In just a few short months property owners across Pennsylvania will receive annual property tax bills. If you, like many, have a sense that your property taxes are too high, know that you can do something about it.
Each county in the Commonwealth has a tax assessment appeal process available to property owners whose property is over assessed. However, since each county has its own rules, navigating the process of securing a property tax reduction can be confusing. Let’s add some clarity.
In Pennsylvania, your property taxes are based on two factors: 1) the local tax rate for your county, school district and municipality, and 2) the value of your home or property as determined by your county assessment office. To determine what you owe, government bodies take the assessed value and multiply it by the tax rate. For example, if your home is assessed at $350,000, and the tax rate is $10 for every $1000 of taxable value, your bill will be $3,500. If it has been a while since the last county-wide reassessment of values, an adjustment may be made uniformly across the whole county to reflect the fact that the whole county’s assessments may be off.
For residential properties, if the county’s determined value of your property is higher than the price for which your property would sell on the open market, you have a strong case for an appeal. For commercial and industrial properties if the county values your property incorrectly based on the income the property generates you have a strong case for an appeal.
For residential, commercial and industrial properties, if the official tax records for your property contain inaccurate or incomplete information upon which the county assessor relied to determine your property’s value, your property might be a good candidate for a tax appeal. Typical examples of common errors in Pennsylvania property tax records are an incorrect lot size, inaccurate building square footage, miscounting the number of bedrooms or bathrooms in the home, a record of listed improvements that do not actually exist or inaccurate details about the income generated by a commercial or industrial property.
If you believe an appeal is in order you must be careful to timely file for an appeal. Knowing that many property owners who file appeals do so because they know their properties are over-assessed, counties are careful to ensure strict compliance with filing deadlines. While Pennsylvania prohibits counties from setting filing deadlines earlier than August 1, many counties – Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Northampton County among them – take that as a cue to set their deadline for exactly August 1.
Each county in Pennsylvania has different fees and filing requirements for appeals. For instance, some counties require that all supporting evidence be submitted with the appeal. This often consists of an appraisal from a state-certified appraiser, recent sales comparisons, and, depending on its recency, the settlement sheet from the purchase of the property. Other counties require only the appeal application and the proper fee at the time of filing, demanding supporting documentation only by a certain date prior to the hearing.
Once your appeal is filed, notice of hearing date and time will be mailed to you no less than 20 days prior to the hearing. Unfortunately, if the date or time are inconvenient, your ability to reschedule will depend entirely on whether your county allows it. For instance, Montgomery County grants request on a case-by-case basis and all requests must be made no less than three (3) days prior to the scheduled hearing date. If a request to reschedule is granted in Montgomery County, you are responsible for notifying all affected parties, including any municipal entity which levies taxes on your property. At the other end of the spectrum, Bucks County does not reschedule hearings at all. In terms of uniformity, the only view that counties across the Commonwealth hold universally is that if you fail to appear at the hearing, after due notice, your appeal will be considered abandoned and will be dismissed. In nearly every case, your only remedy at that point will be to file again the following year.
Once your hearing date arrives, you’ll have to prove that the county’s existing assessment of your property is incorrect. Because the existing assessment is deemed under law to be correct until proven otherwise, the burden of proof is on you. For that reason, it is highly recommended that you have either an attorney or an appraiser present at your hearing and if possible, both, to present qualified and persuasive evidence on your behalf.
Lastly, if, after the presentation of credible and sufficient evidence that an assessment reduction is in order, the county Board of Assessment Appeals nevertheless fails to adjust the assessment, you have the right to appeal the Board’s findings to your county’s Court of Common Pleas but keep in mind, in Pennsylvania, a corporation or similar business entity (e.g., a limited liability company) may appear in court only through an attorney-at-law admitted to practice before the court
Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if our firm can be of assistance or if you’d like to discuss the possibility of an appeal.
Britain Henry is an associate at Goldstein Law Partners. He concentrates his practice in the areas of Municipal Law and Land Use, Business Law, Election Law, Complex Dispute Resolution & Litigation, and Constitutional Law & Civil Rights.