Here is some basic information for residential property owners and homeowners in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania to help defend the school districts and municipalities from raising your property taxes.
Are you sure you want to attend the hearing?
If your property got appealed, it is most likely because of a recent purchase price being higher than your current assessment. The school district or municipality filed the appeal and has the burden of proof. Most homeowners will do more harm than good by appearing and fighting the appeal. The reason is because the homeowner can be cross-examined to actually prove the school district’s case in chief. Questions may be asked including: Q: Did you have an appraisal? Q: Did you make improvements? Q: What was the listing price? If the owner fails to appear, the school can have difficulty putting these facts into evidence. We will advise most of our clients NOT to attend these hearings, and then we can cross-examine the school’s evidence, which often times does not meet the burden of proof required.
Are you using Base-Year sales?
Allegheny County is still under the 2002 base year system, which means that all properties should be assessed at what they were worth as of January 1, 2002. When fighting the school district, (if you ignore the advice in section 1), you must rely on 2002 base year sales. Comparing assessments may seem most natural, and I still use it as an argument, but sales are what carry the most weight in residential cases. Stay close to your neighborhood code, and find similar sized homes that sold for substantially less in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The closer to January 1, 2002, the better. You need to find better evidence than the school district and you need to remind the hearing officer that a valuation method must be used to change the assessment of a property, meaning that a sale can be persuasive, but should not be the controlling determinative of value.
Did you research your neighbors settlements?
The cat is out of the bag with this one. A smart tactic of defending school tax appeals is researching what your neighbors and similar sized homes settled for. This is all public information. The school districts are not supposed to treat homeowners differently – but believe me – they do. If you can show that your neighbor’s house is similar and yet they settled with the school for a significantly lower number, it can help your own case. Check the Board of Viewer records.
Do I really need an attorney? What will it cost?
There is an advantage for property owners not to attend their hearings and instead be represented by counsel for the reasons stated above. There is typically enough taxes at stake over multiple years that it makes sense to hire experienced tax appeal attorneys, and the risk is typically too great not to. Surprisingly for homeowners, it is often very affordable. Many attorneys offer contingency fee agreements, where they do not get paid unless there is a tax savings. Flat fees are also typically an option. Make sure to ask your lawyer first for an expected outcome and what it will mean to your actual tax obligations?
Can’t I just ignore the hearing?
Absolutely not. If you ignore the appeal against your property, your property taxes will be raised and often substantially. The school district will win if you ignore your hearing. Also, if you have multiple years at issue, and fail to appear, you may owe substantially for years past. Every school or municipal tax appeal in Allegheny County should be defended vigorously.
About Noah Paul Fardo
Noah Paul Fardo, Esq. is a Pennsylvania trial lawyer and the managing partner of Flaherty Fardo, LLC. His legal practice focuses in medical malpractice, personal injury, business litigation, and property tax appeals. You can find him on Google+.
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