Christine Browning - Appealing Your Property Taxes
How to Dispute Your Tax Assessment
Property taxes should be uniform and fair. If you feel that your property tax assessment is too high, then you can dispute it. Although the exact dispute process will vary from county to county, you will begin by contacting the tax assessment office. Then you will typically present your case ultimately to an appeal board.
Preparing to Dispute the Assessment
Receive your tax bill.Once you receive the bill in the mail, you should read it as soon as possible. The appeals process may have deadlines, so the sooner you can check your bill the better.
- The window of time in which to appeal can be short. In Maryland, you only have 45 days from receiving the bill to appeal.
- Find prior bills so that you can compare the amount of the assessment. If the municipality has reclassified your land or valued it differently, then make note of this fact.
Contact the tax assessment office.You should be able to find the office’s phone number on the bill itself. If not, you can stop by your town office or county clerk’s office and ask.
Ask how assessments are calculated.Before you can dispute the valuation of your property, you need to know how the taxing authority assesses the real estate. Typically, assessors rely on the following pieces of information:
- the amount a purchaser would pay for the property (“fair market value”)
- the class of the property (residential, commercial, farming, etc.)
- how developed the land is
Get your house appraised.If you think the assessor has valued the property too highly, you should get an independent appraisal. A great piece of evidence is to have an appraiser testify at your appeal about the property’s value.To find an appraiser, you can visit the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s website at and search by city and state.
- You should also look for comparable properties in the county. You can use this information for two purposes. First, if the property has sold recently, you can use the price as evidence of the “fair market value.” Second, you can find out how much the property was assessed and see if the tax assessment was lower than yours.
- If you use comparable property to help show fair market value, the sales should be recent. The transaction should also be at “arm’s length”; in other words, not between relatives or friends.
Schedule a meeting.To dispute the assessment, you should schedule a meeting with the assessor.Perhaps the assessor made a mistake or does not have all of the relevant information about your property.
- Depending on the office, you may need to fill out a complaint form before meeting with the assessor.You should ask for any form, if required, and complete it.
Meeting with the Tax Assessor
Ask questions.You should have the assessor explain how he or she determined the amount of tax. You should have the assessor show you your record and explain how the calculation was made.
- Make sure that the assessor has accurate information about the property’s size, age, condition, number of bathrooms, and other physical characteristics. If the assessor’s information is inaccurate, ask the assessor what documentation you will need.
- For example, the assessor may have been confused and assessed you for an addition that you didn’t build. Ask the assessor if he or she will come out to your property to take a look or if you should bring photographs to show.
Allow the assessor to enter your property.Sometimes an assessor has to rely on his or her judgment if you deny entry onto the property. If you don’t live in the property, then you may not have been around when the assessor stopped by initially.
- In some counties, the assessor may not even attempt to visit each individual piece of property. Instead, the assessor does a “mass assessment” of the area.You should ask if the assessor visited your property.
- Be open to a day and time to meet with the assessor at the property. If you want an accurate assessment, then you will need the assessor to see the property.
Ask how to appeal.Should the assessor stand by his or her assessment, then you will want to bring an appeal. Each county or state will have different methods of bringing a formal appeal, so be sure to ask the assessor about the process that applies to you. You should follow the directions provided.
Bringing an Appeal
Think about meeting with an attorney.Because of how complex it can be to change an assessor’s mind, you should give some thought to meeting with an experienced tax attorney. He or she can assess your situation and offer advice on how to bring a strong appeal.
- An attorney can also advise you whether or not it is in your best interest to bring an appeal. If you appeal, your property taxes could increase.You want to be sure any error made was not made in your favor. If it was, then your tax bill could rise once the assessor fixes the error.
- You can often find a qualified attorney by visiting your state’s bar association, which should run a referral program. To find your state bar’s association, use the American Bar Association’s search engine available at its website.
- For tips on how to find a qualified attorney, see Select a Property Tax Attorney.
Gather necessary evidence.To make the strongest appeal possible, you should have relevant evidence that shows the assessment is wrong. The type of evidence will depend on your county, but generally you should get:
- the property record card and photographs of the property you are appealing
- property record cards and photographs of similar properties
- a copy of the deed or sale contract
- an appraisal
- a list of recent sales of comparable properties
Get the appeal form.Most offices should have a form for you to fill out. If not, you should ask your lawyer. Complete the form and submit it with any required documentation to the appropriate office.
- Different counties will allow different appeals. For example, the board you appeal to may allow you to appeal both the classification of your property as well as the valuation.Alternately, some boards might only allow you to appeal the valuation.
- When you submit your appeal form, ask for handouts describing any rules, policies, or regulations that you must follow during the appeal.
Attend the hearing.At the hearing, you will be able to present the evidence you believe supports your claim. The assessor might also attend and present evidence also. The board members may ask you questions so that they can understand the evidence.
- You should strive to introduce all relevant evidence at the initial appeal. If you take a subsequent appeal from the board’s decision, you might be limited in your ability to introduce new evidence at a later date.
Take another appeal.After you appeal to your local board, you might have the ability to appeal to a state board or to a state court.Discuss with your lawyer whether taking another appeal is worthwhile.
- You probably will have to pay your taxes as you await the outcome of any subsequent appeal.If you prevail in the subsequent appeal, then the taxes you paid will be refunded.
Video: Fight Your Property Tax Assessment
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