Ad Valorem Property Tax Appeals: DON’T PAY MORE THAN YOUR FAIR SHARE!

Are you a homeowner, landlord or business owner that owns or leases real or personal property? Don’t agree with the County Tax Assessor’s assessed value of your home or business property? It may be time to file an appeal.

Ad Valorem is Latin for “according to value”, so the amount of any assessment should be a function of the value of your property being taxed. While the local real estate market has certainly improved since the dark days of 2008, it has not improved as much as some county tax assessors would have you believe. With respect to real property, Georgia law requires each county’s tax assessor to send out assessment notices each year. For Gwinnett County, these assessment notices usually arrive during the first or second week of April. Other counties, such as Hall County, usually send the assessment notices in late Spring/early Summer. As outlined in the assessment notices, you will then have forty-five days from the date of your notice to file an appeal. Some counties, such as Gwinnett County, allow you to complete this process online. Other counties, such as Hall County, require you to mail or deliver your appeal notice to the Tax Assessor’s office. In completing the Notice of Appeal, Georgia law requires that you provide your opinion regarding the value of the property being appealed, although, this can be changed later. You will also be required to choose a method of appeal. These can include an appeal to the Board of Equalization, arbitration or, if both parties agree, an appeal directly to Superior Court. Georgia law also requires that you provide grounds for appeal. The most common grounds include: value, uniformity and taxability.

As an attorney who handles ad valorem tax appeals for homeowners, I analyze the property being appealed against recent sales as well as assessments of neighboring properties. Tax Assessors have a duty to not only assess fair market value, but also to confirm that assessments are uniform. Have neighboring homes to yours sold for less than your assessed value? Is your neighbor’s home identical to yours, but assessed at a far lower value? Is the information on file with the Tax Assessor’s Office accurate? Have you purchased your home in the prior year for less than your assessed value? Was your home reassessed in the previous three years? All of these are questions I ask when I handle residential tax appeals.

Certain changes were made to Georgia law a few years ago that benefit taxpayers. 299(c) provides that when fair market value is decided after appeal, a tax assessor may not reassess the subject property for two years following the appeal year. In appreciating markets like the one we are in now, a value that is locked in for the current tax year plus two additional years can be beneficial. Additionally, Georgia law now provides that if a value is set by a board of equalization and a taxpayer is successful in appealing and gets the value reduced by 15% or more, the Tax Assessor will be responsible for all costs and fees associated with the appeal. Additionally, all appeals to Superior Court now require a tax assessor to schedule a settlement conference and make a good faith attempt to resolve any dispute. The filing fee for Superior Court appeals is now capped at $25.

Many small business owners may not realize the added expense an overly inflated real property, equipment and/or inventory valuation can have on a business. All businesses should file the required personal property/inventory schedule by April 1st. Businesses should be careful to provide realistic valuations and to only schedule items required to be scheduled. For example, I recently handled a tax appeal in a neighboring county for a business owner whose real property assessment had increased by over 200%. The increased real property assessment would have meant several hundred thousand dollars of additional taxes each year. After a prolonged appeal during which my client and I challenged the tax assessor’s appraisal methods, I was able to resolve the real property appeal for that year plus the next two years at no increase. However, it did not end there. As my client and I prepared for battle in the real property appeal, I discovered that my client was scheduling certain building improvements as personal property that were also being included in its real property assessment. I also discovered that certain vehicles and other items that were scheduled, should not have been. While an appeal is still ongoing, I anticipate that this exercise will save my client over one hundred thousand dollars a year in personal property taxes in addition to the taxes saved from the real property appeal.

In addition to valuation, there may also be exemptions available to business owners. It is important to note that a county tax assessor is required to accept a taxpayer’s scheduled value or provide detailed rationale as to why it was not accepted. Do you ship materials to out of state customers? Several years ago, I handled a tax appeal for a supplier of haircare products. The taxpayer stored materials and manufactured products here, but shipped its products primarily out of state. I determined that an exemption known as the Freeport Exemption applied to my client. I was able to successfully limit the amount of taxes and penalties paid by my client over strenuous objection by the tax assessor. In fact, after losing at trial, the tax assessor filed losing appeals to the Georgia Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Georgia.

I look forward to working with you on whatever tax appeal needs you have. I am always happy to have a discussion with you about whether an appeal even makes sense. Furthermore, I am a commercial litigator with over twenty-two years of experience and handle a wide variety of litigation matters.