Here we go again! It's that time that all Guilford County real property owners invariably look forward to [Insert Sarcasm]. Yes, it’s a Revaluation Year in Guilford County. Property owners should be on the lookout: assessment notices have been mailed out by the Guilford County Tax Department with new values being given to properties in Guilford County as of January 1, 2017. (As for this resident, I received mine on February 18, 2017). When you get this non-descript notice in the mail, be sure to pay attention to ensure that a fair market value assessment is assigned to your property.
What does all of this mean? First, it means that all property in Guilford County has been given a new value by the Guilford County Tax Department for property tax purposes. It’s possible that the “new” value is the same as the “old” value”, but that is not guaranteed. As always occurs with a re-valuation, the “new” values are sure to stir controversy and dismay among property owners. With that in mind, property owners in Guilford County should realize they do not have to just blindly accept the “new” values. Instead, there are avenues for property owners to appeal the assessments.
Before getting into the details of how a property owner can appeal the assessments, I wanted to share a decision in a recent case that I handled for a property owner in Montgomery County, North Carolina. After appealing another County’s valuation through the process described below, we were able to have the initial value reduced by thirty percent (30%). While all cases are different, and there is never a guarantee that you can reduce your value at all. This case does provide a good illustration of the possible benefits of an appeal.
How does a property owner appeal the Guilford County Tax valuation?
The Informal Appeal
The first avenue for appealing the “new” value is to contact the Guilford County Tax Department directly and ask for an informal meeting. Important to note is that the Guilford County Tax Department has a set a deadline of March 17, 2017 to request an informal meeting. Guilford County Tax Department has stated that it would prefer that property owners request the informal meeting by filling out an on-line form or mailing back the form attached to the valuation notice rather than being contacted by phone to arrange these meetings. Guilford County typically falls into this group. If you do choose e-mail or regular mail to arrange the meeting, be sure to follow up if you don’t get a prompt reply. When you arrive for the meeting, make sure you are prepared and that you have information supporting what you believe to be the fair market value of your property. This supporting information could be anything from recent appraisals to comprehensive market reviews to anything else credible that helps support your argument. One thing not to do is to enter the meeting in a combative manner without any supporting information. Taking that type of stance will not lead to a useful resolution.
The Board of Equalization and Review Appeal
If the informal process does not work, a property owner can go ahead and file a written notice of appeal with the Guilford County Board of Equalization and Review. The North Carolina statutes state the written notice of appeal needs to be filed before the Board of Equalization and Review adjourns for the year. However, many counties set an actual deadline for filing such an appeal, rather than waiting for the actual date of adjournment. Guilford County follows this approach and has set a deadline of May 31, 2017 to file a formal appeal.
The property owner’s hearing before the Guilford County Board of Equalization and Review will be informal, meaning the testimony is not sworn and the rules of evidence do not apply. But, the property owner should attend prepared to argue their case. In that light, the property owner should have even better evidence with them at this point as to why the assessment does not accurately reflect the fair market value of their property. After hearing the evidence, the Guilford County Board of Equalization and Review will determine whether the property has been appraised and taxed in conformity with statutory requirements. Or, in other words, the Guilford County Board of Equalization and Review will determine whether a fair value has been assessed.
The North Carolina Property Tax Commission Appeal
If the Guilford County Board of Equalization and Review does not provide the relief the property owner seeks, the property owner can then appeal to the North Carolina Property Tax Commission. This appeal must be filed within 30 days after notice of the Board of Equalization and Review is mailed to the property owner. The notice of appeal is marked as received by the Property Tax Commission either on the day that the notice is post marked by the United States Postal Service, or if not post marked by the United States Postal Service, on the day the Property Tax Commission actually receives the notice. If the notice of appeal is not received within the required time period, there are grounds to automatically dismiss the appeal. If the notice of appeal is received on time, the Property Tax Commission will provide the property owner with a form AV14 (Request for Hearing). The form AV14 needs to be returned to the Property Tax Commission within 30 days of its mailing. The form AV14 can only be completed by the property owner or an attorney licensed in North Carolina.
Once the form AV14 is filed, historically it has been typical that there has been a lengthy delay before the matter is actually set for hearing. However, my experience has been that the delay has shortened substantially in the last few years. During this period of time, not matter how long it is, the parties can serve each other with written discovery. A party can also request an informal meeting with the tax department by contacting the Property Tax Commission or the Tax Department. Often times, employees assigned to the Property Tax Commission can help arrange this meeting and will agree to serve as informal mediators at the meeting.
When the matter goes to hearing before the Property Tax Commission, the hearing will be quasi-judicial, meaning testimony will be sworn and the North Carolina Rules of Evidence will apply. There will be a presumption that the assessment is correct. This presumption can be rebutted by the production of material, substantial, and competent evidence that tends to show that either an arbitrary or an illegal method of valuation was used and that the assessment substantially exceeded the true value in money of the property.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals Appeal
If the property owner does not get the relief they sought from the Property Tax Commission, the property owner then has a right to appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. This appeal must be filed within thirty (30) days of entry of the final decision by the Property Tax Commission.
The Appeal to Superior Court
Another avenue for appeal is an immediate right to appeal to Superior Court that arises if the property owner alleges that the tax that was imposed was imposed through clerical error, was an illegal tax, or was levied for an illegal purpose. These cases are rare, but the relief is available if the facts are in place.
All in all, a property owner can appeal a property tax valuation through several levels in an effort to get a fair value assessed to their property. However, throughout the process, the property owner should keep in mind they must present meaningful and competent evidence to support their case and must comply with the time frames and rules discussed in this article in order to ensure they have a chance to be successful in having the value they seek assigned to their property.