Northeast Times

Some property assessment appeals will not need a hearing

If you’re ap­peal­ing that prop­erty as­sess­ment with the Board of Re­vi­sion of Taxes, you might not have to wait for a hear­ing. You might be able to make a deal over the phone.

Mi­chael Piper, the city’s chief as­sess­ment of­ficer, con­firmed Monday that the Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment has been ne­go­ti­at­ing set­tle­ments with some of the more than 20,000 tax­pay­ers who didn’t like the num­bers they saw when they got their Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive no­tices in early 2013.

You don’t have to sit by the phone wait­ing for the city to call, Piper said, you can ini­ti­ate things your­self. Plenty of people do that, he said. Tax­pay­ers and OPA eval­u­at­ors dis­cuss what could be in­cor­rect data.

“Some­times, both sides think it’s worth it to come to an ad­just­ment,” he said. “It’s a ra­tion­al pro­cess.”

Nobody at OPA gets paid any more or any less based on what he or she ne­go­ti­ates or how many cases get dis­posed of, Piper said. The value of the prop­erty is based on the prop­erty, not on an own­er’s abil­ity to pay taxes on it, he ad­ded. There is no range of val­ues that are set to ini­ti­ate the city’s in­terest in mak­ing any deals.

The BRT, so far, has re­ceived 24,557 mar­ket value ap­peals for 2014, Piper stated in a Tues­day email to the North­east Times.

Over-the-phone ne­go­ti­at­ing is not the norm. Most ap­peals are go­ing to BRT hear­ings, Piper said. Still, “Why waste time that doesn’t have to be wasted,” Piper said in a Monday phone in­ter­view. It’s pos­sible there might be an is­sue that can be re­solved with a phone call, he said.

Piper wrote that 5,795 have been heard by BRT. Of those, the agency denied 3,223 ap­peals and re­vised 2,572 as­sess­ments. Tax­pay­ers have with­drawn 1,580 be­cause of “amen­able OPA re­vi­sion, and no hear­ing was re­quired for these.” An­oth­er 2,282 ap­peals have been with­drawn by tax­pay­ers, with no changes in as­sess­ments. Piper wrote that the re­main­ing 14,900 ap­peals either haven’t been sched­uled for hear­ings yet, or have been sched­uled and not yet heard.

No­tices of BRT hear­ings get sent out a few weeks be­fore their dates, Piper said. Some eval­u­at­ors feel ad­just­ments might be made be­fore the hear­ing and might try to con­tact own­ers when they see cop­ies of the hear­ing no­tices. They’re not al­ways im­me­di­ately suc­cess­ful mak­ing those con­nec­tions, Piper said.

The own­er of a Lower North­east prop­erty who asked not to be iden­ti­fied re­cently gave the Times an ac­count of his ne­go­ti­ations with an OPA em­ploy­ee.

First, some back­ground: The own­er had not asked the OPA to re­view the re­as­sess­ment he got in 2013, but in­stead ap­pealed dir­ectly to the BRT. He felt the new value was al­most triple what it had been, and he thought it was much high­er than the selling prices of sim­il­ar prop­er­ties in the neigh­bor­hood. He also thought the in­teri­or con­di­tion of the home would show that the value was really only about two-thirds the city’s new fig­ure.

He was ready to go to the BRT and state his case when he got a phone call in May from a man who iden­ti­fied him­self as an OPA em­ploy­ee. The two talked, and ar­range­ments were made for an ap­praiser to vis­it the prop­erty and have a look in­side. That was ac­com­plished. The day be­fore the man’s BRT hear­ing, the OPA em­ploy­ee called him.

“He offered to come down halfway,” the tax­pay­er said. He didn’t bite, he said. He made some ar­gu­ments for fur­ther re­du­cing the as­sess­ment, and the two men made a deal.

“We got something and the city got something,” he said. His something wasn’t bad, he said. He got about 87 per­cent of the re­duc­tion in his as­sess­ment that he wanted.

In most cases what this tax­pay­er de­scribed hap­pen­ing doesn’t hap­pen, Piper said. The eval­u­at­ors pro­pose as­sess­ments they can de­fend, he said, and will go to BRT hear­ings to do just that. “Most are pretty well-versed in how to give testi­mony and present evid­ence,” he said. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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