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Property Tax

Property Tax Assessment Appeals – 6 Essential Things Know and How to Protect Your Rights

Allegheny County residents can either file a property tax assessment appeal or have an appeal filed against them.  Being prepared, having the correct representation, and knowing the fundamentals of property tax assessment appeals can help you lower your property taxes and save money.  It is important to remember that challenging or defending a tax assessment appeal does not only save you money in the current tax year, but also saves you money for future years.  The amount of money you can save over multiple years can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars in savings.  You want to ensure that the appeal is handled correctly!

Defending an Appeal

Every year, thousands of tax assessment appeals are filed, often by a taxing body (the County, a School District or Municipality) against a property owner or new home buyer.  The reason is simple, the taxing authorities want to increase your taxes and want more of your money.  A homeowner’s taxes are based on the assessed value of his or her home.  The higher the assessment, the higher the taxes and the more money you pay.  Therefore, we encourage property owners to strongly consider defending appeals filed by a taxing body.

Filing Your Own Appeal

There has never been a better time to protect your bottom line.  You may have been over-paying in property taxes for years.  Fortunately, you have a new opportunity to challenge your tax assessment value each year.  You should strongly consider a tax assessment appeal if you did not challenge an appeal filed by a taxing authority in a previous year.  Your assessment value may be too high.

Unfortunately no tax assessment appeals can be filed for 2020 as the deadline was March 31, 2020 and has since passed.  However, the next appeal deadline is March 31, 2021 to file an appeal challenging an assessment in 2021.

If you believe your property has been improperly assessed and are looking to challenge an appeal, the legal team at Fenters Ward is here to help.  While you may think that there is no reason to appeal or that there is no way the value of your home can be changed, consulting with a legal professional can make all the difference.  Each property appeal case is unique.  There may be factors, data and evidence available you may not have been aware of that could help you in your tax assessment appeal.  We offer free consultations and are more than willing to discuss the particulars of your case.

Furthermore, with the impacts of COVID-19 significantly impacting the county and state, now may be the best time to think about saving money any way possible.  We handle tax assessment appeals throughout the year and can provide you with the representation you need.

The Property Tax Assessment

A property assessment is the value of what your home is worth.  Your property assessment and your rate of taxes (millage rate, as described below) determines the amount of money you pay.  The Office of Property Assessments (OPA) of Allegheny County determines your property assessment based on various factors such as housing market data and characteristics.

Allegheny County uses a 2012 base year system in assessing property taxes.  In turn, all property should be assessed based on what the fair market value of the property was in 2012.  Therefore, regardless of what the most recent purchase price (which may be greatly inflated based on what a buyer is willing to pay for property) was for a home, the valuation should relate back to the 2012 base year.

Your property taxes derive from your county property assessment multiplied by the yearly millage rate of each taxing authority.  Allegheny County sets the county millage rate, your municipality sets your local millage rate, and the school boards set your school district millage rate.  While you cannot change your millage rate, you can change your assessment by filing an appeal or defending an appeal.

School District Appeals

Defending a Tax Assessment Appeal Filed Against You

School districts file the most tax assessment appeals against property homeowners, especially new home buyers.  As described above, if a buyer recently purchased a property for significantly more money than the 2012 base value, a school district appeal is likely to follow to account for the increase in the sale of the property.

For instance, multiple houses that are similar or identical in the same neighborhood may all be assessed and taxed at the same value (say $100,000.00).  However, if one of those houses sells for $300,000.00, the school district will want to appeal and increase the assessed value and taxes of that house to reflect the higher sale price.

If the appeal is not defended, then home-buyer of the $300,000.00 property will have to pay more taxes based off a higher assessment even though that house is still identical in nature of the other houses with lower assessed values.  As such, the recent sale will greatly influence the assessed value when the value should still be based off the original base number ($100,000.00).

These types of appeals can lead to a lack of uniformity among assessments in your area.  In turn, this could be an indication that certain property owners are being treated unfairly related to their property taxes.

Further, buyers can freely choose and agree to how much they want to pay a seller for a home or property.  The price a buyer is willing to pay may be significantly more than what the actual value of a home might be for a variety of reasons.  The listing price that a house sells for does not always reflect or is indicative of the true value of a home.

The taxing body making the appeal must meet its burden of proof to be successful in raising your property taxes.  It must prevent evidence such as sales of other properties comparable to your own to achieve a favorable result.  However, taxing bodies are hoping you are not represented, prepared, or even attend such hearings so that it can put forth as little evidence forward as possible.

Knowing the basics of a defense appeal is essential.  Forcing the school district to present enough evidence to meet its burden is essential in defending an appeal and keeping your assessment from being changed.

An Overview of the Tax Assessment Appeals Process

How You Can File an Appeal and Challenge an Assessment

As mentioned previously, the deadline to file a tax assessment appeal for 2020 was March 31, 2020 and the deadline for 2021 is March 31, 2021.

An appeal form, including further instructions on how to file the form, can be found on Allegheny County’s website here.  The form can be submitted by mail, in person or email/online to the OPA with no filing fee required.

The OPA will schedule a hearing date with the Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review (BPAAR) and provide advance notice of the hearing.  This notice is:

  • 14 days for residential property
  • 30 days for commercial property

If you, or your representative, are unable to attend the hearing on your scheduled date, one postponement can be made.  The postponement must be made at least seven days prior to the hearing.  You can also send an interested party on your behalf to represent you at the hearing.

The BPAAR will makes its decision based on the evidence and arguments put forth by both parties at the hearing.  The BPAAR indicates that relevant evidence includes the value of the property in the base year of 2012 or the current market value of the property.  This can be accomplished by using comparable sales and sales data to evidence the value of similar homes to your own.

According to the BPAAR, it will also consider various forms of evidence such as photographs, appraisals, estimates and invoices relevant to the property’s value.  All evidence must be submitted at least five days prior to the appeal.

Further, no decision will be made on the day of the hearing.  The BPAAR will continue to review the evidence and send notice of its decision by mail to the owner address on file with the OPA.  After the decision, each party can file an appeal.

The property owner or taxing body has thirty days to appeal the decision to the Allegheny County Board of Viewers (BOV).  There is a non-refundable fee of $135.25 to file an appeal.  Additionally, only the property owner or an attorney may appear at the BOV hearing.  The BOV hearing is considered a new hearing and all evidence and arguments are again presented, along with an opportunity for negotiations to take place between the parties.

However, the BOV level hearing reflects more of a trial-like setting.  As such, it is important not to only have competent legal representation at the BPAAR hearing, but also at the BOV hearing.

Our attorneys will prepare all the filings and attend the hearing for you.  The Law Firm of Fenters Ward can help you acquire all the relevant evidence and information, most importantly sales data, you will need during your appeal.  We have the knowledge and data tools necessary to present the evidence needed and give you the best chance in proving or defending your case.

Why Should You Hire Fenters Ward for your Tax Assessment Appeal?

You have a choice in law firms to handle your tax appeal.  Unlike other firms, The Law Firm of Fenters Ward offers a money-back guarantee in every case.  We also offer low competitive flat rates in each case ($1,000.00 – $2,500.00) and affordable monthly payment plans ($100 to $250 per month).   That means that we only take cases that we believe we can win for our clients.  It means that we stand behind our product.

Other firms may try to charge you a higher contingency rate (40 – 50%) if they think they can win, which takes money out of your pocket for the same amount of work.  Beware this type of arrangement; it only gets offered if you have a high chance of winning and ultimately you are going to pay your attorney more.  Other firms may also seek a percentage of your savings for the current tax year and future years. We only charge a one-time, low flat fee, on a payment plan.

Whether your defending an appeal filed against you or you are filing the appeal to lower your assessment value, legal representation is strongly recommended.  The Law Firm of Fenters Ward can help you navigate the entire tax assessment appeal process and present the evidence most favorable to your case.

Your case may involve showing that you overpaid for your home, presenting information of similar properties in your area selling for significantly less than the valuation of your home, showing differing assessments of similar properties in your area, or analyzing all pricing data including, but not limited to, improvements, repairs or new constructions, income and costs.  We review all information and analyzing the chances of success for your case.

In some cases, we recommend that a third-party valuation report be obtained.  We work closely with valuators on a high-volume basis, which allows us to bring affordable and accurate third-party expert reports in support of your case.  A strong expert opinion can make all the difference in your case or appeal to the board of viewers.

Another important factor to consider is that a homeowner appearing on his or her own behalf allows himself or herself to be cross-examined.  Therefore, the opposing side can then potentially elicit information that is detrimental to the property owner’s case.

In this situation, you may be offering pricing and property information that other side may not have acquired or was unaware of prior to the hearing.  You want to focus on the most important evidence and be well-prepared ahead of the tax assessment appeal hearing.  We can ensure that happens for you through our representation.

The dedicated attorneys at Fenters Ward are familiar with the rules of law and appeals process.  We have the experience of handling legal counseling, litigation, and negotiation on behalf of clients and can ensure you will not be taken advantage of by the opposing side and its lawyers.  We strive to continue to build on our success with our top priority being to help save you money and provide fair and competent representation.

If you are interested in retaining our services for your tax appeal or even just simply setting up a consultation, please fill out our contact form, or reach out to us at 877-259-WARD.  We look forward to speaking with you soon and assisting you with all of your tax assessment appeal needs.

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Pittsburgh, PA 15206

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