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From deadlines to refunds: Challenging your property tax bill

In my post last week, I talked about challenging your property tax bill, and how such challenges can often be successful. This applies especially in instances where the county mistakenly reassesses the value of real estate, and in some others where appellants question the county’s valuation of their property. There are, of course — and I didn’t mention this last time — some additional reasons to appeal a property tax bill. They include a decline in the value of the property, also known as a Prop. 8 appeal.

If you believe that you have a basis for appealing the assessment of your property’s value, you’ll want to know more about the appeals process. So let’s look at some specifics:

Generally speaking, you, as the property owner, would be the one to file the assessment appeal, though you may also ask someone else to represent you. This can be your spouse, a parent, a child, your domestic partner or an attorney acting as your authorized agent. If you are basing your claim on an erroneous reassessment of property, meaning your property shouldn’t have been reassessed in the first place because an exclusion applied, you will need to consult with a knowledgable attorney before initiating an appeal. But for more straightforward appeals, the California State Board of Equalization has published a detailed publication titled Residential Property Assessment Appeals that lays out the process in great detail and is available online.

Deadlines apply for the filing of all appeals, but they vary depending on the type. A note here: Don’t despair if you miss a deadline. It isn’t necessarily the end of the story. Often, property owners can still obtain prospective relief, even if a retroactive adjustment has become impossible.

As I mentioned last time, appeals go before local appeals boards which, as independent agencies, are separate from the Assessor’s office. In most cases, the board is expected to hear and decide on an appeal no later than two years after the application was filed. It will announce its ruling at the hearing or send it to you later in writing.

An appeals board can reverse an erroneous reassessment, and it can either confirm your property’s assessed value or adjust it. Does that mean that an appeal could lead to an even higher tax bill? Theoretically yes, but if your attorney has done his or her homework such a turn of events is unlikely and you may very well receive a property tax refund.

By Kevin J. Moore