Tax Appeals Filed in 2009 Nearing the All-Time High

     A recent article published in the Newark Star Ledger noted that the number of property tax appeals filed in New Jersey for the 2009 tax year is considerable. The author notes that nearly 16,000 tax appeals were filed in the State of New Jersey in 2009 which is nearing the record of 16,300 set in 1992. In Ocean County, appeals have tripled to more than 14,000 from the levels filed in 2008. In Essex County, the number of appeals is nearly twice the amount filed in 2008.

     Interestingly, the article highlighted several arguments that taxpayers often make in seeking a reduction in their property tax assessment. These often range from “I overpaid for my property” and “I bought at the peak of the market” to “my home is outdated and needs to be modernized”. For those property owners who did not file a tax appeal in 2009, they will have to wait until the 2010 tax year to challenge their assessment as the deadline to file for 2009 was April 1st

   Nonetheless, it is not too early for a property owner to start preparing for the inevitable tax appeal next year. Below are a few tips that will aid all classes of taxpayers from the residential homeowner to the commercial developer.

  1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK – At times, a taxpayer will focus on the attributes of their own home and disregard how their property sits in the general scheme of the surrounding neighborhood.   An Internet search or your local real estate broker may be willing to assist you in locating comparable sales (known as “comps”) that can be used to justify a reduction in your assessment if a home similar enough to yours has sold for a value less than what your equalized assessment is. However, as any taxpayer will quickly find, no two properties are exactly alike. Therefore, it is important to conduct thorough research to make sure you have the best and most comparable information available.   Ideally, a licensed appraiser should be consulted for a professional opinion. 
  2. VERIFY YOUR INFORMATION – The tax assessor in each municipality maintains a property record card for every property within its taxing district. The property record card identifies the particular attributes of each property and provides an excellent starting point for anyone looking to lower their taxes. Sometimes, the property record card contains an innocent error or miscalculation that the tax assessor may relied upon for determining a property’s assessment.  Accordingly, sometimes a property owner can justify a reduction in its assessment based upon a correction of an error in the property record card. A property record card which is a public record can usually be obtained by contacting the tax assessor’s office – however, every assessor’s office has their own procedures for obtaining a copy of the card which should be strictly followed as a matter of courtesy and procedure
  3. KNOW AND MEET THE DEADLINE – The deadline to file a tax appeal for the 2010 tax year in most municipalities will be Thursday, April 1, 2010. In those municipalities undergoing a revaluation and reassessment which may not be concluded by the statutory deadline, the April 1st filing deadline might be extended (but not automatically). If the filing deadline is extended, the taxpayer will receive a written notice from its tax assessor listing the revised filing date. By rule and procedure, tax appeals must be RECEIVED by the filing deadline. 

     One of the easiest ways for a taxpayer to lose their right to appeal is to simply mail in their application by the filing date. Most people will simply drop their federal and state tax returns in the mail at the same time they file their tax appeals. This may past muster with Uncle Sam but it will not under New Jersey tax appeal laws.   To be safe, a taxpayer can hand deliver the appeal to the local County Board of Taxation or the Tax Court on the deadline date, but it must remember to hand deliver or mail copies to the appropriate recipients noted in the appeal form. 

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