56,000 property tax appeals outpace 2009; count goes on
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
The total of property tax appeals in Miami-Dade won't be know for at least a week, but so far the count is 56,000 — almost 18,000 more than the 38,000 counted by this time last year.
But the total could be much less than the 144,000 filed in 2009 because fewer residential owners are expected to appeal, an appeal expert says.
The county's Value Adjustment Board still has piles of filed appeals to put into the system but should have an accurate count by next week, said Manager Robert Alfaro.
He added they won't know exactly how many residential versus commercial tax appeals were filed until late October.
What is known is that fewer than half as many property owners filed online this year as in 2009.
By the Sept. 20 deadline, 6,400 appeals were entered online, the board reported, when last year — the first owners were able to appeal online — 11,000 were received.
Among reasons fewer were filed online this year could be the "Important Notice" that appeared on the Web page were petitioners accessed the online form.
It said: "Do not file a VAB petition if you are satisfied with the valuation of your property, but are dissatisfied with the amount of taxes due because of a higher millage rate."
Tom Dixon, who specializes in tax assessment appeals, said this notice could have deterred some owners with proper assessments but upset about a tax increase from appealing.
Mr. Dixon, president of Dixon Commercial Real Estate, forecasts fewer appeal cases this year because of the $21 billion reduction in residential taxable values set by the Property Appraiser's Office.
"There will be fewer appeals this year because of the reduction in adjustment, primarily in single-family homes and condominiums," Mr. Dixon said. "They [homeowners] will not pursue an appeal against the assessment placed on their property because they feel the assessed value is within reason."
Another reason for fewer appeals this year, he added, could be the number of properties in the foreclosure process.
"The properties taken back by the banks," he said, "who is doing the appeals for them?"
But Mr. Alfaro didn't predict how high the count will go.
"It's hard for me to tell you whether it's going to go up or not," he said, but added he hopes it doesn't rise.
The real estate meltdown triggered a huge drop in property values, which has led many owners in recent years to complain that their assessments are unreasonably high compared to current market values.
Appeal totals in Miami-Dade have steadily increased in the past five years, with a sharp increment since 2007.
For example, it took the valuation board a year and half to hear a record-setting 102,295 appeals for 2008, and 2009 broke that record by far with 144,000 cases, making the task as overwhelming for the board.
The valuation board has made progress hearing 2009 cases. As of August about 35% were done — that's about 50,400 cases, Mr. Alfaro said.
If this pace continues, he noted, the board could wrap up 2009 hearings by March 2011.
A change this year for those planning to appeal late is that there is no deadline to do so.
The state Department of Revenue told the valuation board it couldn't place a deadline for late filers, Mr. Alfaro said, unlike last year, when property owners filing late had until Nov. 30.
But the process to file late remains the same.
To file late, petitioners first must file a hard-copy appeal, as the online option is closed, and wait to receive a hearing date. At the hearing, they must demonstrate in front of an appeals board magistrate good cause for filing tardy.
"People can file a [late] petition if they show good reason," Mr. Alfaro explained. "People can send them in as long as they have a good reason, so they still have to go through a just-cause hearing first. If the magistrate determines there is a good reason, it gets added to the [appeals] list."