Eric Reid Real Estate Agent Lawrenceville, GA (770) 277-6652 Contact Profile
Taxes will always be a part of life. The Questions I get asked is " How can I reduce them ". First understand that all property in Georgia (i.e. land, improvements, and personal property) is subject to being taxed unless it qualifies for a specific exemption under state law. So, for example, a typical homeowner in Georgia will pay taxes on the value of his or her house (the improvements) and the lot
upon which it sits (the land), but the owner's possessions (the personal property) within the hou
se are generally exempt from taxation under state law. All of these taxes are what are known as "ad valorem" taxes because they are based "upon the value" of the property.
Now On to the appeal process - and yes it is a process so be ready and put your game face on.
Appealing Tax Assessments
What can be tricky about appealing property taxes is that the right time to do it is when the property owner receives the notice of tax assessment. This assessment notice is a statement of the valuation placed on the property by the county tax appraisers. However, since it is marked "THIS IS NOT A BILL" it is often disregarded by the property owner.
If a property owner fails to file a timely appeal, the owner's only recourse is to wait until the following year, when the property owner may file a property tax return requesting that the Board of Assessors re-appraise the property at a lower value. Georgia law actually provides that property "shall" be returned at its fair market value each and every year but there is not penalty for failing to comply with this provision. Instead, when this happens the Board of Assessors will simply return the property at the prior year's value, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 48-5-299.
Most counties provide a form for use in filing a return. These are generally available on the county's web site, and they are often combined with the homestead application. Also, much like the homestead exemption, the deadline to file a return is usually April 1st, but the date varies from county to county, so be sure to check with the Board of Assessors in the county where the property is located.
The return should be submitted to the Board of Assessors on or before the applicable deadline, and this filing will result in a reassessment of the property. If the Board accepts the property owner's returned value, then the assessed value will be reduced accordingly and no further action on the part of the taxpayer is necessary. If the Board determines that the property should be assessed at a higher value, it will mail a new assessment notice (also known as a "reassessment notice") to the taxpayer, who will then have the opportunity to file an appeal.
Boards of Assessors adopt their own internal procedures for conducting appeals, so the process may vary from county to county. The assessment notices are generally sent out in April or May, after the Board of Assessors has had sufficient time to re-appraise property values as of January 1. The Board of Assessors does not generally re-value every property in the county each year. Instead, property owners only receive a notice if their assessed value changes. While in a relatively small number of cases the assessed value of the property will go down, receiving a reassessment notice is usually not good news for the average property owner.
A reassessment notice must show the prior year's value of the property, the current year's value, and an advisory statement that the property owner has 45 days to appeal the assessment. Appeals must be filed in writing, but can be as simple as a letter to the Board of Assessors postmarked prior to the expiration of the 45-day appeal period. Sending the appeals letter by certified mail is recommended to avoid disputes over whether notice of the appeal was timely filed. The letter must identify the property, contain the tax identification number of the property and state the grounds for the appeal. In some cases, the rationale for the increase may be stated in the reassessment notice. For example, the notice may state "new construction" as the reason
for the increase if a home was recently constructed on the property. Of course, if there has not been any recent construction on the property the owner can file an appeal based upon the mistake.
Even if the new value is reasonable and there has been no mistake, the owner may still have a valid basis for appeal if the tax value is inconsistent with other tax values in the area. This is the concept known as "uniformity," and along with valuation it is the most common basis for appeal. Making an appeal on the basis that "my neighbors are paying less" may be effective argument for any particular tax year. However, the benefits of this argument are often short lived because the Board of Assessors can rectify the problem by re-assessing or "equalizing" the assessments of the properties in question.
After the property owner has filed his or her appeal, it is usually a good idea to follow up with a more detailed letter to the Board of Assessors explaining the reasons for the appeal. In addition, property owners should consider arranging a meeting with the appraiser assigned to their case to discuss the appeal. Normally, the more organized and non-confrontational the property owner is in the meeting with the appraiser, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome. The old saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar certainly applies to most meetings with governmental officials, including county tax appraisers. If the appraiser believes an adjustment of the assessment is in order, he or she can make that recommendation to the Board of Assessors which has the authority to revise the assessment.
When meeting with the appraiser the property owner should present whatever evidence the property owner has to support a lower valuation of the property. This may be a settlement statement showing what the owner paid for the property, an appraisal, or comparable sales information. There may also be more subtle reasons why a low valuation is justified, such as portions of the property being in a flood plain, zoning restrictions, or covenants and easements which effectively strip the property of value.
For example, a homeowners association may own 30 acres of land in a highly desirable subdivision. However, if recorded covenants limit the use of the land to common property for the owners living in the community, the property has little, if no, true fair market value to anyone other than the owners living in the community. As such, the common property should logically only be taxed at a nominal value. More importantly, the existence of the common property likely means the values of the homes in the subdivision are worth more than if there was no common property. As such, it can be argued that the value of the common property is already factored into the value of each of the homes in the subdivision. Therefore, a large tax on the common property would essentially be a form of double taxation.
The Board of Assessors normally decides appeals without a formal hearing. Their decisions must be in writing and fall into one of three categories: (1) no change to the assessment; (2) a change in the assessment to the amount claimed by the owner; or (3) an altogether separate change. If the Board of Assessors makes the change requested by the owner, the appeal is over. If the Board of Assessors decides to make no change, it must send written notice to the property owner and the county's Board of Equalization stating the reason for the denial. This notice then constitutes the owner's appeal to the Board of Equalization without the necessity of the owner filing a separate appeal. If the Board of Assessors makes an altogether different decision (often a compromise between the assessed value and the amount requested by the owner), the owner may accept the decision or file a written appeal with the Board of Equalization within 21 days. While not frequently utilized, the property owner has the option to forego the hearing before the Board of Equalization and elect arbitration instead.
By Eric Reid Real Estate Agent with Renaissance Realty Group of Keller Williams Atlanta Partners
Posted on July 07, 2009 07:49 AM
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