for tenants because it improves the timeliness of the supply chain. If an industrial property does not meet current demand because of its location, that may be an avenue for relief from increased property tax valuations.

Is rent paid, or deferred? Governments have deemed some industrial real estate tenants to be essential businesses during the pandemic, and this has limited the disruption of rent payments to certain landlords. During property tax appeals, it will be important to highlight the properties that suffered decreases in net operating income and occupancy, so they are not treated like the properties that saw no disruption in rent payments.

Owners of industrial properties may be able to fight and defeat the property tax increases potentially heading their way. Keys to winning assessment appeals will include following the industrial trends and being able to distinguish the taxpayer's property from the desirable properties that are trading, possessing evolving technology, being in the right location, andcollecting strong rents. 

Darlene Sullivan is a partner in Austin, Texas, law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC, the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel.  Justin Raes is a tax consultant at Popp Hutcheson.
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  • Find out why not all industrial properties deserve increased tax assessments, contrary to popular belief.
Mar
16

COVID-19's Heavy Toll on Property Values

Georgia taxpayers should start preparing arguments to lower their property tax assessments.

Few commercial properties emerged with unscathed values from the harsh economic climate of 2020. Yet Georgia and many jurisdictions like it valued commercial real estate for property taxation that year with a valuation date of Jan. 1, 2020 – nearly three months before COVID-19 thrust the U.S. economy into turmoil.

This means governments taxed commercial properties for all of 2020 on values that ignored the severe economic consequences those properties endured for more than 75% of the calendar year. When property owners begin to receive notices of 2021 assessments, which Georgia assessors typically mail out in April through June each year, property owners can at last seek to lighten their tax burden by arguing for reduced assessments.

The pandemic hurt some real estate types more than others, however, and with both short-term effects and some that may continue to depress asset values for years. For taxpayers contesting their assessments, the challenge will be to show the combination of COVID-19 consequences affecting their property, and the extent of resulting value losses.

The experiences of 2020 can serve as a roadmap for valuations in the current year and, in certain settings, in future years.

A three-pronged attack

COVID-19 can inflict a three-pronged assault on a commercial property's value, and taxpayers should explore each of these areas for evidence of loss as they build a case for a lower assessment.

Widespread losses. The first prong of the trident may be a drop in value stemming from an overall decline in the market. Like the Great Recession of 2008, the pandemic has reduced many property values by impeding economic performance in general.

Reduced income and cash flow, for example, can indicate reduced property value. Valuing the property with a market and income analysis approach can reveal this type of loss.

Reduced functionality. Is the property's layout or format less functional than models that occupiers came to prefer during the pandemic? In Georgia, functional impairments may have curable and incurable components beyond normal obsolescence. In other words, when changing occupier demand has rendered a property obsolete, there may be some features the owner can address to restore utility and increase value.

Adverse economic trends. Economic factors occurring outside the property can suppress property value. Georgia tax law recognizes that economic trends can reshape market demand and render some property models obsolete. This economic obsolescence can be short term while the economy is down or a permanent change.

Subsector considerations

Retail. Big-box stores, malls and inline shopping centers had already experienced a functional decline and an economic downturn, both of which accelerated as shopping habits changed during the pandemic. Big box properties were already becoming functionally obsolete as retailers reduced instore inventory requirements and shrank showrooms, which left little demand for the large-format buildings.

Moreover, outside economic factors such as declining instore sales, competition with ecommerce retailers, and high carrying costs have also undercut the value of these properties. The pandemic accelerated this decline, and it is unlikely there will be much, if any, recovery.

Hospitality. The pandemic has severely diminished travel and vacations, and hotel vacancies have skyrocketed. The income yield per room is declining. Operating costs have increased per visitor as amenities have been shut, curtailed or reconfigured. Many hotels have eliminated in-house dining and offer only room service.

The cost to maintain kitchen services is disproportionate to the number served. This decline is solely a product of COVID-19 and, over time, will revert to near normal. Some increased costs may remain elevated, such as extra cleaning supplies and labor to disinfect the property.

Office. COVID-19's effect on office buildings, especially high-rises, may be long-lasting. Fully leased buildings have seen less of a direct affect, but properties with significant unleased space are already hurting. Demand will diminish as more employees work remotely and companies consolidate with shared workspaces, motivated to reduce occupancy cost. This trend will produce both functional and economic effects on the value of office buildings.

Industrial. To a lesser extent, some manufacturing plants can suffer industry-specific economic consequences of COVID-19. Reduced travel has compelled airlines to reduce flights and sideline aircraft, reducing the demand for new and replacement aircraft. Less aircraft being built reduces the value of aircraft manufacturing plants, including the buildings that house them. Likewise, oil production, storage and consumption is down, due to reductions in leisure and business travel and commuting as more people work remotely. Excess capacity for drilling, storage and processing petroleum makes those facilities temporarily obsolete.

Multifamily residential. COVID-19 may have had little negative effect on multifamily complexes. During the pandemic, the supply of available housing on the market has contracted, driving up rents. As a result, apartments remain in high demand from renters and investors, although some areas may be overbuilt.

Despite high occupancy rates, properties may have non-paying or late-paying tenants. It would seem that yields per square foot may be higher, which would suggest increased property values for apartment complexes now. This is not always the case, however, and multifamily values must be considered individually.

Expect resistance

COVID-19 has also affected the mindset of taxing authorities, whose operating costs have remained the same or increased during the crisis. Taxing authorities will be reluctant to decrease tax revenue and will push back against property owners' arguments for reducing taxable values.

Just as individuals have taken personal health precautions against COVID-19, property owners must take precautions to protect the financial health of their properties from the virus' detrimental effects. All commercial property owners in Georgia should carefully examine assessment notices. Wise owners should strongly consider consulting with property tax experts to determine whether to file an appeal.

Lisa Stuckey
Brian Morrissey
Brian J. Morrissey and Lisa Stuckey are partners 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.
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  • Georgia taxpayers should start preparing arguments to lower their property tax assessments.
Mar
11

The Property Tax Response to COVID-19

Valuation and procedural changes that were implemented in 2020 may have significant effects on owners' 2021 tax liabilities.

Expertly managing property tax liability is more important than ever in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic pummeled both real estate and business personal property values in the past year, forcing local jurisdictions to overhaul procedures that had been in place for decades. Many of those procedural changes will likely continue this year as assessments finally register the pandemic's full effect. Understanding the procedural changes made by local jurisdictions, and new valuation considerations for both real and personal properties, will be key. 

New Procedures Volatile 

When the pandemic hit, neither appraisal districts nor property owners knew how long the crisis would last. Most appraisal districts closed their doors to the public and quickly converted all informal and formal meetings to telephone or video conferences. Moving into 2021, much of that uncertainty remains. Most jurisdictions will likely continue to rely upon virtual formats for this year's informal meetings and hearings, which generally begin in April and continue throughout the summer. Property owners should be prepared, however, for procedural changes that may be implemented as conditions change. Communication with assessors will be vital, and taxpayers should make sure to provide all requested documentation in a timely manner. Communicating early and often about the valuation and protest will ensure no deadlines are missed and no procedural changes are overlooked.

Managing Real Estate Taxes 

While the fundamental valuation and appeal process for real property will remain the same in Texas, procedural changes initiated in 2020 will likely continue in many appraisal districts. Assessments will reflect the property's value as of Jan. 1, 2021, and notices will likely be mailed in mid-April as usual. The deadline for property owners to protest their 2021 real property values will be unchanged at May 15 in most cases, or 30 days after receipt of the notice of appraised value. 

Property owners can expect the continued option to protest assessments online, as well as telephone and video conferencing options for hearings. While these procedures were enacted and refined in 2020, the combination of virtual hearings and a potentially increased volume of protests in 2021 may push hearing schedules past their typical end (in June or July) and into the fall.

A Real Impact on Values 

Undoubtedly, 2020 was a unique year for property performance. Some property types sustained disastrous effects from the pandemic and stay-at-home orders while others fared the year well. Because Texas' valuation date for the current tax year is Jan. 1, 2021, many valuation methodologies will rely upon a property's performance over the 12 months preceding that date to inform their value metrics. 

Shopping centers, restaurants, theaters and hotels are among those properties that suffered greatly in 2020. Sadly, many closed their doors for good after struggling to perform this past year. Hotels saw revenue dip as much as 80 percent. Restaurants and theaters experienced government-ordered closures for most of the year, and capacity restrictions for the remainder. 

The resulting drag on potential rents, occupancy and cap rate assumptions has pushed down values. Property owners should see some recognition of value decline in these most-affected property groups, but to what extent remains to be seen.

Business Personal Taxes 

On the business personal property front, we expect deadlines to mirror the statutory language for filing exemptions and rendition reports, which list owned machinery, furniture, equipment, vehicles, merchandise and other business personal property. Due to COVID-19, many large appraisal districts extended the rendition deadline for all taxpayers in 2020, but we expect the typical formal extension request process to be back in place for 2021. All extension requests must be made in writing to the appraisal district before the statutory deadline of April 15. An approved extension allows the taxpayer an additional 15 to 30 days past the statutory deadline. 

Taxpayers with significant business personal property investment need to thoroughly analyze how COVID-19 limited or otherwise compromised the usage of their income-producing assets. Assessors and appraisers rely almost exclusively on the cost approach to value business personal property. In this climate, however, the simple depreciation they normally apply will not capture pandemic-related losses to produce an accurate market valuation.

To account for the loss in value, owners should consider developing an additional obsolescence factor to apply after typical depreciation. The Texas Property Tax Code allows for the inclusion of all forms of depreciation including economic obsolescence, which occurs when factors or trends occurring outside the property reduce its value. 

Each owner will require their own, unique obsolescence factor to measure economic impact. There are many ways to calculate an economic obsolescence factor, depending on the taxpayer's core industry. Analyzing production versus capacity is most often beneficial for manufacturers, for example, while income metrics are better suited for some retailers and medical providers. 

We recommend also doing a lookback for at least three years to properly illustrate the COVID-19 impact. The property tax team must truly understand the business in order to arrive at the proper factor.

What About Tax Rates? 

In addition to assessed value, the second piece of a property owner's tax liability is the tax rate. Taxing entities set their tax rates in the fall, after appraisal districts determine property values. 

Should 2021's overall property valuations decline, property owners should not expect an exactly equal decline in their tax liability. If the total tax levy falls significantly due to the valuation factors affecting property values as of Jan. 1, 2021, it is possible — and maybe even likely — that tax rates will rise. 

No one can predict tax rates with certainty, but owners would be wise to budget conservatively for anticipated tax liabilities. A 40 percent decline in revenue may not translate to a 40 percent decline in the assessed property valuation or tax liability for 2021.

Partnership is Key 

Navigating property taxation in a COVID-19 world can be overwhelming. It can be particularly challenging to stay on top of frequent procedural changes, and to understand the sometimes unique valuation metrics affecting real and business personal property. Partnering with an experienced property tax team can give owners peace of mind in a tumultuous year.

Rachel Duck, Esq.
Lisa Laubacher, Esq.
Lisa Laubacher, CMI, is a director and senior property tax consultant specializing in business personal property. Rachel Duck, CMI, is a director and senior property tax consultant specializing in real property. Both are at Austin, Texas, law firm Popp Hutcheson PLLC, the Texas member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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Deck - Summary for use on blog & category landing pages

  • Valuation and procedural changes that were implemented in 2020 may have significant effects on owners’ 2021 tax liabilities.
Mar
05

COVID-19 Demands New Property Tax Strategies

Commercial real estate owners should build arguments now to reduce fair market value on their properties affected by the pandemic.

The uncertainties and changes brought on by COVID-19 have had far-reaching effects on all facets of daily life. As commercial property owners position themselves to weather the storm, it is crucial that taxpayers most affected by the virus do what they can to control their property tax expenses.

The issues they face are complex, from pre-crisis valuation dates and the need to quantify value losses, to cash-strapped taxing entities that will be reluctant to compromise on values. Taxpayers will need creative, innovative approaches to successfully protest their assessments and see their cases through to having their taxable property values reduced.

Ohio mulls relief

Assessors in Ohio and many other states value real property as of Jan. 1 of the tax year under protest, known as the tax lien date. Other than when a property has recently sold, assessors and courts seldom consider factors occurring after the tax lien date in a property tax case.

For example, the current property tax filing period in Ohio relates to tax year 2020, and real property is required to be valued as of Jan. 1, 2020, for that tax year. That means valuations for 2020 in those jurisdictions typically ignore changes to a property's value that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ohio is the only state considering legislation that would require taxing authorities to recognize the effects of COVID-19 on real estate values where the impact occurred after the tax lien date. Depending on where a property is located, taxpayers will need to consider all options if their jurisdiction does not allow for consideration of the impact of COVID-19 in a tax challenge this year.

When it comes to deciding whether to challenge a property's assessment, there are many factors to consider. If the property recently sold, analyze the sales price to indicate the actual market value of the real estate deducting any non-real estate values. Then factor in the pandemic-related issues.

The taxpayer may need to order an appraisal, whether to support their own complaint or in fighting a tax increase complaint filed by a school district. These circumstances are more likely in some jurisdictions than others; experienced local counsel can help the taxpayer decide whether, and when, to obtain an appraisal.

At times, taxing authorities or a court may require testimony from a property owner or other individuals associated with a property. Many taxing authorities are allowing testimony via popular video conferencing applications, which may make it easier than in the past to seek the involvement of witnesses for a hearing.

Variations by property type

Market trends affecting specific property types and operations will provide evidence to support many assessment protests. Hotels, for example, have been directly impacted by COVID-19, therefore data for hotel properties must be carefully evaluated in light of current events.

Compile historical information such as 2020 financials as soon as possible, as well as recent occupancy reports. Hotel owners must be prepared to testify along with their expert appraisal witnesses.

First-hand knowledge of the devastating effects of COVID-19 will be an important component of a case. While Ohio courts in the past have generally disfavored the discounted cash flow method of valuing commercial properties, expert witnesses may need to explore, use, and be prepared to explain that option in a post COVID-19 world.

It is important to note that COVID-19 has not affected all property types in the same manner. The pandemic devastated many hotels, restaurants, and certain retail and office properties, for example. On the other hand, other properties such as industrial properties serving ecommerce operations have fared well.

How trends relating to property type translate into a potential reduction in a property's fair market value depends on what a particular jurisdiction requires from taxpayers to prove their case. Property sales data from 2020 to the present will become an important component of any property tax review, given the events of the past several months. Discussions with an appraiser familiar with local data and trends will be critical.

Even if a taxpayer cannot reference COVID-19 effects in a challenge filed this year, they should consider effective strategies now in preparation for future property tax issues related to the pandemic. Most likely this will involve a long-term approach to contain property taxes, while addressing short-term needs as best as possible. A case settlement may address several tax years, giving the taxpayer some certainty and planning capabilities for the future.

Additionally, a plan for how to approach a case often depends on the regional property tax landscape. Because of this, achieving a good outcome in the future may depend on how the taxpayer prepares their case from the outset, affecting decisions such as whether to have an appraisal and which parties should testify.

The best means to address recent change and today's uncertainties are to remain adaptable and to begin forming effective case strategies as soon as property tax expenses become available for evaluation.

Jason P. Lindholm is a partner and directs the Columbus, Ohio office of law firm Siegel Jennings Co. LPA, the Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Illinois member of the American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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  • Commercial real estate owners should build arguments now to reduce fair market value on their properties affected by the pandemic.
Jan
20

The Pandemic and Property Taxes: Should You Appeal Your Property’s Value?

Local and state governments are expected to see annual revenues decline by between 4.7 percent and 5.7 percent over the next three years, excluding fees to hospitals and higher education, according to Brookings. But most vital government functions continue, and soon, counties will assess property values to prepare property tax bills for 2021. They expect timely payment. They also should expect a flood of appeals to lower property values, says Linda Terrill, president of the American Property Tax Counsel and a partner with the Property Tax Law Group, who spoke with SCT contributing editor Joe Gose.

How do you anticipate 2021 property tax assessments unfolding?

The good assessors know that a decline is coming and will try to make some serious examinations to see whether they need to come in at a different number from the prior year. My cynical view is that when there is an increase in value, they're very quick to notice it but if it's a decrease, there's a lag before they notice it.

It sounds like you expect a lot of appeals. What can property owners do to prepare for one?

Planning is the key to everything. You need to find out the state requirements for when you can file and who can file to make it legal — some states require corporations to be represented by legal counsel, some don't – and you need to know the state's definition of market value. You also need to get ahead of the curve and begin interviewing professionals who can help you, especially appraisers, before all the good ones are representing others. It's best to find an appraiser that does property tax or condemnation work.

What is the most important element in an appeal?

The highest and best use analysis. A lot of appraisers would confess that they go into an analysis thinking that the current use is indeed the highest and best use, but I don't think they can assume that anymore. Property owners need to tell their appraisers to really do the work and math because as of Jan. 1, 2021, the highest and best use of a shopping mall charging $20 per square foot in rent might now be a fulfillment center charging $5 per square foot. Or maybe it's an adaptive reuse that includes converting part of the mall to office or adding apartments.

How might declining rental rates influence an appeal?

Shopping center owners can make a terrific argument that if they had to lease space on Jan. 1, 2021, the current contract rent would have no reflection at all on market rent. There are an awful lot of leases being renegotiated and amended that will have to be considered, even though they might not get done before Jan. 1. Property owners need to put a trail of paperwork together to tell a good story. That means keeping correspondence with tenants to show the back-and-forth of what's happening and whether or not they are staying.

Is there anything property owners can do to reset to a more appropriate value prior to an appeal?

The best bet is to see if you can work something out early, particularly if you're a shopping center that is historically a top provider of tax receipts in your jurisdiction. You might want to start talking to the county assessor now and see if you can get a better result when the values come out in 2021. I don't know of any assessor that wouldn't welcome the opportunity to have a legitimate discussion about what's happening and come to a number. Many states also have a local-level appeal that you go through before going to court or an administrative body. In either case, you may have to settle for something less than what you would like, but if it helps keep you afloat, then it's a good outcome.

How long does a typical appeals process take?

If you're in [my state of] Kansas and want a hearing in 2021, you're not going to get one anytime soon because we haven't had any in 2020 yet. Thousands of cases are backed up, and I think there are many states in a similar situation. Counties are going to want to hire more people to handle these cases, but at the same time, they're going to be laying off people because of budgets. For all those reasons, it's going be impossible to come to a resolution quickly.

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Jan
13

Will 2021 Bring Property-Tax Relief?

COVID-19, wildfires and civil unrest all threatened property values and tax revenues in 2020, notes Foster Garvey attorney Cynthia Fraser.

Across America, 2020 transformed the urban core. Hotels sit vacant, deprived of business by travel that has been all but suspended. Restaurants under occupancy restrictions struggle to break even or have closed for good where winter weather precludes outdoor dining. In some locations, plywood sheets encase office and commercial buildings for protection against vandalism. In my own city of Portland, Ore., walking through parts of downtown is like walking through a ghost town of shuttered businesses that once teemed with commerce.

Suburban and rural properties have sustained similar impacts, while fires have ravaged many communities. With skyrocketing unemployment in many states, governments have set eviction moratoriums, and the number of tenants not paying rent continues to grow. Landlords may begin to file for bankruptcy protection in increasing numbers as their own bills—including property taxes—come due.

How long it takes for cities to bounce back from the events of 2020, and for property values to recover, will depend upon each community's economic vibrancy. Because property tax is a state tax, any relief from this tax burden depends upon each state's statutory date of value and whether its tax law contains a force majeure clause, which frees a party from a contract's obligations when an unforeseen event prevents their performing its terms.

MATTERS OF TIME

Most states value property as of Jan. 1 for taxes due later in the same year. Thus, in most jurisdictions a property's taxable value for the recent tax year reflects what was known or could have been known about the property and market conditions as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Lockdown for COVID-19 did not begin in most states until March 2020. The fires that devastated forests, agricultural land and communities across that nation took place over the summer and fall. No crystal ball predicted these events, nor the catastrophic fallout and snowballing impacts on property values.

Many contracts contain force majeure clauses. In most states, a force majeure law provides an adjustment to the market value for property taxes when there was a catastrophic event that destroyed or damaged property during the tax year. These statutes typically provide for an adjustment based on the event's timing, and in most states recognizing force majeure, it is critical to appropriately report the property damages to receive this retrospective reduction in taxable property value.

Some states, including Oregon, have passed legislation extending the deadline to report property damage from fire that will allow for a reduced real market value for a portion of the tax year.

Force majeure laws do not typically recognize a decline in property value due to a pandemic or the economic effects of boarded-up city blocks. Any records tracking the decline of property values will help taxpayers address novel valuation issues for this coming tax cycle. The long-term effects of these economic forces will weigh on property values for years and to varying degrees.

PREPARE TO PROTEST

Assessors will vigorously fight the taxpayer's request for a reduction in taxable value when their coffers are already low due to the loss of other tax revenues. For apartment landlords, it will be important to track nonpaying tenants, particularly in the states and cities that have enacted laws preventing evictions for nonpayment of rents. Retail landlords should track local market conditions and news of business closures that result in stores and restaurants going vacant, as that information will be important in supporting tax appeals this coming year.

Perhaps the largest unknown in the market is what will happen to the office sector. Office workers the world over have adapted to remote working. Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Webex have replaced conferences and board meetings, client visits and even many court hearings. The need to live close to a downtown office, or even in the same city, has diminished. Businesses are rethinking the need to staff their offices full time, and workers may be reluctant to commute to an office when they can effectively do their job at home.

Multiple factors will shape the real market value of properties this coming year. In 2020, taxpayers may have struggled to pay or protested tax liabilities that were based on values and valuation dates which preceded the crises that were to come that year.

By contrast, the uncertainties of the pandemic and its economic fallout will be tied to what is known as of Jan. 1, 2021. Property values across the nation will surely be affected, and this time around, taxpayers will be able to appeal assessments that fail to reflect the detrimental effects that many of the past year's events have inflicted upon their property's market value. Be sure to have the facts, figures and experts to deliver this information lined up in order to achieve a successful property tax appeal.

Cynthia Fraser is an attorney specializing in property tax and condemnation litigation at Foster Garvey, the Oregon and Washington member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys.
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  • COVID-19, wildfires and civil unrest all threatened property values and tax revenues in 2020, notes Foster Garvey attorney Cynthia Fraser.

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