Editor's note: Walter Hotz, attorney and Smoke Rise resident of 35 years, offers advice on the tax appeal process:
By the time you see this article, DeKalb County should have sent out the Annual Notice of Assessment on your home and on other real estate you own (they were scheduled to go out the last week of May).
Most homes in DeKalb County (by a huge percentage) are overvalued for tax purposes. I see case after case where the County has not devalued a homeowner’s assessment since 2007!
This is inexcusable, inexplicable and indefensible. The home values in DeKalb County started to materially drop in 2008 and have fallen steadfastly each year thereafter. Chances are very high that you are paying way too much in taxes. So, if you think your assessment is higher than the current value of your home – and most likely it is - here's what you can do about it.
You have 45 days after the date of your Annual Notice of Assessment (not 45 days from the day you receive it) to file an appeal to the Board of Tax Assessors. Your Annual Notice of Assessment will provide you with instructions on how to file your appeal. If you have not already received your Annual Notice of Assessment, be diligent in looking for it to come in the mail because if you miss the 45 day window - you're stuck and your right to appeal will be lost.
Tip of the month: most people choose "value" as their ground for appeal - which is good and should be chosen but you should also choose "uniformity of assessment." Uniformity of Assessment is rarely chosen by homeowners representing themselves but as a professional tax appeal representative, I find that uniformity of assessment, more often than not, enables me to achieve a lower assessment for a client than if I had just used comparable sales as evidence of fair market value.
If you do not select uniformity of assessment you cannot talk about it in your Board of Equalization hearing - so choose "value" and "uniformity of assessment" for your appeal. [Also, if for some reason you wanted to pursue your appeal past the Board of Equalization, if you did not choose uniformity of assessment in your original appeal – you cannot make that claim further up the legal ladder.]
Be wary of a trap that most homeowners fall into with DeKalb County. [Giving the benefit of the doubt to DeKalb County, I do not believe this trap is intentional on their part. Nevertheless, a significant number of taxpayers are snared by this trap each year.] Here's how the trap works. When you file an appeal (even though you selected to appeal to the Board of Equalization), your appeal actually goes first to the Board of Tax Assessors (not the Board of Equalization).
The Board of Tax Assessors (BOA) is required to review your appeal and to respond to you in writing to let you know if they agree with your proposed figure (if you gave them a figure) or otherwise review your assessment to see if the assessment should be reduced. Most of the time, but not always, the BOA will respond stating that they stand by their original assessment and that your appeal has been forwarded to the Board of Equalization (BOE). If that is the BOA’s response you are not required to do anything.
However, the BOA may respond to you with a revised assessment figure. Most likely it will not be as low as you would like or an amount that you think is fair. Here is the trap! You filed an appeal and it appears to you that the BOA is making an offer that you could accept, if you wanted to do so. If you disagree with the new figure, you may think that you do not have to respond because you have already filed an appeal.
If you do not respond to the BOA's new assessment, the appeal that you previously filed is dismissed. Your failure to respond is taken as your agreement with the BOA's new figure. Be wary! If you do not agree with the BOA's new figure, file another appeal within the time limits stated in the BOA's communication to you.
There have been many occasions where I have had to file two or three "appeals" to keep my appeal alive. It doesn't make any sense to me because I think when you file an appeal your appeal should remain active until you dismiss your appeal - but that is not the case. Watch out -Don’t fall into the trap.
Here are several questions that I am routinely asked:
If you missed filing your appeal during the 45 day period from the date of your Annual Notice of Assessment - are there any hardship exceptions, such as my dog ate my appeal or you promise on scout’s honor that you mailed it and it must have gotten lost in the mail or during the 45 day period I was sick with the flu (and I mean sick, sick and more sick). Will any of those excuses allow you to file your appeal after the 45 day period? – nope, there are no provisions for filing late. Unfortunately, you are up the proverbial creek. The moral of this story is DON’T MISS THE DEADLINE, there are no excuses.
If you leave out something important in your appeal, like you forgot to include “uniformity of assessment” as a ground for appeal, can you amend your appeal to add such a ground? Yes. As long as your original filing was timely, you can amend your appeal prior to the BOE hearing.
Does the appeal have to take on a certain form? The statute does not require any particular form. The County has a Microsoft Excel form on their website that can be printed. It is a fill-in the blank type of form. You can get the form at http://web.co.dekalb.ga.us/PropertyAppraisal/appeal.html. Click on “Appeal Process”, then, in the third paragraph of the page that pops up, you will see where to click for the form. If you file your appeal with this form you should be good to go – just remember to circle “value” and “uniformity of assessment.”
Can you file the appeal electronically? Last year you could but DeKalb County took down the site earlier this year. The County told me that it will be back up and working when the 2012 Annual Notices of Assessment are mailed but I am not sure. If the site is back up, I have no reason to doubt filing electronically would be ok – but be sure it gives you a confirmation number. Last year the electronic version was very good. If I recall correctly, it caused you to select all available grounds for appeal, which was a good thing. I have not seen this year’s version.
Which form do I use to file appeals for my clients? I have drafted a form that I use that includes all of the legal points that I think should be included – so the form I use is a self-made form.
How do I transmit my appeal forms to the County? I always file appeals in writing and take them down to the County and have them date and time stamped (and date and time stamp a copy for my records) – that’s just me – call me old fashion - but note that I have never had a filing issue. Nevertheless, if I was only filing an appeal for myself and electronic filing was up and running and the form was the same as it was last year, I would file electronically. However, I would be sure to get a confirmation number. [With my personality, I would still have to call the County to make sure they got it. Some old habits are hard to break.]
To find more frequently asked questions and answers, you can go to the County web page cited above or go to my webpage at www.boetaxappeals.com and select FAQ.
Next month, I hope to write an article directed to give you tips on how to prosecute your appeal that will put you well above the norm in your chances of being successful. I will also start to define some terms for you, such as, what is a Board of Equalization, how many people are on the Board and where is this Board of Equalization? I will also include a Tip of the Month in each article. I hope you found this article informative. It was a pleasure writing it for you.
Good luck and happy appealing.