Property owners have until Feb. 11 to appeal


January 17, 1993|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

Imagine this: You're standing shin-deep in water, wondering how the river got diverted into your kitchen, when the mail carrier delivers the state government's 1993 Property Assessment Notice.

The notice claims your property is worth many thousands more now than it was worth three years ago, the last time it was assessed. And you'll now owe property taxes on the new, higher amount.

Now is the time to tell the state why they are all wet -- about the value they attach to your property.

Like the other 600,000 or so property owners who just got assessment notices from the Maryland tax department, you have until Feb. 11, 1993, to file an appeal with your local tax department.

Appealing an assessment is easy. William W. Saltzman, assistant to the director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, says about 5 to 10 percent of assessments are challenged each year.

Unlike a real estate fee appraiser, who goes into a home to determine its worth for a sale, state assessors sometimes evaluate entire communities at once, without going into each home.

They figure the value of one property, and if the others next to it are nearly identical -- and there are no records to suggest anything has been built or added inside -- the others are assessed at similar values.

"But there's always a chance that there's something we've missed," Mr. Saltzman admits. The area may be rezoned after the appraisal or substantial new construction may take place. And assessors do make math errors from time to time. "That's what the appeals process is for," he says.

The first step in an appeal is to sign the form on the back of the assessment notice. Indicate how you want to state your case: You may submit an appeal in writing, meet personally with an assessor or have a hearing over the phone.

Mr. Saltzman says no type of hearing is better than another: "We let the property owner determine what's most convenient for them."

Just make sure you return or mail the form to the local assessment office by Feb. 11.

For the hearing, you'll need to have evidence that shows that the market value of your property figured by the assessor isn't accurate. Evidence could be the work sheet the assessor used to inspect and value your property, showing a glaring error, like a drawing of a property you don't own, or a goof in the math.

You can obtain the assessor's work sheet for your property directly from the local tax office, usually with a written request. You may also request from the same office information about recent sales in your neighborhood.

Copies of work sheets for other properties like yours can also be used as evidence. If your home is similar to another, yet yours is valued much higher, the work sheet should reveal why. You'll need to know the addresses of other properties to get their work sheets from the taxation office.

Getting your own work sheet is free. The tax department charges $2.00 for each additional work sheet you request.

If you think your property has been devalued because of problems an assessor can't see, such as a structural crack or a host of termites, you can use photographs of the problem as evidence.

"You can also bring in market data that is more accurate than ours. But that's a long shot," Mr. Saltzman says, since his office gets copies of all real estate transfer documents and construction permits, showing the going prices for sales and improvements.

Important 15 minutes

Your first level of appeal is made to the local assessment office, whose address and phone number are included on the assessment notice. The first appeal is informal. If conducted in person or on the phone, it may last about 15 minutes.

During the appeal, focus only on points that are pertinent to the value of the property -- that's the advice in a brochure on the appeals process published by the Department of Assessments and Taxation. Avoid issues such as comparisons to past assessments, percent of increase, additional metropolitan costs and the amount of the tax bill. The assessment department says these issues are irrelevant to your current assessment.

If you're not satisfied with the response you get from the local office after your first level of appeal, you may make a second appeal with the Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board. A third appeal may be made to the Maryland Tax Court. Both of these are independent agencies, separate from the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

If you can prove to the assessment office that they made an oversight or even an error while calculating the value of your property, your total market value will be reduced, a new assessment will be figured and your property taxes will be recalculated accordingly.

Getting help

While the appeals process is not difficult, it may be time consuming to research and gather evidence. Some companies conduct the appeal for you, for a fee.

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