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Property Tax Resources

Sep
30

Why Assisted Living Is The New Property Tax Frontier

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

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

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

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

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

Owners should take page from hotel playbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three ways to remove intangibles from equation

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Sep
23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep
12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislature to consider changes to tax appeal procedure

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

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

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

"Small Business Exemption"

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

Industrial Processing and Direct Integrated Support Equipment

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

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

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

State Essential Services Assessment

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

Other Exemptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Small Business Exemption"  

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

Industrial Processing and Direct Integrated Support Equipment  

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

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

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

State Essential Services Assessment  

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

Other Exemptions  

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

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

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

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

Ohio Property Owners Face "Adversarial Culture" Over Taxes

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

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

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

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

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

Schools, Counties Have Clout

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

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

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

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

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

Transparency Versus Privacy

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

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

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

Tactical Maneuver

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

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

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

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

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Jul
15

Turning the Tide

Court Decision Promises to Reduce California Hospitality Property Taxes

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

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

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

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

Insufficient Deduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franchise Value

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

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

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

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

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Jul
15

Protecting Taxpayers: Indiana Shifts Burden of Proof to Assessors

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

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

Assessors on the defensive

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

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

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

Limits on burden-shifting

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the drawbacks?

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

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

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

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

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Jun
16

Accounting For E-commerce In Retail Property Values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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May
30

Multifamily Boom May Skew Property Tax Assessment Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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