Taxpayers Cautioned Against Putting Themselves in Harm's Way by Representing Themselves at Property Tax Appeal Hearings

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Property tax attorney Daniel A. Weiss of the Miami Law firm of Tannebaum Weiss cautioned property taxpayers nationwide about the drawbacks of representing themselves at local government property tax appeal hearings. Weiss encouraged taxpayers to handle their own petitions under some circumstances, but advised professional representation for most appeals.

Property tax attorney Daniel A. Weiss of the Miami Law firm of Tannebaum Weiss cautioned property taxpayers nationwide about the drawbacks of representing themselves at local government property tax appeal hearings. Weiss encouraged taxpayers to handle their own petitions under some circumstances, but advised professional representation for most appeals.

Weiss commented, "In my experience, taxing officials sometimes have no interest in providing relief to the taxpayer. Instead, they may use a taxpayer interview or appeal hearing as an opportunity to gather information to use against the taxpayer, rather than in his favor. While this is not invariably the case, the taxpayer should always pay attention to what he is being asked by the local official, lest it be used as a fishing expedition to defend the assessment, rather than as an opportunity to consider reducing it."

During 25 years of property tax practice, Weiss has developed the following guidelines to help taxpayers decide whether to handle their own property tax appeals.

Taxpayers should represent themselves if:

1. There exists a provable factual error upon which the property tax assessment is based, such as incorrect legal description, erroneous measurement of land or improvements; or

2. The stakes are so low that no professional tax representative is willing to take on the job.

The taxpayer may feel comfortable making an appointment to see the local government official responsible for the property tax assessment and review with her or him the following possible property tax assessment errors:

1. Inaccurate property description or dimensions.

2. Clerical errors.

3. Mathematical errors.

Other issues that the taxpayer may want initially to personally address to the property appraiser, but may want to hire a professional for before proceeding to hearing, include:

1. Failure to consider needed repairs, including hurricane repairs.

2. Failure to consider value-reducers like difficult ingress and egress, easements, drainage problems, heavy traffic areas, nearby railroad tracks, expressways, industry or noxious uses.

3. Lower assessments on similar properties in the neighborhood. Although market value is generally the controlling standard, by law, taxation must be fair and equitable.

4. Failure to depreciate for negative factors (deferred maintenance, age and quality of materials, poor workmanship, spalling, cracks or deterioration, defective or outmoded materials or construction, physical, functional or economic obsolescence of land or improvements).

In general, it is well to consider hiring a professional to prepare and advance the following property tax appeal claims:

1. Income producing property overassessed.

2. Failure to recognize decreased value due to downward trend in the real estate market.

3. Unlawful assessments, such as double assessment of common areas both to individual owners and to homeowners or condominium association.

4. Exemptions or exceptions to full value taxation (including agricultural classification) not applied or not properly applied to the property.

General rules governing the decision whether to employ a professional for your property tax appeals:

A. Commercial properties, including vacant as well as developed property, should be reviewed annually with a professional as soon as the notice of proposed taxes is issued (in Florida, for example, this occurs in August). Most property tax professionals work on a contingency basis. This gives you an assurance that you are not investing in a tax appeal that is frivolous, since your agent gets no fee unless a reduction is obtained.

B. Taxpayers with unusual professional training or background, such as real estate investors, brokers, agents, accountants or attorneys, may obtain equal or better results than a hired gun, especially considering their enhanced familiarity with the negatives of the property, increased personal investment in the property, and net gain from not paying a professional fee from the tax savings obtained.

In conclusion, as is true of many government processes, property tax appeals may best be handled by professionals. This is particularly true since most property tax agents work on a contingency fee basis. This means that no fee is earned unless an assessment reduction is achieved. Certain claims may be handled just as well by taxpayers themselves, particularly claims based on provable factual errors made by the county property appraiser, such as errors in measurement of the size of land or building which can be demonstrated through sealed survey or sketch or architectural renderings. If in doubt, review your property tax assessment with a professional. As in other contingency-fee industries, initial consultation is frequently free of charge.

Daniel A. Weiss is a former Attorney Special Master for the Miami-Dade County Value Adjustment Board and now represents taxpayers throughout the State of Florida. Mr. Weiss appears in Florida's Super Lawyers 2006, selected by his peers as one of the top 6 local government lawyers in South Florida.

Contact:

Shalini Hayes, Legal Assistant to

Daniel A. Weiss, Esq. - Florida property tax attorney

Tannebaum Weiss, LLP

tf: 1-866-374-7850

p: 305-374-7850

f: 305-374-0081

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