The Great Philly Tax Hike of 2019: Part III, First Level Review Applications

It has been several weeks since I posted a substantive update, but it has been a rush to get in taxpayers' First Level Review ("FLR") applications prior to the May 25th deadline. In this post I will provide two helpful procedural tips in submitting FLR applications, as well as discussion on two substantive points you may encounter when filling out your own.

Procedurally, although in past years you could submit FLR applications in person, the Office of Property Assessment ("OPA") has nixed this convenience. Even if you know which assessor will be reviewing your application and want to email it to her, management at the OPA has determined that assessors should not review any application unless and until it is (1) mailed to the P.O. box specified on your FLR application, (2) scanned in by OPA personnel, and then (3) provided to the assessor.

When asked whether it was possible to get a time-stamped copy of a taxpayer's FLR application if sent to the OPA P.O. box with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, the OPA could not answer this question. Therefore, it may be advisable to make a copy of your FLR application, together with any supporting documentation, and send the original with a certificate of mailing for proof that you sent it.  Interestingly, here is a First Level Review application from 2013, which shows that this year has cut short the appeal period by a week. While taxpayers had until May 31st in 2013 to appeal their 2014 valuations, this year they only have until May 25th. 

Substantively, I previously indicated I would write more on (1) certain wildly inaccurate assessments apparent in the City's most recent reassessments, and (2) taking into account the assessments of properties outside your neighborhood if you are making an argument for reduction on uniformity grounds. 

As to inaccurate assessments, I speak primarily to situations where the City may have failed to classify your property correctly and, consequently, overassessed it.  The City's assessment classifications are: "New/Rehabbed," "Above Average," "Average," "Below Average," "Vacant," "Sealed/Structurally Compromised," and "Not Applicable" (for vacant land). Some properties that were last renovated in 2010, almost a decade ago, are being classified as "New/Rehabbed." Clearly, this is an issue that, if you bring it up during your FLR review, you may raise to successfully reduce the assessed value of the property. Similar arguments may be made for property the taxpayer believes should be changed from "Above Average" to "Average" or "Below Average," etcetera.

Other situations where it is obvious that the City improperly assessed a property is where an owner bought it in the last one or two years for substantially, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars, less than this year's assessment. (This is not a stretch of the imagination, I have one such client whose property recently sold for $200,000 less than its assessed value.) If the deed on the property has been recorded, the FLR should point out the recent sale price. If it has not, and the City therefore does not have access to the deed, you may want to submit the pre-sale deed and/or appraisal with your application as proof of the recent sale value.

With respect to taking into account the assessed values of properties outside the subject property's neighborhood, there is case law suggesting that it is the countywide assessment-to-value ratio that matters most in determining uniformity, such that it ought to be determined by reference to the common level ratio. See Hromsisin v. Bd. of Assessment Appeals of Luzerne Cnty., 719 A.2d 815 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1988). (The common level ratio, or "CLR" is issued yearly by the Pennsylvania Tax Equalization Division as a check on local assessment practices.)

Then again, subsequent case law seems to have revived common law uniformity challenge procedures that allow a taxpayer to put forth a uniformity challenge by showing non-uniformity of "similar properties of the same nature in the neighborhood." In re Appeal of Brooks Bldg., 137 A.2d 273, 276 (Pa. 1958); see also Deitch Cnty. v. Bd. of Property Assessment, Appeals & Rev. of Allegheny Cnty., 209 A.2d 397 (Pa. 1965); Fosko v. Luzerne Cnty. Bd. of Assessment Appeals, 646 A.2d 1275 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1994). In a year where the county as allegedly undertaken a county-wide reassessment, it shouldn't hurt to show that your property is non-uniform not only within the neighborhood, but also on a broader basis.

One final observation is that while there is a lot of information swirling around right now with respect to assessments, it is worth discussing assessment issues with an attorney to ensure you properly lodge your appeal. I say this primarily because this article implies that an appeal to the Board of Revision of Taxes is just another step, similar to an FLR application, that may or may not be taken to challenge your reassessment. It is not. Failure to submit an FLR application waives nothing; however, failure to submit a BRT appeal application will likely result in waiver of your rights to appeal your assessment for that tax year.


DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog is intended or should be construed to constitute legal advice, and readers should not rely on it to solve their individual legal issues. No opinion set forth is endorsed by any law firm and is the sole opinion of the author. For help with any present legal issue, please consult a licensed attorney and do not rely merely on anything set forth in this website.