Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Property Tax Time Again!

Property Tax Time Again!

Its property tax time again! 

TRIM Notices

If they haven’t done so already, all property appraiser offices around the State of Florida will be sending out their Truth in Millage (TRIM) Notices in the next few days.  TRIM Notices of course are the process by which each county property appraiser’s office informs taxpayers about their proposed ad valorem (property) taxes.  TRIM Notices are otherwise known to most of us as our “Notice of Proposed Property Taxes”

Many property owners simply ignore their TRIM Notice.  If you are one of the many and ignore your taxes until November you will lose your right to file an appeal of the valuation of your property. Therefore it is very important for all of use to review our TRIM Notices just to be sure nothing out of the ordinary.  In the event you do feel like the listed market value of your property is out of line, you must act before the deadline which should be noted at the bottom of your TRIM Notice. 

Be forewarned.  For the normal everyday homeowner, it is not usually cost effective or practical to contact an attorney to contest your proposed property taxes.  Thus, in more cases than not, a homeowner will be left to argue with the property appraiser’s office by himself.  Conversely, with many commercial and industrial properties the dollar amounts are far greater and it makes a lot of sense to contact an attorney with experience in dealing with the property appraiser’s office.

Informal Meeting

The first step in contesting your valuation normally consists of scheduling an informal meeting with the property appraiser.  However, given the fact there is precious little time between issuance of TRIM Notices and the deadline to file an appeal, you must act fast in order to schedule a meeting before the appeal deadline.  When you call to schedule a meeting, you should always request a copy of any and all documents which the property appraiser has prepared, or has relied on in setting your valuation.  Obtain this material as soon as possible, as this will give you guidance as to where you can focus your request for a reduction. 

The next step is to either hire someone or do your own research in order to document a lower valuation. Surprisingly enough, if you have done your homework and can provide the property appraiser with appropriate documentation to substantiate an incorrect valuation, it is not unheard of to reach an agreement reducing your valuation.  The key to a productive meeting with the property appraiser is providing documentation to support a reduction in your valuation.  Without adequate documentation you stand little or no chance of success.  

In the event you are unable to schedule an informal meeting prior to the deadline cited on your TRIM Notice, it is absolutely imperative you file an appeal before your informal meeting.  This create a placeholder for your claim and preserves your rights in the event you cannot reach an agreement at your informal meeting.  You can always withdraw your petition after your informal meeting if need be.

VAB Appeal

If you were not able to reach an agreement with the property appraiser, your next step is to pursue your petition with the value adjustment board (VAB).  This is of course, assuming you have already done your homework and can document an incorrect valuation of your property. If you can’t provide documentary proof the property appraiser is wrong, you are simply wasting your time.  Petition forms are usually available from the Clerk of the Court website or the property appraiser office.  Again, deadlines for filing petitions are usually set forth on the TRIM Notices with the deadline being the 25th day after the property appraiser mails the TRIM Notice.  You are permitted to be represented by an attorney at your VAB hearing, but it is not required.

Parenthetically, there is always the option of filing a lawsuit in circuit court, however, that option really only makes financial sense for very few property owners.  In the vast majority of instances, going to the VAB is the only practical option. 

The VAB is a five member quasi judicial board with two county commissioners, a school board member and two appointed citizens.  In most counties, your hearing will be scheduled in front of a Special Magistrate rather than the VAB itself.  Special Magistrates are hired by the VAB to conduct the hearing and provide recommended orders to the VAB. 

Prior to the VAB hearing, there is a mandatory exchange of evidence so again, you must have spent the time doing your homework and have the ability to document a reduced valuation.

On the day of the hearing, the Special Magistrate will probably begin by going over the rules.  Petitioner then goes first presenting his case, followed by the Property Appraiser, and Petitioner then gets a final chance to reply.  Plan on having all witnesses attend and testify at the hearing as frequently you find affidavits, letters and other extraneous documents will not be admitted in to evidence without being authenticated by live testimony.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the Special Magistrate will normally not render his decision verbally, but will issue a written recommended order to the VAB shortly thereafter.  You will be copied on everything that issued by the Special Magistrate or the VAB.  In the vast, vast majority of cases, the VAB will simply rubber stamp the Special Magistrates recommended order.  After all, that is what the VAB is paying him to do.  If you do not prevail in the VAB appeal, you always have the right to appeal that decision to the circuit court.  But again, going to the circuit court in pursuit of a VAB appeal really only makes sense in a very few limited circumstances, as there is no means to recover attorneys fees incurred to contesting your property valuation.

If it isn’t apparent above, the key to succeeding in contesting your TRIM Notice (whether it be at an informal meeting, a VAB appeal or in circuit court) is to be able to adequately document an incorrect valuation.  Without the appropriate documentation to support your claims you might as well forget about contesting you tax assessment.  With the right documentation however, it might just be worth your time.

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