Friday, May 11, 2007

Why Should I Hire a Property Tax Attorney for My Property Tax Appeal?

Question: If I as the property owner know more about my property than anyone else does, why should I hire an attorney to represent me in my property tax appeal?

Short answer: low cost, possible greater tax reduction, identification of legal issues, reduced stress, making property tax reduction planning part of your annual business plan.

Low Cost

Property tax attorneys, like other property tax reduction agents, typically work on a contingency fee basis. After a nominal initial filing and preparation fee, the attorney will be compensated by a percentage of the actual property tax reduction. This means that if no reduction is obtained, you have invested nothing but the initial preparation and filing fee.
Possible Greater Tax Reduction

All other things, being equal, who is likely to be more successful at a property tax reduction hearing, the person who handles a few hearings every year, or the person who handles a few hundred hearings every year? If you believe experience counts, on balance, you will do better with professional representation than representing yourself.

Identification of Legal Issues

Why would someone need a property tax attorney, and not just a real estate broker, appraiser or accountant to appeal property taxes? The answer is that attorneys are schooled in identifying and analyzing legal issues. Without exception, every property tax assessment and exemption decision is governed by specific legal regulations. Who better to evaluate and formulate a possible challenge to the validity of an assessment than an experienced property tax attorney?

Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing is inevitable except death and taxes.” With cryonics, even death may not be inevitable; with a good property tax attorney or tax agent, payment of property taxes may be inevitable, but the amount of taxes due may not be inevitable. Let me qualify that. In the right hands—and in extremely rare cases—the liability for any taxes at all on some parcels may not be inevitable. I recently completely eliminated a $510,000 assessment on homeowners’ association commonly-owned land. I was able to accomplish this simply by knowing the applicable law.

In some taxing jurisdictions, once a legal error is pointed out to the tax assessor or property appraiser, the correction can result in a benefit to the taxpayer for future years, as well. I recently had occasion to point out that a parcel of property was landlocked due to the taking of a portion of the property by eminent domain. The county reduced the assessment by nearly 90%, resulting in thousands of dollars saved annually by the property owner.

Moreover, tax assessment reduction appeals are typically governed by an elaborate set of procedural statutes and rules. No professional is more accustomed to understanding and evaluating statutes than a licensed and experienced attorney.

Reduced Stress

You’ve probably heard the expression, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” One of the essential facets of this pithy saying is that it is unwise to have someone as an advocate who is overly emotionally involved in the case. Translated to the property tax reduction appeal sphere, this means you should think twice about representing yourself on property that you own. A little detachment can go along way. Sometimes being too close to the forest obliterates the trees.

Aside from the strictly rational aspect of detachment, the emotional feature of stress reduction should not be overlooked. If you find it nerve-wracking to receive and review the taxing authorities’ requests for documentation, and hearing notices, or if you feel you know facts that compromise your ability to be fair to yourself, turning the assignment over to an advocate who makes his or her living from dispassionately presenting property tax reduction appeals on behalf of property owners may be your best bet.

Making Property Tax Reduction Appeals Part of Your Annual Business Plan

Having a property tax attorney or other property tax professional on retainer effectively puts the ball in their court. As a matter of course, your property tax reduction representative can be expected to contact you annually to confirm that you want continued representation. This can take the worry out of meeting annual deadlines. It also ensures that you take advantage of the annual or periodic opportunity to appeal your tax assessment, as provided by law in the state where your property is located.

If review of your tax assessment—every time it is issued, not just whenever you happen to pay attention to it—sounds like a good idea, how much better is it to perform this review under the guidance of a property tax lawyer, rather than basing it on your own perspective and experience.

Remember, if you wait till you see your tax bill to decide whether to appeal your property tax assessment, you have probably already missed the deadline.

Most states issue a proposed assessment several months before the tax bill itself is issued. Typically, the tax bill represents the final version of the assessment, and signals, among other things, that the time has already passed for an administrative property tax appeal (although it may not foreclose a more formal judicial appeal).

As with all questions regarding details of the property tax administration process in your state, consult with your local property tax professional. Frequently, the tax agent may be happy to hear from a prospective or existing client and may not even consider charging a fee for a brief telephone or in-person consultation.
Daniel A. Weiss has over 26 years experience as a Florida property tax attorney. Daniel Weiss was named in the 2007 Annual Edition of the South Florida Legal Guide as one of the top lawyers in the practice area of Real Estate - Land Use, Zoning & Environmental.
For a free consultation regarding your property, contact Click here

Florida Property Tax News: Special Legislative Session Addresses Property Tax Dilemma

Property tax consultants are in their glory these days. Instead of causing conversation to grind to a halt, property taxes are suddenly a hot topic at every luncheon, networking meeting and cocktail party. So, in the spirit of gathering our rosebuds while we may, what follows is the latest scuttlebutt on what may be offered in terms of property tax reform at the about-to-be-convened special session of the Florida legislature.

Those in the know are already aware that the special session of June 12-23 has been scheduled for the purpose of resolving the impasse between the State House and Senate about what to do to cure inequities in Florida’s property tax system.

At the start of the regular legislative session, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-West Miami) unveiled a plan intended to eliminate all property taxes on homestead residences. This was to be accomplished by raising sales tax by as much as 2.5 cents to 8.5 cents on the dollar.
The Florida Senate and Governor Charlie Crist opposed the sales-tax increase. Since no alternative plan was approved by both House and Senate, the 11-day special session will be the legislature’s last chance this year to resolve the property tax conundrum.

In the event no consensus comes out of the special session, Florida’s regular 20-year constitutional revision commission is expected to be called upon to address the property tax puzzle. Indeed, since many of the property tax bills filed during the regular legislative session have constitutional implications, the revision commission will have a multiplicity of property tax issues to discuss in any event.

Watch for the Senate’s first female president--and one of our favorite role models--Senator Gwen Margolis (D-N. Dade) to play a leadership role in the constitutional revision commission’s discussion of property tax reform. Sen. Margolis is a former chair of the Miami-Dade County Commission and the Miami-Dade County Value Adjustment Board, and is a property tax maven of the first order.

To get back to the legislature’s special session, it is apparent that Speaker Rubio will be prepared to abandon the trade-off of sales taxes for complete exemption for homesteads. Rubio is floating a new plan to cut property taxes by dramatically increasing the state's homestead exemption and giving a break to all other property owners.

Under Rubio’s revised plan, Florida homeowners would no longer have to pay property taxes on as much as 80% of the first $300,000 in value of their primary—or homestead—residence. The concept of linking property-tax cuts to a percentage of property values appears to be one which will garner philosophical and economic support in both the House and Senate. This cross-chamber, cross-party popularity distinguishes the increase in homestead benefit from the sales tax increase idea, which is traditionally regarded as regressive, having a disproportionate impact on wage earners, since a larger percentage of their disposable income would be consumed by a 40% increase in the level of sales taxes.

Watch this space for discussion of more Florida property tax news as it develops.
Daniel A. Weiss has over 26 years experience as a Florida property tax attorney. Daniel Weiss was named in the 2007 Annual Edition of the South Florida Legal Guide as one of the top lawyers in the practice area of Real Estate - Land Use, Zoning & Environmental.
For a free consultation regarding your property, contact Click here