Secrets to Winning Your 2017 Property Tax Appeal
Hints & Tips For Property Owners
As in years past, we anticipate that thousands of appeals will be filed in 2017 by taxing bodies to challenge the current assessments of residential and commercial properties across the County.
This page should help property owners who filed their own appeals increase their chances for a reduction, and also provide guidance for property owners who have had their property assessments appealed by the school districts.
I. The Tax Appeal Process
Step 1 is always understanding the tax appeal process. To significantly increase chances in an Allegheny County assessment appeal, property owners must have some basic understanding of the two step tax appeal process.
- First, there is a BPAAR (Board of Property Assessments Appeals and Review) hearing administered by a hearing officer, who has professional real estate experience (i.e. appraisers, agents, etc.). The BPAAR hearing is typically held at the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments, located on the 3rd Floor of the County Office Building. At the first level BPAAR hearing, evidence is offered by both sides, and the hearing officer then makes a written recommendation to the actual Board of Property Assessment. The Board of Property Assessment typically takes about 60-90 days to render a decision, called a “Notice of Disposition”. Once the decision, or “Notice of Disposition” is sent, all interested parties then have 30 additional days from the mailing date to appeal this BPAAR decision to a second level BOV (Board of Viewer) hearing. This is a ‘de novo’ appeal, meaning fresh or new.
- Second, there is the BOV (Board of Viewers) hearing. This is a more formal hearing in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. The BOV has a civil docket number and is held on the 8th floor of the City County Building in front of an assigned administrative judge. If the parties are unable to resolve the tax appeal, the matter is scheduled for an actual trial, where all applicable Allegheny County local rules of court apply. Once the BOV court renders a decision, all parties may appeal to the discretion of the Honorable R. Stanton Wettick, whose review is limited to the evidence from the BOV hearing, and legal briefs are submitted by the parties.
- Third, and finally, if the parties are still not satisfied, an appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania can be filed alleging that the lower court abused its discretion or made an error of law. Few cases are appealed this far. Theoretically, the case could also be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
II. The Evidence
- In order to change a property assessment in Allegheny County, the filing party has the burden of proof.
- Recent sale prices are persuasive, but NOT conclusive, meaning a sales price is NOT controlling in an assessment appeal, and the evidence must include comparable sales.
- The primary issue for 2017 current appeals (property owner or taxing entity) is the fair market value of the property as of the base year January 1, 2012. The Appellant (appealing party) can use either a base year valuation method or a current fair market value method in their argument. The base year valuation method focuses on what the property was worth in 2012 by looking at sales information around that time. The current fair market value method focuses instead on more recent sales, and requires that this opinion be depreciated backwards to reflect a 2012 value.
- The best evidence is to provide proof of similar properties, similarly located, which have recently sold for less than your property is assessed.
- You should have a minimum of 3 comparable sales, but if you can find more it can be very persuasive to submit them, if they help.
- You should print out all of the county webpages for any comparable sales you intend to offer. (County comparables can be found on the Court-Ordered Allegheny Real Estate Website). Be certain to at least print the home page, building information page, and image for any comparable sales offered as evidence.
- You are required by local rules to have at least 3 copies of any evidence you intend to offer, or in theory the evidence can be denied.
- Appraisals can help, but are not always necessary, and in some cases are discouraged.
- Pennsylvania law requires that one of three recognized valuation methods be used in order to change a property assessment. They are a) the comparable sales approach; b) the income approach; and/or c) the cost approach.
- If you are defending a school district appeal, remember that a sales price alone can be persuasive evidence, but it does not meet the burden of proof without a valuation method being considered. Read more about defending school district appeals.
III. Hints, Tips & Secrets
- Caution: Any time an appeal is filed, the assessment could be sustained, decreased or increased.
- Property owners may freely withdraw appeals filed at the BPAAR before a hearing, but are NOT allowed to withdraw BOV appeals without the taxing entities consent.
- Research settlements of your neighbors cases before any settlement at your BOV case. This information can be found on the Allegheny County civil docket access.
- Conduct a percentage analysis of both your neighbors settlements as well as your neighbors assessment compared to their purchase price.
- Make sure you know the entire market of the property you are appealing better than the attorneys opposing you.
- We use an in-house database, but sales can be found online at the Allegheny County website, zillow.com, or by contacting local real estate agents or appraisers.
- Be nice. Hearing officers are tired of frustrated property owners. Typically, preparation and kindness will work better than anger towards the individuals involved. Likewise, there is no benefit of being hostile with the attorneys from the taxing entities as they deal enough with angry property owners.
- If you hire representation, make sure your fee covers the entire length of the representation, regardless of appeals to the BPAAR or BOV.
- Most of these cases are appealed to the BOV. If you are paying an attorney on a contingency, make sure you understand if the fee includes future years.
- Less can be more. Efficient, organized presentations are appreciated by the hearing officers and may tend to lead to better results.