(Note: This post is for informational purposes only as I do not provide tax advice.)
When it comes to income taxes, most states have a particular form and process for appealing tax issues. The most commonly familiar is the 1040X form for the IRS. However, property taxes do not go through these agencies. Instead, property taxes tend to be a local government charge that goes through a county office or township assessor's office. Thus, what works in Cook County Illinois does not necessarily work in Eastern South Carolina. Each local government or district spells out its own process for appealing property taxes.
Step 1 - Determine Which Government Office Is Responsible
A good first step is to find out for sure which office is responsible for your property taxes on real estate. In most cases, this tends to be a county assessor's office. Here's the website for the Cook County Assessor in Illinois. Most jurisdictions have a web page with contact and general information as part of the county government website. It's important to identify this office because sending an appeal to the wrong tax office essentially means you're sending your paperwork into the abyss.
Step 2 - Review or Appeal The Appraisal
The second step is to make sure the given real estate involved has been appraised properly to begin with. Many county offices have a process by which a property owner can challenge an appraisal before property taxes are levied. This is important because a successful appeal can trigger a new appraisal and potentially an adjustment before the annual tax bill is sent out. Doing an appeal after an assessment has been invoiced will be unlikely to change an outstanding tax bill already owed. Agencies tend to adjust forward, not retroactively. In Cook County Illinois, you can get help with your appeal from your township's assessors office. Not sure what township you reside in? Look up your township by doing a property search here.
Step 3 - Organize Your Documents
The third step is to have your documents in order before actually submitting the appeal. There's no room to appeal and then hope to have time to make an argument after the fact. The argument, supporting documentation and calculations need to be ready up front. Most appeals get one review; the focus tends to be on whether the tax agency did their work correctly. If there is an error, you as the property owner must be able to make the argument convincingly that the agency appraiser missed a big issue. That typically requires an independent appraisal by a licensed appraiser to make a convincing argument. Fortunately, some counties (including Cook County Illinois) make it easier by providing assessment values of nearby properties that can be accessed online, so look for this option or ask your township assessor for help. If you can make a solid argument that your taxes are higher than similar properties nears yours, you may be able to avoid an appraisal with the agency's own information and gain an adjustment.
Timing is Crucial
Note the timing of when you will be making an appeal, as well. Most appeals tend to be filed when property owners are realizing an increase in their property taxes. This typically happens when real estate values are climbing in general and the tax agency wants to capture new tax revenue as fast as possible. An appeal is more likely to get traction in a down year when property values are dropping and there is less attention on the process from property owners. Most homeowners at that time are just happy their tax bill has gone down in general and are not paying attention as to whether the amount went far enough.
If you live in Cook County Illinois, you need to pay attention to when your specific township's deadline is for filing a property tax appeal. Here's a link that shows the townships currently open for appeal and the upcoming assessment filing dates for the remaining townships in Cook County.
Ultimately, a tax appeal could be litigated if denied, but this can be rare. The best appeal chance is mostly at the tax agency level, so it helps not to be brash and rude when contacting tax personnel. You never know which staff person might be the actual person handling the appeal personally. Be polite, helpful and courteous. A nice conversation can go a long way in getting an appeal filed and receiving a fair response.
Brian Plain and Gradient Advisors, LLC do not provide tax and/or legal advice, but will work with your attorney or independent tax or legal advisor. In the event that you do not have your own attorney or tax professional we will partner with local CPA firms to provide tax services.