Property Assessment FAQ’s
Frequently Asked Questions About Tax Appeals
Flaherty Fardo, LLC are experienced Allegheny County property assessment lawyers. We provide Allegheny County Property Assessment FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) as a benefit to our clients and for the residents of Allegheny County.
- What is a property assessment?
- How do I calculate my property taxes?
- Who sets taxation rates?
- What is the 2012 base year?
- Where did my 2013 assessment come from?
- Is my current assessment value correct?
- How do I reduce my tax bill?
- Where do I get an appeal form?
- How do I know if my appeal was received?
- When is the deadline to appeal?
- Where does the appeals board meet?
- What is the informal hearing?
- What is the difference between informal and formal?
- Will I receive my decision at the hearing?
- Can I file both appeals at the same time?
- When is my hearing?
- What if my notice arrives when I am away?
- What if I can’t attend?
- What evidence do I need?
- Do I need an attorney?
- Can I send someone in my place?
- Should I attend if the school appealed me?
- Can I appeal if I lose?
- What happens at the BOV?
- Can I appeal the BOV?
- What is the history of assessments?
PART I. Property Assessments
What Is A Property Assessment?
A property assessment is the value that Allegheny County says your property is worth for property taxation purposes. It is extremely important, because your county assessed value directly determines what your county tax, school district tax and local property tax will be every single year. All three property taxes are calculated using the same county property assessment. Therefore, the lower your assessment, the lower your property taxes. From 2002 through 2012, Allegheny County utilized a 2002 base year. In 2012, the reassessment values reflected a 2012 base year, to be used for taxation purposes in the 2013 tax year moving forward. Your 2013 property assessment value should therefore reflect the fair market value of your property as of January 1, 2012.
How Do I Calculate My Property Taxes?
Allegheny County Property taxes are calculated by multiplying the county property assessment by the current millage rate for each specific taxing entity. The county millage rate for 2013 is 4.73. Each school district and local taxing entity (municipality/borough or township) sets their own specific millage rates each year. EXAMPLE: County assessed value: $100,000 County millage rate: 4.73 (county tax = $473 / year) School millage rate: 20.00 (school taxes would = $2,000 / year) Local millage rate: 5.00 (local tax = $500 / year) In this example, a property assessed at $100,000 would pay a total of $2,973/year in property taxes. Typically, the school district millage rate is largest, but not always.
Who Sets Taxation Rates?
The county tax millage is set by the Allegheny County Council. School district tax millages are set by local school boards. Municipal (local) tax millages are set by individual municipalities. The County millage rate is typically set by the end of each calendar year for the following year. The setting of millage rates for local taxes and school district taxes varies across the County, as some of these bodies operate on a calendar year while others operate on a fiscal year. All millage rates are usually set by the end of June of any given year for the following year.
What Is The 2012 Base Year?
The Base Year is the year in which the last County-wide reassessment occurred. For 2012 taxation purposes, the base year is 2002. For 2013 taxation purposes (and for future years until the next reassessment), the base year is 2012. Therefore for 2013 property appeals, all values represent the estimated base year market value of the property as of January 1, 2012, unless otherwise updated due to permits, appeals, corrections, flood loss or catastrophic loss. Base year methodology allows similar homes to have similar assessments until the next County-wide reassessment.
Where Did My 2013 Assessment Come From?
“OPA assessors use a computer assisted mass appraisal system (CAMA) to help generate property assessment values. They determine value primarily by comparison with sales from 2009, 2010 and 2011 on properties with similar characteristics within your defined neighborhood. For increased accuracy, the system also takes into account the variations that exist within Allegheny County’s unique neighborhoods. Additionally, our assessors travel throughout the county to collect property data and review assessment valuations.” (Source Allegheny County Website).
Allegheny County hired Tyler Technologies to conduct the most recent reassessment.
Is My Current Assessment Value Correct?
Allegheny County previous claimed in regards to assessments based on the 2002 base year: “The best way to ensure that your value is correct is to make sure that OPA has correct information regarding the data and characteristics of the property that you own. To obtain this information, check with the OPA Public Information Office in Room 303 of the County Office Building at 542 Forbes Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, or online at the Real Estate Web site. Sale prices of similar properties in your area from 1999, 2000 and 2001 are a good indicator of your current assessment.” (Source Allegheny County Website).
The same logic applies to the 2012 base year values. Property owners need to ensure that the building/property information contained in the reassessment notices being sent by the county are correct. Property owners can correct mistakes in the building information by either filing an appeal, or by submitting the correct information through the County Real Estate Web site. Sale prices of similar homes in the same area that occurred in 2009, 2010, and 2011 are relevant to what the appropriate assessment value for your property should be.
How Do I Reduce My Tax Bill?
Allegheny County lists the Tax Abatements and Exemptions on their website which include: Act 1: Act 42: – City of Pittsburgh Act 42: – County Act 50 (Homestead/Farmstead Exclusion) Act 76 (LERTA) Act 77 (Senior Citizen Property Tax Relief) Act 132 (Residential Visitability Design Tax Credit Program) Act 156-PA (Clean & Green Program) Act 202 (New Construction) Exemptions (for Non-Profit Organizations and Governmental Entities) Taxation Appeal Challenge.
Property owners with a primary residence within the County are generally entitled to the Act 50 Homestead Exclusion tax abatement. If a property owner wishes to file for this Exclusion, they must file the appropriate paperwork by March 1st of that calendar year. In 2013, this Exclusion entitled property owners to a $18,000 reduction in their assessment value for County taxes only.
PART II. The Tax Appeals Process
Where Can I Get An Annual Appeal Form?
“The annual Assessment Appeal Form is available: Third floor of the County Office Building at 542 Forbes Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, PA 15219. On the Property Appeal Forms web page. All municipal offices. All County-operated senior centers. All Allegheny County-sponsored libraries.” (Source Allegheny County Website).
How Do I Know My Assessment Appeal Form Was Received?
“Contact the Office of Property Assessments Public Information Line at 412-350-4600 or you can check your property Real Estate Web site to confirm receipt of your appeal form.” (Source Allegheny County Website). Be careful about confirming the status of your appeal online. Though the Allegheny County website does have an “appeal status” tab that will show if your appeal form has been processed, it is not always accurate. We always recommend that property owners send in two copies of the appeal form, and ask that a time-stamped copy be returned to them when it has been received by the Office of Property Assessments. This helps to protect the property owner down the road if there are any issues with the appeal form.
What Is The Deadline For Filing An Annual Appeal Form?
The appeal deadline for 2014 is tentatively March 31, 2014. The appeal form must be postmarked by that date to be accepted for the 2014 tax year. This appeal deadline is the same for any property within Allegheny County.
When And Where Does The Board Of Appeals Meet?
The Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review meets every two weeks at 8:00 a.m. in Room 328 of the County Office Building at Forbes and Ross Streets in downtown Pittsburgh. You can view the Board Meeting Schedule online or call the Office of Property Assessments at (412) 350-4600 to ask when the next meeting is.
PART III. The Informal Appeal
What Is An Informal Hearing?
Informal hearings are typically only used for tax appeal purposes during reassessment years. There are currently NO plans to have informal hearings in 2014.
These hearings are typically more casual than formal appeals. Informal appeal hearings are designed to both correct property information errors, and also give property owners the opportunity to argue market value. Property owners (or their representatives) are permitted to submit evidence to Hearing Officers without representatives from the school district or municipalities in attendance. The evidence presented at these hearings is then scanned in, and saved in the file for your property.
What Is The Difference Between An Informal Hearing And A Formal Hearing?
Informal appeals are one-sided. Evidence presented by a property owner is not contested by a representative for any taxing entity, and no evidence to refute a property owner is submitted. For this reason, these hearings typically involve less risk for a property owner. It is important to remember however that whatever evidence is introduced at these informal hearings will be saved on file for this property, and could therefore be accessed in any future appeal for the property.
Will I Receive A Decision At The Time Of My Informal Appeal Hearing?
Decisions are not made at the time of a hearing. Instead, the Hearing Officer makes a recommendation to the Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review based on the evidence presented at the hearing. The Board then makes a decision, and a copy of this decision is sent directly to the property owner. The Office of Property Assessments currently estimated that property owners would received decisions following the informal hearings within 30-45 days.
Can I File Both An Informal Appeal And A Formal Appeal?
Property owners can file both an informal appeal and a formal appeal. It is important to make sure that you know the appropriate filing deadlines for both of these appeals. Property owners may not receive informal appeal decisions prior to the formal appeal deadline, so it may be important for property owners to file both appeals. Formal appeals can be withdrawn at any point prior to the formal appeal hearing.
PART IV. First Level Formal Appeal Hearing – Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review (BPAAR)
When Will I Be Assigned A Hearing Date?
“You will be notified by mail approximately 14 days prior to the hearing with date, time and location for all residential properties; approximately 30 days’ prior notice is given for all commercial properties.” (Source Allegheny County Website). The reality is, notice is usually mailed anywhere from 10-20 days prior to the hearings. We have had cases with notice of 7 days or less. Normally, the Office of Property Assessment works with owners on rescheduling when short notice occurs.
I Will Be Away On Vacation For A Few Weeks — What If My Notice Arrives While I’m Away?
“If you have not made arrangements through your local post office for your mail to be forwarded, it may be a good idea to call our public information center periodically at 412-350-4600 to check on the status.” (Source Allegheny County Website). If you miss the hearing entirely then you can either petition the Office of Property Assessments, or file a petition with Judge R. Stanton Wettick asking the court to reschedule the hearing. Call us with any questions 412.802.6666 if that happens and we will help guide you.
What Should I Do If I Am Not Able To Attend My Scheduled Hearing Date?
“Please call our public information center at 412-350-4600. Any of our Service Coordinators will be able to assist you. Keep in mind that you have the right to postpone a scheduled hearing only once.” (Source Allegheny County Website). Typically, as stated, the employees at the Office of Property Assessments are very helpful in resolving any issues. You can find the official Postponement Request form on the Allegheny County Assessment webpage, which can then be faxed to the Office of Property Assessments.
What Type Of Evidence, If Any, Must I Bring To My Appeal Hearing?
When challenging the 2013 reassessment values, the county website states: “The last County-wide reassessment was 2012, also known as the Base Year. At your hearing, you must be able to show what your property was worth in 2012. You can do this by researching similar homes in your neighborhood, finding similar properties to yours that sold in 2012 or before, checking with local Realtors, and/or getting an appraisal with an effective date of January 1, 2012. It is recommended that you provide a copy of the sales comparables for your property from our Real Estate Web site. Also, you can make arrangements with the public information center to obtain a property record card so that you can view the data characteristics we have recorded for your property. If there are discrepancies, notify us before your hearing so that they can be corrected – just call 412-350-4600. “(Source Allegheny County Website).
Property owners should find comparable sales that occurred in or around the 2012 base year, and bring this information to the hearing. These sales should be of similar homes in the same neighborhood as the subject. Property owners should avoid focusing on presenting information about other assessment values in their area when possible. The question for the appeal is focused primarily on what other sales and information suggest about the fair market value of the subject property. The property owner (or representative) is required to bring extra copies of their evidence so they can be distributed to all parties in attendance at the hearing (school district representative, etc.).
Do I Need To Hire An Attorney To Represent Me?
“Hiring an attorney to represent you is your choice. Legal representation is not required. However, most school districts and municipalities will have legal counsel present.”(Source Allegheny County Website).
We believe, similar to personal injury cases, that settlements and decisions are more advantageous when a property owner is properly represented by legal counsel. Experience with both the process and the individuals involved can make a difference in these cases. We analyze every case first to ensure that our efforts will justify the cost through increased tax savings. These cases can often involve significant tax consequences that will impact the property owner for various years into the future, and the costs of an attorney are often justified.
If I Cannot Attend My Hearing, May I Send Someone Else?
“Yes, you can decide to send another interested party provided they have an authorized representative form from you with your signature.”(Source Allegheny County Website). Authorized representatives can be anyone at the first level only (BPAAR). At the second level, (BOV), only the property owner, interested party (i.e. tenant), or attorney may appear for a property.
If The School District Or The Municipality Filed An Appeal Against My Property, Should I Attend?
“You are not required to attend an appeal filed on your property by your school district or municipality. However, you may attend the hearing to present evidence for your case if you so choose.”(Source Allegheny County Website). If you do not appear at a scheduled hearing involving your property, your assessment value is more likely to increase. Even if you do not have a strong case, we always still suggest that property owners attend the hearing and provide any additional information that may help their position. This could include any specific information about their property (i.e. problems with the property, repairs needed, etc.) that the hearing officer would not otherwise have knowledge of.
PART V. Second Level Formal Appeal – Allegheny County Board of Viewers Hearing (BOV)
Can The Decision From The First Level (BPAAR) Be Appealed?
You do NOT receive a decision at the time of your first level (BPAAR) hearing. The hearing officer makes a recommendation to the Board of Property Assessment of Allegheny County, and the Board issues the decision by mail to the property owner. The decision is typically mailed about 2-3 months after the BPAAR hearing. However, we have seen some decisions take almost a year to be issued. Once the decision is rendered, all parties (property owner and each of the taxing entities) have 30 days to appeal the decision (de novo – meaning “fresh” or “new”) to the Allegheny County Board of Viewers (BOV). It is very important to know your appeal rights.
What Happens At The BOV Hearing?
Once the case is appealed from the BPAAR (first level) to the BOV (second level), it normally takes anywhere between 10 months and 2 years for the case to be scheduled for conciliation. It is a long wait and almost always means there will be multiple years at issue by the time the case is finally called. The BOV hearing occurs on the 8th floor of the City County Building as opposed to the BPAAR which is on the 3rd floor of the County Office Building. The hearing is DE NOVO, which means whatever happened at the first level (BPAAR) is now legally irrelevant. The appeal process starts over and the question is what is the base year value of the property under appeal. Unlike the first level (BPAAR), the BOV hearing is in a courtroom, and often there are attorneys from the County, school district and even municipalities present at the time of the hearing.
There is always a conciliation process first, where everyone attempts to negotiate a settlement for all years involved. At the BOV level, proper legal counsel is essential. Unlike the BPAAR, non-attorneys are precluded from appearing on behalf of property owners. If a settlement is reached, every party can sign off on the agreed upon value while present at the hearing. If the parties are unable to resolve the case through this conciliation, then the case goes to an actual trial in front of an appointed Hearing Master. It is a real trial, with opening arguments, cross-examinations, etc. using the rules of evidence. It is absolutely essential to have competent legal counsel if you are trying your case at the BOV. The reality is that you normally will not get the best settlement unless you have counsel and are prepared to go to trial. The taxing entities will often pressure property owners into unfair settlements if they are unrepresented. Often, we will hear the statements from attorneys for the school state: ” Let’s go to trial then.” This is said in an attempt to pressure property owners into settling. Don’t be bullied by the school districts. If you have additional questions about the BOV process, email us firstname.lastname@example.org or call us: 412.802.6666.
Can I Appeal The BOV Decision?
Typically, no. Once you settle your BOV case, it is closed. The only manner in which to appeal a BOV decision is if your case actually goes to trial (which is rare). If you believe the decision was erroneous and not supported by the facts at trial, or if you believe the trial judge abused their discretion in rendering the decision you can seek reconsideration in front of Judge R. Stanton Wettick. However, this is the not the same appellate review as from the BPAAR (De Novo or new)). It is very high standard to show that the decision was erroneous or that the judge abused their discretion. Also, it should be noted that we have seen cases, where property owners settled cases, and then because they only settled because they felt pressured, were able to reschedule a new hearing by petition the court to vacate the settlement. This is very rare and difficult.
What Is The History Of Allegheny County Assessments?
Allegheny County property assessments have had a long and tumultuous history with the residents of Allegheny County. Contributing Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 6/6/07
- 1970 —Green Tree Borough filed suit challenging the county’s system of assessing one-third of the county every year, claiming that was unfair to all three areas
- 1977 — Wilkinsburg filed a similar suit.
- 1979 — Common Pleas Judge Nicholas P. Papadakos took control of the cases.
- Oct. 1, 1979 — Judge Papadakos brokered a consent decree that eliminated the annual regional assessments and required the county to assess every property on a regular basis.
- Oct. 17, 1982 — Judge Papadakos ends court oversight of the assessment system because the changes resulted in “fair, equitable and uniform assessments.”
- Feb. 13, 1992 — A computer-aided study of 500,000 properties by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette finds the values of many of them are substantially out of whack compared to their purchase price.
- January 1994 — An effort to address assessment problems results in substantial increases in property values — some more than 40 percent — leading to a taxpayer revolt.
- Jan. 1, 1996 — Fueled by the assessment controversy, Republicans Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer give their party majority control of the county commissioners for the first time in six decades. Their first day in office they freeze assessments for five years so the county can fix the system.
- May 13, 1996 — Six homeowners file suit against the assessment freeze, claiming it unfairly freezes values at inaccurate levels. April 15, 1997 –Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. declares the freeze illegal and orders the county to prepare a plan to begin developing a new assessment for implementation in 1998 for properties whose values are more than 20 percent above or below fair market value.
- Jan. 9, 1998 — In exchange for the county implementing a full reassessment by 2001 instead of 2002, Judge Wettick puts off changes for properties more than 20 percent off of fair market value but also orders across-the-board assessment increases of 2 percent for every property in the county for 1999 and 2000.
- Feb. 10, 1998 — County hires Sabre Systems and Service of Miamisburg, Ohio, to complete the county wide reassessment for $23.9 million.
- Jan. 1, 2000 — Republican Jim Roddey, elected as the first county chief executive, inherits the assessment mess.
- Jan. 9, 2001 — The county Property Assessment Oversight Board certifies new values for 552,000 properties at $57.1 billion across the county, up 48 percent from 2000. This leads to more than 90,000 appeals.
- Jan. 2, 2002 — The new county assessment figures show an overall increase of 11 percent, again leading to more than 90,000 appeals.
- Jan 24, 2002 — Mr. Roddey and County Council say they will institute a three-year waiting period before the next county assessment.
- Nov. 4, 2003 — Campaigning largely on problems generated by new assessments, Democratic county Controller Dan Onorato defeats Mr. Roddey.
- Feb. 15, 2005 — Responding to proposed new assessment figures for 2006 that would have nearly 80 percent of homeowners facing an assessment increase — 17,000 of them 100 percent or more — Mr. Onorato proposes to cap increases at a maximum of 4 percent.
- May 12, 2005 — Judge Wettick rules the 4 percent cap is illegal, claiming it would only “exacerbate” disparities in the 2003 assessment.
- Sept. 20, 2005 — Mr. Onorato announces revised assessment figures for 2006 that call for average residential increases of 5.8 percent.
- Oct. 4, 2005 — In a surprise move, Mr. Onorato decides not to use the revised figures for 2006 and instead called on County Council to establish 2002 as a base year for assessments, putting the county in line with most other counties that use a base year and adjust assessments to meet values in the base year.
- Oct. 27, 2005 — Kenneth Pierce of Braddock and Stephanie Beechaum of the Hill District file suit against the base-year system, saying their properties have decreased in value since 2002.
- Oct. 31, 2005 — A second group of homeowners file suit to challenge the base-year system. March 16, 2006 — Judge Wettick rules that state law allows the county to use a base-year system for property assessment, but he allows attorney to challenge the constitutionality of the state law.
- June 6, 2007 — In a landmark decision, Judge Wettick rules the state law allowing counties to use a base year for property assessments is unconstitutional because it doesn’t treat all taxpayers uniformly, which is a primary requirement.
- 2009 – Supreme Court rules Base Year unconstitutional.
- 2009 – Wettick Orders 2012 County Reassessment Spring 2010 – Residents prepare for 2012 Allegheny County-wide Reassessment.
- August 18, 2010 – Judge Wettick Holds status conference to receive reports on progress related to countywide 2012 reassessment.
- January 1, 2012 – New 2012 Base Year is established for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
- 2012-2013- over 100,000 property tax appeals filed.
- March 31, 2014 – Deadline for 2014 appeals, which utilize a 2012 base year.
If you would like a free consultation concerning a tax appeal or other real estate issue, please call attorneys Noah Paul Fardo or Nicole Hauptman directly at 412.802.6666 or email them at email@example.com.