• Property Tax Insights

    2019 North Suburban Cook County Assessments Causing a Crisis

    Donald T. Rubin
    4/24/19

    In the first three townships having a significant commercial and/or industrial tax base, (Norwood Park, Evanston and Elk Grove, the new assessor has been increasing market values by as much 50 to 300%. He claims that properties in the northern suburbs have been grossly underassessed for years, hence a 1-year catch-up was justified. Of course, no consideration was given to the jobs that will be lost as tenants and companies relocate, nor to the investors who will no longer invest in Cook County, nor to the companies that will no longer consider locating in Cook County, nor to the existing companies that will jettison their expansion plans. The same is true for owners of residential income properties that have also experienced significant increases. Who will be able to afford the higher rents that landlords will try to pass on to them? As to the homeowners, many of whom saw only minor increases, what will become of their property values if local jobs disappear and they cannot sell their houses? To date, the assessor has stubbornly refused to grant relief on a vast majority of commercial and industrial appeals, as his property valuations are apparently perfect.

    If you don't think your property valuation is "perfect", contact Donald T. Rubin at DTRubin@GCT.law or 312.696.2641 for a discussion and consultation to fight the insanity and reduce your tax burden.

  • Property Tax Insights

    Contesting your property tax assessment in court

    James W. Chipman
    3/8/19

    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.

    Sources:
    *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)

  • Property Tax Insights

    Found an assessment error, past or present? Here’s how to address it.

    Donald T. Rubin
    2/11/19

    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)

  • Property Tax Insights

    Assessing renewable energy devices in Illinois

    James W. Chipman
    1/10/19

    By James W. Chipman

    Wind energy devices have proliferated across the central Illinois landscape in recent years. Get wind of how the assessment process works by talking to a property tax attorney.

    Illinois is home to both the Windy City and a very flat, windy prairie. When the state’s first wind turbine went online in rural Lee County in 2003, no one could have guessed that 15 years later over 2,600 of these devices would be operational and account for 6.2% of all in-state electrical production.*

    Wind turbines convert the wind’s kinetic energy into electrical energy for commercial sale. Most turbines are located in rural settings where land is rented from the property owner, usually a farmer. The company that installed the turbine pays the taxes, and the farmer receives an annual royalty. One individual “wind farm” typically occupies about an acre of land.

    TWISTING IN THE WIND

    Because wind turbines have both real and personal property components, assessment criteria varied from county to county based on a jurisdiction’s treatment of classifying property prior to 1979. (Real and personal property classification is still unsettled law.) Inconsistent and confusing assessments were frequently the subject of appeals before boards of review and the state’s Property Tax Appeal Board.** Eventually, it became clear that the wind farm valuation process needed a legislative solution.

    WINDS OF CHANGE

    A 2007 change in Illinois law made the state even more attractive to wind developers when a uniform system of tax assessment was finally adopted.*** The “market value” of a turbine is $360,000 per megawatt of capacity adjusted annually for inflation by a trending factor. An amount for physical depreciation is then deducted from the “trended real property cost” to determine the assessed value [($360,000 x trending factor) – depreciation = assessed value]. Wind turbine operators must have a surveyor prepare a plat that includes a metes and bounds description of the area surrounding the turbine over which the owner exercises exclusive control.

    Although wind turbine assessments are now computed annually under the state formula, assessments can be challenged if the turbine is affected by what appraisers call “functional and external obsolescence.” These two forms of depreciation differ from physical depreciation, which is deterioration of property due to age and wear. Functional obsolescence occurs when conditions exist within the property—such as an outdated design feature—that cannot be easily changed, as opposed to external or economic obsolescence, which is due to negative influences outside the property and are usually not fixable.

    Don’t throw caution to the wind. If you have questions about a wind farm assessment, call a property tax attorney for answers.

    Learn more about wind farm assessments by contacting Jim at JWChipman@GCTSpringfield.law or 217.391.6858.

    Sources:
    *“Wind Energy in Illinois” U.S. Wind Energy State Facts. American Wind Energy Association (2017)
    **Property Tax Appeal Board decision (#06-2736.001-C-2: Pike Co.), Feb. 23, 2010
    ***35 ILCS 200/10-600 et seq.

  • Property Tax Insights

    What’s next after the Property Tax Appeal Board?

    James W. Chipman
    11/27/18

    By James W. Chipman

    Unfavorable PTAB rulings often lead to an uphill battle in court, but working with an experienced property tax attorney can ensure you are well-positioned for a positive outcome.

    When taking a case to the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB), it’s only natural to hope for the best. However, not everyone receives the result they desire. Fortunately, any party dissatisfied with a PTAB decision can appeal it.*

    The PTAB is an independent state agency that hears appeals from boards of reviews on the valuation of assessed property. Appeals are heard “de novo,” which means a fresh start. A new administrative record is made at the PTAB that includes all of the evidence and testimony offered by the taxpayer and the board of review whose decision was appealed. The PTAB operates informally with relaxed rules of evidence and practice.**

    FOOL’S ERRAND?

    A word to the wise is in order for anyone who wishes to appeal their PTAB decision—courts apply strict standards of review to the decision of an administrative agency such as the PTAB.

    The court’s only job on appeal is to look at the administrative record and see if any errors were made by the PTAB. The appealing party has the burden of convincing the court the decision was wrong. No new or additional evidence can be submitted by anyone. There is a rebuttable presumption that the PTAB’s decision was correct, and unless an opposite result is clearly evident to the court, the decision will be upheld.

    Courts won’t reassess witness credibility, reweigh evidence or make an independent determination of facts. PTAB legal interpretations aren’t binding on a court, but they are given great weight and deference.

    Conventional wisdom may tell you that overturning a PTAB decision is an impossible feat, but the truth is, they are reversed more often than you think. Sometimes, the best offense is having the best defense.

    AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

    Some taxpayers are frustrated after losing their PTAB appeal because they felt like they had the best evidence and made a good presentation at the hearing.

    PTAB decisions are based on the evidence and testimony that was made part of the record. Thus, creating a complete record that accurately reflects arguments is critical—everything filed and discussed at a hearing becomes a permanent part of the record that follows you through the court review process, including the reasons why you lost the appeal. Therefore, building a defensible record is the single most important thing you can do to prepare for a PTAB or future court appeal.

    There are no guarantees in the property tax appeal process. However, if you want to increase your chances of success, consult a property tax attorney who will work with you from start to finish. They’ll ensure that even if you get a negative result from the PTAB, you’ve got a good record upon which to pursue a court challenge.

    Learn more about what follows the Property Tax Appeal Board by contacting Donald T. Rubin at DTRubin@GCT.law or 312.696.2641.

    Sources:
    *35 ILCS 200/16-195
    **35 ILCS 200/16-180

  • Property Tax Insights

    Did you know your property will be reassessed in 2019?

    James W. Chipman
    10/25/18

    By James W. Chipman

    Beginning on January 1, 2019, every property assessment in Illinois outside of Cook County will be fair game for assessors. Here’s what you need to know.

    Illinois law requires a general assessment of all property in the state to be made every four years, except in Cook County.*

    In less than three months, assessing officials will begin the painstaking process of systemically reviewing each property in their jurisdiction. A general assessment, also known as a “reassessment” or a “quadrennial assessment,” helps ensure that properties are assessed at or near a required level of assessment, which in Illinois is 33 1/3% of market value. Keeping assessments up to date equalizes property values and helps eliminate unfair assessments or “sticker shock” that taxpayers can experience when assessments are not periodically reviewed.

    During general assessment years, assessors must value a large number of properties in a relatively short period of time. That’s why they often rely on “trending” and “mass appraisal” models to assist them. Trending is applying a positive or negative factor to a designated group of properties to reflect changes in market conditions over a period of time, usually the three intervening years between general assessments. Thus, a 10% trending factor would indicate that property values have increased by 10%. Mass appraisal involves developing values for a large group of properties by using current data that is based on one of three accepted approaches to determining value—cost, market or income.

    Relying on these rigid valuation models can often lead to errors in valuing property because of their inability to recognize differences in the physical characteristics of properties in a given area. Additionally, use of either model doesn’t mean that all the properties in a jurisdiction will be uniformly and equitably assessed.

    WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2019

    1. Assessors are required to “actually view” each property in a general assessment year.** This may involve simply driving by your property to document any exterior changes, or making a formal request to take a look inside. If you receive such a request, you have options.
    2. Mailers may be sent asking you to correct or update your property’s information. Accurate information on your property record card is critical and pointing out errors to the assessor can work in your favor.
    3. Finally, you’re entitled to notice. Every four years when property is reassessed outside of Cook County, a complete list of assessments must be published in a local newspaper of general circulation. Publication also serves notice on taxpayers that they have 30 days to challenge their assessments. Taxpayers who don’t file within this time frame must wait until the following year.

    History tells us taxpayers should expect assessment increases in a general assessment year based on market changes that took place three years earlier. Making sure your assessment is fair and equitable in the first year of a general assessment can eliminate the need for appeals in the next three years. If that sounds appealing, talk to a property tax attorney once your 2019 assessment is published because the 30-day clock will be ticking.

    For more information on the how the quadrennial event could impact you and your assessment, contact Donald T. Rubin at DTRubin@GCT.law or 312.696.2641.

    Sources:
    *35 ILCS 200/9-215 & 9-225 (Property in Cook County is assessed triennially under 35 ILCS 200/9-220)
    **35 ILCS 200/9-155

  • Property Tax Insights

    Leveling the playing field at board of review hearings

    James W. Chipman
    8/24/18

    By James W. Chipman

    While the appeal process now includes more transparency, understanding the best way to proceed and succeed often requires the assistance of a trusted property tax attorney.

    Each county in Illinois has a three-member panel called the board of review, which acts as an intermediary between township assessors and taxpayers. Boards hear and decide assessment complaints after giving taxpayers an opportunity to be heard. They also make rules so that the appeal process is orderly and fair.

    In the past, however, the process might have seemed anything but fair to property owners or attorneys who showed up for a board hearing only to learn that a taxing district had intervened or that the assessor had evidence supporting his value in the appeal. It’s no wonder this practice became widely known as “hearing by ambush.” Fortunately, things have changed.

    FAIR IS FAIR

    Public Act 99-0098, which took effect on January 1, 2016, allows taxpayers to take some comfort in knowing that everyone is now playing by the same set of rules. PA 99-0098 requires taxing districts to file a notice to intervene at least five days prior to a hearing. In addition, if the board of review requires the taxpayer to submit evidence in advance, any evidence supporting the assessor’s or intervenor’s value must be submitted at least five days before the hearing to the board and the property owner or their attorney.

    PA 99-0098 also applies the mailbox rule to boards of review. This is a rule of contract law that says an offer is considered accepted at the time the acceptance is mailed. Under PA 99-0098, documents sent by US mail or another delivery service are considered filed as of the postmark date or the shipper’s tracking label or in the case of email, the date the correspondence is sent. This law, however, does not apply in Cook County.

    FURTHER ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

    While PA 99-0098 makes the process more fair and balanced, taxpayers still face additional challenges. Boards of review aren’t obligated to correct an assessment even if the complaining taxpayer has proven their case. All they are required to do is review an assessment and change it “as appears to be just.”* Taxpayers that are denied relief must go one step further and either file a lawsuit in court or appeal to the state Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB)—but you can’t do both.

    A property tax attorney who is skilled in the appeal process can explain the pros and cons of going either to court or the PTAB. They’ll also have valuable insight about the filing deadlines, burdens of proof, expected turnaround times and the types of evidence that are likely to succeed in each venue.

    * Source: 35 ILCS 200/16-55 (a)

  • Property Tax Insights

    5 reasons to hire a real estate tax attorney

    James W. Chipman
    6/5/18

    By James W. Chipman

    From understanding complicated laws to knowing how to dispute exorbitant assessments, having an expert on your side can ensure you’re not overpaying when it comes to property taxes.

    Property taxes affect us all, whether we’re paying them directly or receiving services or benefits covered by the tax. That’s especially true in Illinois, where property taxes are the 2nd highest in the nation, behind only New Jersey.*

    As the owner of a home or a business, your taxes help pay for education, public safety, infrastructure, emergency response and a variety of social services. But you don’t want to pay more than necessary, something a real estate tax attorney can ensure by considering the following factors:

    1. Illinois reassessment in 2019: Township assessors are required by law to view, inspect and reassess each property in their jurisdiction once every 4 years. In Cook County, property is reassessed every 3 years. Reassessments ensure assessments are fair and equitable on a countywide basis—given there are typically more individual changes made in general assessment years, significant increases often occur.

    2. Vague, complex tax laws: Frequent changes in these laws only compound the problem. Different interpretations can create legal uncertainty and possibly result in different tax consequences for property owners.

    3. Differences for businesses vs. residential properties: In Cook County, businesses are assessed at 25% of market value, while single-family homes and multi-family properties are assessed at just 10%. Businesses can be singled out and experience higher tax burdens than residences.

    4. Inconsistent, subjective and unknown methods of valuation: Some assessing officials use a “mass appraisal” approach in which a large number of properties are valued simultaneously using standardized procedures. However, one size does not fit all. Many properties are not typical and require special individualized attention.

    5. Ability to challenge unfair and excessive assessments: Taxpayers who wish to appeal their assessments have several options. Each option, however, comes with its own set of deadlines. One common mistake many taxpayers make is to wait for the tax bill to arrive in the mail. By then, appeal periods have expired and the only recourse is to pay the tax and wait until the following year to file an appeal.

    A real estate tax attorney can represent you in all stages of the property tax appeal process, from the research, preparation and filing to representation before the assessor and local and state boards. The benefits of having an expert on your side heavily outweigh the cost of service, or even worse, the potential cost of making a mistake.

    Most people and many attorneys are overwhelmed by the complexity of property taxes. Hiring a real estate tax attorney is the best way to make sure you pay your fair share—and no more.

    *Source: Chicago Tribune, April 5, 2018