Miami-Dade property tax appeals flood in from condo associations
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
With the deadline to appeal property taxes a week away, local appeals firms are hard at work, with many more cases coming from condo associations seeking appeals on behalf of unit owners.
With condo values dropping steeply, many condo associations are filing class appeals on behalf of those unit owners seeking a review of their assessments.
A state law allows condo associations to seek such group appeals, and the cost is less in bulk.
If the association files the tax appeal on behalf of multiple unit owners, it pays a smaller fee of $5 per unit, while an individual filing fee is $15.
Miami-based law firm Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod's Real Estate Group partnered with Mitchell Feldman to form FBS Property Tax Abatement to assist clients and other commercial and residential real estate owners wishing to appeal.
Jim Shindell, the group's chair, says significant business is coming from condo associations, with 35 and counting that the firm is set to represent in front of Miami-Dade County's Value Adjustment Board.
Through the law firm's tax appeal partnership, about $4 billion worth of residential and commercial assets have signed up for representation.
Most of the group's condo appeals are coming from Miami-Dade, followed by Broward County and a few in Palm Beach County, he says, areas where commercial and residential real estate owners affected by an increase in property taxes or drop in property value are seeking help.
On the residential side, Mr. Shindell says, many clients are unhappy because they are seeing the market value of their properties fall but taxes rise.
"That homeowner may find their property has come down in value but taxes have gone up," he said.
Another recently-formed partnership, that of Brickell-based CondoReports.com, a Web site that offers information and analysis on local condominiums, with Miami-based Property Tax Adjusters Inc. is showing results.
Gary Appel, principal of Property Tax Adjusters, says the partnership has led to a growth in condo association-led cases.
"We've been able to maintain our current (client) base and extend it significantly," said Mr. Appel, who has handled appeals 15 years, some on behalf of condo associations in areas such as Fisher Island and Williams Island.
These partnerships were formed this year as real estate-related companies looked for ways to find new business and tax adjusters projected last year's tax appeal flood to grow.
In the 2008 tax year, owners appealed assessments on 102,000 parcels, a significant climb from the 64,000 on which assessed values were appealed in 2007, according to the county's Value Adjustment Board.
Mr. Appel agrees that a main concern he is hearing from homeowners is how their property taxes are going up despite a decrease in their assessments.
And because some of those condo owners may be away in the summer, allowing condo associations to appeal on their behalf is a helpful option for some.
Condo associations' involvement in the appeals process is especially useful to condo owners who are away or those whose condos serve as a second home, he explained.
With a 25-day window to appeal from the tax millage notice mailing date Aug. 24, he says property owners who are away and may not be familiar with the process can benefit from a condo association handling the process for them.
Commercial tax appeals are also mounting.
Mr. Shindell of Bilzin Sumberg says although the group is getting more residential cases, many commercial property owners are also seeking a review of their assessments.
"We are seeing a lot of activity this year and will see more next year" on the commercial end, he said.
He added that the group's roster of commercial clients includes hotel owners, office buildings, retail businesses and some industrial properties.
Mr. Shindell notes that property owners don't want to pay more taxes than they need to.
For example, he said, a hotel owner struggling to maintain occupancy while seeing the hotel's value decrease is likely to seek tax relief.
In an office building, tax savings benefit both the landlords and tenants, he added, "so there's a desire to have the assessment reflect reality."