By Donald T. Rubin and James W. Chipman

There’s a remedy for correcting errors or mistakes in a property tax assessment even after the deadline for appealing to an assessor or board of review has passed.

Mistakes happen. If a mistake occurs in the property tax process, it could be costly if not corrected. Fortunately, some errors are fixable -- even those that may have occurred in a previous year or years -- thanks to what is known as a Certificate of Error, or in property tax parlance, a C of E. When an assessment error is discovered, taxpayers can seek relief by filing a C of E with local assessing officials. However, be advised that the granting of a C of E by an assessing authority is discretionary, not mandatory.

In Cook County, the assessor can consider the correction of an assessment error going back as far as 3-years, whereas most other counties will only consider a current year correction or one for just the year prior to the current tax year. In Cook County, the Assessor will generally only issue C of E’s to applicants who did not previously file an appeal for the year or years in question.

DEFINING WHAT IS WRONG TO MAKE IT RIGHT

A Certificate of Error is a written acknowledgement by either the county supervisor of assessments (chief county assessment officer) or the board of review that there has been an error made during the course of deriving a value for your property that has resulted in an excessive assessment. The C of E law can be used to correct problems such as mathematical errors, incorrect descriptions of property, duplicate assessments, and improvements that have been damaged or destroyed. It also can apply to cases where an exemption for which a property was eligible, but the exemption was not applied to the tax bill.

There are some instances that cannot be remedied by a C of E, including “errors of judgment as to the valuation of the property" (although in Cook County, particularly egregious errors in judgement may be correctable).”* In most instances, ordinary valuation disputes about market value or lack of uniformity can only be resolved by filing a timely appeal with the board of review and the state Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB).

C OF E PROCESS AND PROCEDURE

In Illinois counties outside of Cook County, the C of E process is initiated whenever the supervisor of assessments or the board of review discovers an error, or upon the taxpayer’s initiative. A C of E requires the approval of the supervisor of assessments and a majority of the board of review. It is then forwarded to the county clerk and treasurer.

Interestingly, a taxpayer isn’t entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard. In fact, local assessing officials can fix a mistake without the taxpayer’s knowledge or input. Should the county treasurer refund money because of a C of E, the taxpayer is entitled to 0.5% interest per month.**

LIMITATIONS AND THE NEED FOR AN ANNUAL REVIEW

Generally, a C of E can be issued “at any time before judgment or order of sale is entered” in a proceeding to collect unpaid taxes on a property.*** The term “judgment” refers to the annual tax sale that typically takes place within 60 days after the second installment of taxes is due.

While local assessing officials must act before the annual application for judgment, a 1977 Illinois Attorney General opinion added a further limitation finding that the period in which a C of E may be issued expires when a taxpayer files an appeal with the PTAB or when the PTAB renders a decision.****

Like it or not, the valuation of property is an art, not a science, so the property tax process is subject to mistakes. That’s why an annual review of your property assessment and tax bill for accuracy is time well spent.

If you believe that you found an error or mistake in the value of your property, contact Donald T. Rubin at DTRubin@GCT.law or 312.696.2641 for legal advice on whether a C of E is available to address your situation.

Sources:
*35 ILCS 200/14-20 (The certificate of error process differs in Cook County – see 35 ILCS 200/14-10 & 200/14-15)
**35 ILCS 200/20-178
***35 ILCS 200/14-20
****IL Atty. Gen. Op. No. S-1307 (1977)