Judge Wettick Denies Appraisals as Absolute for Property Assessments
If you were hoping absolute appraisals would save you from reassessment values, you were wrong
This article will provide readers with the latest updates concerning the Allegheny County property assessments. The latest two developments are as follows:
1. Last week, Judge R. Stanton Wettick dismissed the class action suit filed by property owners against the Board of Property Assessments Appeals and Review (BPAAR) and Allegheny County.
2. The latest scheduling updates for pending Board of Viewers cases, and 2013 property assessment appeals filed this year
Each topic is discussed below.
Judge Wettick Dismisses Class Action Lawsuit
Earlier in 2013, a group of property owners filed a class action lawsuit against both the BPAAR and Allegheny County.
These property owners consisted of individuals who had obtained absolute appraisals to fight their 2013 reassessment values, but were not awarded these absolute appraisal values at their first level property appeal hearings.
They were upset by the fact that their absolute appraisals were ignored, especially because many of these individuals were the only party in attendance at the hearings during which they submitted the absolute appraisals as evidence.
On May 23, 2013, Judge R. Stanton Wettick issued his Opinion and Order of Court for this case, which ultimately dismissed the complaint filed by the class action.
Judge Wettick’s Order contains various interesting opinions and findings
First, he emphasizes the fact that even in a single-expert appeal hearing (one that involves just one absolute appraisal), the hearing officer is still entitled to recommend an assessment that is different than the appraiser’s recommended fair market value of the property for a variety of reasons.
The hearing officer may find flaws in the report, including:
- the usage of the wrong base year as used by the appraiser,
- the wrong square footage as used by the appraiser, or
- in the comparables used by the appraiser.
As summarized by Judge Wettick:
“A fact finder may set a fair market value not specifically offered by the expert so long as the decision is supported by evidence of record.”
Next, Judge Wettick again defended the expertise of the hearing officers in making fair recommendations as to value. Because these hearings officers are individuals with experience in the real estate market, they are relied upon to make fair and credible recommendations by considering both the appraisal and information about the property. Judge Wettick points out,
“The taxing bodies also rely on the expertise of the hearing officer. Obviously, the taxing bodies do not have sufficient resources to prepare for and attend each of the more than 100,000 hearings.”
Essentially, the hearing officer is permitted to make a well-reasoned decision by considering all of the information, not just the information contained in the absolute appraisal, which will ultimately be fair to both property owners and to the taxing bodies.
Finally, Judge Wettick emphasizes the fact that both property owners and taxing bodies are permitted to file appeals to challenge a BPAAR decision within thirty days of the decision having been issued to the Court of Common Pleas (the Board of Viewers) if they are dissatisfied.
This second level appeal will be a “de novo” appeal, which means that, essentially, the hearing will start over as if it has never been heard before. These appeals to the Board of Viewers are more formal and involved than first level hearings, and should stay that way according to Judge Wettick. As he states,
“The purpose of the BPAAR hearing is to give an unrepresented property owner, who has not obtained an appraisal, an opportunity to explain to a state-certified residential appraiser, a real estate industry profession, or a lawyer with residential valuation experience, why his or her assessment should be reduced”.
This more informal process should be maintained, as it is more property owner friendly.
Ultimately, this dismissal is not surprising. Though some quality absolute appraisals were likely ignored in the appeals process, there were also many shoddy absolute appraisals that were correctly discredited by hearing officers.
By asking for a strict policy that hearing officers would be required to accept absolute appraisal values carte blanche was too rigid a request by the property owners involved in the class action.
Instead, Judge Wettick affirmed the idea that hearing officers are there to use their judgment in recommending an opinion of value. Only time will tell if these property owners attempt to carry on with this lawsuit, or if they will end their litigation here.
Latest Scheduled Updates for Board of Viewers Cases & New 2013 Appeals
More than 10,000 second level appeals were filed to the Board of Viewers by both dissatisfied property owners and taxing bodies following the more than 100,000 appeal hearings that were filed last year.
The Board of Viewers is attempting to scheduled these hearings as quickly as possible. They are primarily currently scheduling appeals that were filed in 2012. Even though they are doing what they can, it is likely that some appeals will not be scheduled until sometime in 2014.
In speaking with various Board of Viewers Hearing Masters (presiding Judges), they have stated that many more property owners are showing up to actually pursue these appeals than there have been in previous years. For this reason, property owners who plan to attend their scheduled BOV should expect to wait to be called for a hearing, sometimes for an hour or two.
In addition to these pending appeals, the Office of Property Assessments has not started scheduling any of the appeals that were filed in the beginning of 2013 yet. They plan to begin scheduling these more than 10,000 appeals in the next month or two, and hope to have all of these final 2013 appeal hearings completed by the end of the summer 2013.
If you have any additional questions about property assessments, or would like a free consultation about your property tax appeal case, please feel free to contact us.