[author: Timothy J. Horstmann]
Owners of commercial and industrial properties in Pennsylvania seeking a reduction in their property tax assessments are generally advised to obtain a written appraisal of their property. But what should property owners do if their appraisal is not ready in time for the hearing scheduled by the county assessment office?
The first thing the property owner should do is contact the assessment office and request that the date of the hearing be moved. If a change in the hearing date is granted, property owners should request that the assessment office send written confirmation of the change.
However, many counties refuse to entertain requests for a change in the date of a hearing by property owners, and have adopted local rules of procedure stating as much.
The most likely result, therefore, is that the county will deny the request for a change in the hearing date. Consequently, property owners may be faced with the prospect of attending a hearing at which their primary and “best” piece of evidence – the appraisal – is not yet completed. While the owner is free to submit alternative evidence to support a reduction, the reality for most large commercial and industrial property tax appeals is that the assessment board likely will not grant a reduction absent an appraisal.
With property owners having the right to appeal the board’s decision to the trial court in the county, some appellants may be tempted to not have anyone attend the hearing, wait for the expected decision denying relief which would have come anyway, and then appeal that decision to the trial court, at which time the appraisal likely will be ready. Choosing this approach might save the property owner a few bucks up front, but can create headaches down the road, resulting in greater expense and even the possibility of losing one’s right to an appeal.
An appellant that fails to appear at a hearing scheduled by the assessment board risks having the board either issue a decision that indicates that the appellant abandoned the appeal or worse, not issue a decision at all. While this presumption of abandonment has no basis in the law for annual appeals, we are aware of county boards adopting policies under which they will refuse to issue decisions to appellants that have missed hearings in annual appeals, as well as appeals in connection with a county-wide reassessment, under the presumption that these appellants have abandoned their appeals.
Property owners therefore should always attend their appeal hearings before the boards to avoid any chance of their appeal being considered abandoned. It is recommended that the owner’s counsel attend the hearing, in the event the school district or municipality appear at the hearing and seek an increase in the assessment on the property.
If you failed to attend your hearing, we can help, but you must act quickly. You should contact one of the attorneys of the McNees State and Local Tax Group right away.