Have you ever thought your property taxes might be too high because the tax assessor over-valued your house? Have you been thinking more about that as housing sales and prices have plummeted during the past few years? If so, you might have taken the time to complain to the assessor. My own assessment notice says, “If you believe the new value is incorrect (too high or too low) compared to your estimate of market value, please contact us to review your property characteristics.” I will leave the issue of appealing a value that is “too low” to some humorist to discuss.
My assessment has gone down recently, so it looks like my assessor is doing his job. But what if you think yours isn’t? You’ll need to research comparable values in your neighborhood, gather evidence about your home’s condition and anything else you think might make a difference, and be prepared to make a convincing argument.
In most areas, the standard procedure is to first meet with the assessor. If that doesn’t result in a lower assessment, you can file an appeal with your local taxing board. Every taxing jurisdiction provides some way to do that; my assessment notice says I have to file an appeal with the Board of Equalization. Yours might be called the Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board or something similar. If the local appeals board doesn’t lower your assessment, your next step is to appeal the local board’s decision. In many states, that next appeal is to a statewide board. For example, a King County, Washington appeal goes first to the King County Department of Assessments, then to the Washington Board of Tax Appeals.
If the final board ruling is not in your favor, you can appeal to court. Which court depends on your state’s court system; it might be a local court, or it might be a specialized statewide tax court. Appeals from the state Board of Tax Appeals go to Superior Courts in Washington State. In contrast, the Tax Court of New Jersey hears appeals of decisions of a local county Board of Taxation; with a specialized Tax Court there is no need for a statewide appeal board.
Going to court can be complicated and expensive, for you and the taxing authority – and the judicial system. Given the increased attention people are paying to their property taxes in these tough times, local taxing authorities and state court systems are looking for ways to simplify the process, and to provide more ways to resolve assessment disputes without going to court. The internet helps with both of those goals; most local taxing authorities have websites with detailed instructions for appealing your assessment.
New York State has an innovative program called Small Claims Assessment Review, which allows a residential homeowner to petition the court for a hearing before a trained officer for only $30. Attorneys are allowed at the hearing but are not required. The website includes detailed information about the process, as well as downloadable petition forms and instructions.
You can find out if your state has a Tax Court at CourtReference, which will also provide court contact information and links to court websites and other online resources that describe the court’s procedures. Check property tax records and tax assessors’ contacts and information for every state at OnlineSearches Free Public Records Directory.