Commonwealth Court Confirms Use of Appeal Filing Date as Valuation Date for Real Estate Assessment Appeals

by McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

The Commonwealth Court has held that the proper date of valuation in an Allegheny County assessment appeal is the appeal filing date, not the first day of the tax year under appeal. The school district had appealed the decision of the trial court which had established the value of the taxpayer’s property for tax years 2009 – 2011. The taxpayer had introduced into evidence an appraisal containing an opinion of the property’s value in 2009 and 2010, but did not introduce into evidence an opinion of value for 2011. The taxpayer’s valuation for 2009 was dated as of March 31, 2009, the date on which the taxpayer filed its initial appeal.

The school district challenged the validity of the taxpayer’s opinion of value for 2009 on the ground that the appraisal should have been dated as of January 1, 2009, the first day of the tax year. In support of its argument the school district noted that the assessment law applicable to Allegheny County requires the fact finder to determine the value of the property for “the tax year in question,” and that a “tax year” under the statute commences on January 1st. The Court rejected this argument, and adopted the position of the taxpayer that the assessment law applicable to Allegheny County, while requiring the fact finder to determine the value of the property for the “tax year in question,” is silent on the question of the specific date of valuation to use. The Court explained that where this statute is silent on an issue, the General County Assessment Law applies. Because the General County Assessment Law requires the use of the appeal filing date as the valuation date, the Court held that an assessment appeal in Allegheny County must use for the date of valuation the date on which the appeal is filed.

In making this pronouncement, the Court appended a cryptic footnote in which it suggested that the use of the appeal filing date as the valuation date might violate the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court noted that the use of the appeal filing date results in a system where those taxpayers who file appeals have one valuation date, while those that do not have a different valuation date. The Court did not consider this issue further, as neither party had raised the issue on appeal. But, it seems unlikely that a violation of the Uniformity Clause would occur as different value dates would be normalized by application of the common level ratio, resulting in uniform assessment values.

After disposing of the school district’s claims regarding the date of valuation, the Court next considered whether the trial court gave sufficient reasons in support of its determination of value for the 2011 tax year. In holding that the trial court had failed to do so, the Court noted that only the school district had submitted an opinion of value of the property for 2011. In such “single expert” cases, the trial court has a duty to clearly state its reasons for departing from the expert’s valuation, and the trial court’s decision, which offered no explanation for its departure from the valuation in the school district’s appraisal, failed to meet this duty. Therefore, the Court vacated and remanded the trial court’s decision with respect to the determination of value for the 2011 tax year, and instructed the trial court to give reasons why it departed from the evidence in the record.

Macy’s, Inc. v. Bd. of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County, __ A.3d __, No. 373 C.D. 2011 (Commw. Ct. January 22, 2013).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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