Tax talk: Exercise your right to appeal property assessments

By Adam G. Kirk, published on June 13, 2004, in Savannah Morning News.

So you just stopped reeling from preparing your 2003 income tax return. Unfortunately, your tax work for 2004 may not be complete. In late June, some Chatham County property owners will receive “change in value” notices from the Chatham County Board of Assessors (BOA). These notices inform property owners of the value the BOA will place on their property for taxation in 2004.

As the adage goes, there are few things so certain as death and taxes. Unlike death, however, taxpayers can appeal the BOA’s determination.

Under Georgia law, a Board of Equalization (BOE) exists in each county to hear disputes between taxpayers and county boards of assessors. The BOE consists of panels of three citizens appointed by the Chatham county grand jury. BOE members receive training in valuation techniques and Georgia property taxation law.

If a taxpayer elects to appeal the BOA-determined value of his property the BOE will schedule a hearing.

There, the taxpayer and a representative of the BOA are permitted to make their cases and present evidence regarding the property’s value. The BOE then decides the value of the property for taxation by a majority vote. If the BOE does not resolve the dispute to either’s satisfaction, both the taxpayer and the BOA can appeal the dispute to the Superior Court.

Before appealing to the BOE or Superior Court, however, BOA taxpayers should take several facts into consideration.

Property is taxed at fair market value

Under Georgia law, the BOA must tax all property at its “fair market value.” Fair market value is “the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay for the property and a willing seller would accept for the property at an arm’s length, bona fide sale.” Property values in Chatham County have increased dramatically. As a result, taxpayers can expect to see a similar increase in the values that the BOA places on property. Before an appeal to the BOE or Superior Court, taxpayers should consider whether the value the BOA has placed on a property is comparable with recent sales of similar property. If a property is valued at the same value or less than sales of comparable property, the taxpayer may not have a good case for appeal.

Return your notice of appeal

If you have looked at comparable sales, and remain convinced that the BOA has placed too high a value on your property, you must return the notice of appeal to the BOA within 30 days of the date on the change in value notice. The notice of appeal is attached to your change in value notice, and requires that you sign and check a box indicating your basis for appeal. If you are contesting value, it is safest to check the boxes for Uniformity and Valuation. Otherwise, you may lose the right to appeal certain aspects of the BOA’s valuation.

Do your homework before the BOE hearing

At the BOE hearing, you must present evidence that your property should be valued lower than the BOA-determined value. The BOA will typically be represented by an appraiser, who will likely bring examples of recent sales to the BOE hearing. You must be able to counter the BOA’s evidence with evidence of your own. A good resource for property sales information is the county tax records, which can be found at www.chathamcourts.org. Recent appraisals of your property are also persuasive. At the BOE hearing, you should be prepared to discuss why your property should be valued lower than the BOA determined value, and support your case with evidence you have gathered. If you don’t have time to do the research, an appraiser, accountant, or an attorney may appear for you.

Stick to the facts

By law, the BOE can only reduce the BOA-determined valuation of a taxpayer’s property if it is the BOE’s opinion that the property would sell for something less. While it will be tempting to explain the sentimental value of a property, or to express disagreement with Georgia tax laws, in the end, your time at a BOE hearing is better spent presenting evidence of your property’s value.

It’s not over until it’s over

If it doesn’t go well at the BOE, a taxpayer may appeal the BOE’s decision to the superior court of the county where the property is located. Appeals to superior court can be costly. Thus taxpayers should get the advice of an attorney before appealing a decision of the BOE.

If you decide not to appeal to the superior court, all has not been lost. Under Georgia law, so long as certain criteria regarding the character of the property are satisfied, the BOA cannot increase the value of the property for taxation for a period of two years after the year of appeal.

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Adam Kirk is the Hiring Partner at HunterMaclean and practices in the areas of taxation, corporate and real estate law. He can be reached at akirk@huntermaclean.com or 912-236-0261.