Real Property Tax Appeals in Connecticut
As is the case with many "local issues" in Connecticut, taxpayer complaints about real property tax assessments are generally addressed first at the local level. Anyone claiming to be "aggrieved" by his or her assessment must first bring an appeal to the Board of Assessment Appeals for the city or town in which the property is located. There, local citizens comprising the Board, with no required training in real estate matters, listen to taxpayer complaints and have the power to reduce an assessment if they find justification for doing so. (It is less well known that they also have the power to increase an assessment.)
The Board of Assessment Appeals is an informal administrative body. There is no "judge" and there are no rules of evidence. Taxpayers can appear alone, with or without counsel, and with or without an appraiser. The Board hears appeals for all types of property, from simple, single-family residential, to sophisticated, mixed-use commercial, industrial and residential. It is fair to wonder how a board of lay-citizens can realistically value a sophisticated property; some disgruntled taxpayers have been known to wonder how a board could value any property, particularly that of the upset taxpayer. In any event, that is Connecticut's system.
Only after an unsatisfactory decision from the Board of Assessment Appeals can a dissatisfied taxpayer bring his or her case to court. While there is also a statute which allows appeals directly to court without the necessity of appearing before the Board of Assessment Appeals, the taxpayer must show more than simple over-assessment of property. The courts have become much stricter in ruling on the these claims and have made it clear that the direct appeal statute is not a substitute for appearing before the Board of Assessment Appeals.
The legislature and the courts have also increased taxpayer burdens in these appeals by requiring the completion of specific forms, within specified time limits, as a prerequisite to appearing before the Board of Assessment Appeals, and further, by limiting the kinds of issues they will hear.
Cities and towns in Connecticut revalue property periodically in an attempt to keep the tax burden uniform and fair. If a taxpayer feels that his or her property has been improperly assessed in a revaluation year, it is especially critical to appear before the Board of Assessment Appeals. That way, all issues can be preserved if a further appeal to court is warranted.
Issues in a real property tax appeal are generally of two types: one is over-assessment. The other is unfairness in apportioning the tax burden. Over-assessment is a fairly simple issue. Taxpayers assert that their property is not worth as much as the assessor thinks it is.
On a more sophisticated level, taxpayers may feel that while their properties are assessed at or near fair-market value, other properties in town are assessed at less than their fair-market values, thereby causing an aggrieved taxpayer to bear more than his or her proportionate share of the tax burden. The courts have shown a preference for having this latter type of issue addressed in a revaluation year.
Once in court, the trial judge will hear the appeal "de novo", that is, without regard to what evidence was or was not produced at the Board of Assessment Appeals. While some lawyers are of the opinion that appearances before the Board of Assessment Appeals are a generally unavailing, but necessary prerequisite to a trip to court, we recommend that a taxpayer make the best presentation possible at the Board of Assessment Appeals. A favorable decision will save both time and money, and, in these days of liberal discovery in court, there aren't many surprises to be saved for trial. Some tax appeals simply do not involve enough money to warrant a trip to court, which makes the quality of Board of Assessment Appeals presentations even more important.
Real property tax appeals in Connecticut have become more difficult for taxpayers in recent years. They also present their own unique set of procedural traps for unwary taxpayers. As these difficulties have increased, so too has the need for competent counsel. Not surprisingly, we recommend consultation with counsel at the earliest opportunity.