Contesting your property tax assessment in court
A board of review decision can also be appealed directly to a circuit court. It’s an option that taxpayers often overlook!
By James W. Chipman
Boards of review don’t have the final say about property tax assessments, however they’re a necessary stop in the appeal process. Taxpayers who are unhappy with their board decision have two options: appeal to the state Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB) as described in my Aug. 24, Sept. 12 and Nov. 27 blogs; or, file a tax objection complaint in the circuit court. You cannot file appeals in both venues. The good news is that taxpayers who miss the 30-day filing deadline for taking an appeal to the PTAB still have time to pursue the tax objection remedy.
Filing a tax objection complaint, the lesser known of the two alternatives, involves a formalized legal process that’s full of conditions, requirements and deadlines that make it a potential minefield for inexperienced taxpayers or attorneys. While tax objection cases are more common in Cook County than elsewhere in the state, here’s what a taxpayer can expect if they choose this remedy.
Before going to court
Prior to filing a tax objection complaint, the taxpayer must pay the entire tax due on the property* on time and have filed an appeal with the board of review at the appropriate time**. Once these requirements are met and a complaint is filed, 100% of the taxes are considered paid under protest.
The court process
The process begins when a complaint is filed in the circuit court of the county where the property is located. The complaint must specify the reasons why the assessment is excessive. Any number of factual and legal arguments can be made, but in most cases, it’s about whether the fair market value of the property is accurate. The county collector or treasurer is named as a defendant but is not required to file a response to the complaint. The state’s attorney, who acts as legal counsel for the county, generally represents the collector. A tax objection case is subject to rules of practice and procedure, including discovery. This means each party can subpoena documents and witnesses.
Taxpayers face an uphill battle. When a case goes to trial, there’s a rebuttable presumption that the property assessment is correct and legal and taxpayers must overcome this presumed correctness by clear and convincing evidence.*** That’s the highest burden of proof in a civil matter. A judge sitting without a jury hears the case de novo, or anew, and will make one of the following rulings:
Confirm the assessment.
Grant a reduction and order a refund, in which case the taxpayer is entitled to interest.
Or, in certain instances, increase an assessment if it’s felt the evidence tendered by the taxing body is superior to that filed by the taxpayer.
After the court’s ruling
The taxpayer or the collector can appeal an adverse ruling through the court system just like in any other civil matter.**** However, with any court appeal, there are strict time limits and procedural rules that govern the process.
Taxpayers have choices when it comes to appealing their property tax assessments. Going to court is one worth considering as it can actually result in a faster decision being made than if the case had been appealed to the PTAB.
If you want to learn whether filing a tax objection complaint may be your best alternative, please contact Donald T. Rubin at DTRubin@GCT.law or 312.696.2641.
*35 ILCS 200/23-5 (The process is different in Cook County – see 35 ILCS 200/23-5 & 23-10)
**35 ILCS 200/23-10
***35 ILCS 200/23-15(b)(2)
****35 ILCS 200/23-15(c)