How to Appeal Your Property Taxes:
A Primer for the Non-Lawyer
Many homeowners in Metro Atlanta were shocked last month when they received their 2017 property tax assessments. While some homeowners saw twenty or thirty percent increases in the appraised value of their homes, other homeowners saw increases of fifty percent or more. Heavily impacted neighborhoods stretch from Milton in the northern portion of Fulton County to Chattahoochee Hills in the far south. Many elected officials have voiced concerns and are encouraging homeowners to file appeals. As described below, filing an appeal is quick, straight-forward and can be accomplished without hiring an attorney. Moreover, if the homeowner obtains a reduction of the appraised value though an appeal, that reduced amount will be locked for the following two years.
A. How to Appeal a Tax Assessment
The first step in the appeal process is to request that the County Board of Assessors reconsider the assessed value. In Fulton County, this initial appeal can be filed online. Filing an initial appeal to the Board of Assessors takes less than 15 minutes. On the electronic filing form, the homeowner can challenge the appraised amount based on: (i) value, (ii) uniformity, or (iii) both. “Value” refers to the fair market value of the property – i.e., the homeowner believes that the appraised value is higher than fair market value. “Uniformity” refers to whether the neighboring properties are being appraised consistently. In other words, if one property is appraised at fair market value, but many of the neighboring properties are only appraised at fifty percent of fair market value, that is a basis to appeal. The homeowner must also indicate an opinion regarding the property’s value. In most cases, the homeowner can simply list the previous year’s appraised value. If the Board of Assessors does not adjust the initial assessment, then the appeal proceeds to the next phase discussed below.
The electronic filing form requires the homeowner to select how he or she would like to proceed in the event the Board of Assessors does not change the initial valuation. Those options include an appeal to: (1) the County Board of Equalization (a three-person panel of appointed Fulton County residents); (2) an arbitrator; or (3) a hearing officer. In most cases, the Board of Equalization is the best option because there is no filing fee and the appeal process is very informal. Many homeowners can handle the hearing before the Board of Equalization without hiring an attorney. The homeowner should attend the hearing ready to explain the basis for his or her opinion of value, but a formal real estate appraisal is not required. Instead, homeowners can find extensive information about the value and sales history of neighboring properties online on the Board of Assessors website. The information can be reviewed and printed free of charge. The Board of Equalization will review the information presented at the hearing by the homeowner and a representative of the Board of Assessors, and render its decision. It is also common for the representative of the Board of Assessors to be willing to “settle” the case by negotiating an agreed upon value with the homeowner before the hearing begins.
If no settlement is reached and the homeowner is not satisfied with the decision of the Board of Equalization, the homeowner can then appeal to the Superior Court. At this stage, most homeowners choose to hire an attorney to navigate the procedural requirements of a formal court proceeding. If, however, the Board of Equalization reduces the initial appraised value or there is a settlement, under most circumstances, the Board of Assessors cannot change the amount so determined for the next two years.
B. Practical Advice
If a homeowner believes that his or her 2017 tax assessment does not represent a fair market value or is out of line with the neighboring area, he or she should file an electronic appeal. If the Board of Assessors refuses to adjust the value, most homeowners would be well-served to proceed with an appeal to the Board of Equalization, which is comprised of fellow taxpayers. Online information about sales and assessed values in the neighboring areas can provide compelling evidence before the Board of Equalization. Moreover, the Board of Assessors will often consider reducing the initial assessment as part of a settlement to avoid a hearing before the Board of Equalization.
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The information presented and contained within this document are provided by MMM as general information only, and do not, and are not intended to constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed within this document are solely the opinion of the individual author(s) and may not reflect the opinions of MMM, individual attorneys, or the opinions of MMM clients.