On January 23, a panel of the Commonwealth Court in Krohn v. Snyder County Board of Assessment Appeals, Nos. 116 and 117 C.D. 2012 (January 23, 2013), overturned an attempt by Snyder County to reassess a two acre tract of land with a barn.
The county issued a reassessment notice due to “the sale of land and the assessment of a home site not assessed previously.” The “sale of land” given as a reason for the reassessment was the taxpayer’s sale of an adjoining tract of land. As part of the reassessment, the county also added the value of a home site even though the land had no home site on it. The Board of Assessment Appeals denied an appeal filed by the taxpayers.
On appeal to the county trial court, the taxpayers argued that the reassessment was an invalid “spot assessment.” While the trial court agreed that none of the four statutory criteria for a reassessment applied to the taxpayers’ property, it ruled that the reassessment was proper and necessary in order to comply with the Uniformity Clause in the Pennsylvania Constitution. The record in the case showed that the county had a practice of adding a home site value to tax parcels for which the assessment office determined that a residential home site constituted the highest and best use for the parcel. The trial court reasoned that the failure to reassess taxpayer’s property consistent with that policy would lead to a Uniformity Clause violation.
The Commonwealth Court rejected the reasoning of the trial court, recognizing that reassessments are only authorized in specific situations provided by statute, and that none of those situations were present in the taxpayer’s case. Therefore, the reassessment was an illegal spot assessment.
The Court rejected the county’s practice of assigning a home site value when no home site existed, reasoning that “real estate taxes [are] based on the actual value of the property, not its hypothetical value.”
This case is instructive for property owners. First, a purported “reassessment” (when no countywide reassessment has been undertaken) should be viewed closely to be sure that it is supported by law. Some reasons for a change in assessment include the subdivision of land and repairs or alterations to real property. The sale of property alone is not enough to trigger a reassessment. Furthermore, if you believe that your assessment includes a “home site” value on otherwise vacant land, you should consider filing an appeal.