Lane Powell offers a full range of consulting and litigation services for property tax matters. Whether it is a tough valuation issue, a tax exemption, a tax classification issue, or other property tax question, we can help you spot potential problems before they become disputes and protect your rights should litigation become necessary. Property tax litigation is fraught with traps for the unwary. With the team's extensive experience, we know how to avoid litigation’s pitfalls and maximize the likelihood of success.
The procedures used by assessors for determining value vary depending upon the county in which the property is located and the type of property involved. Most assessments are set using what is called the ”mass appraisal technique.” In mass appraisal, the assessor develops a valuation algorithm to estimate value based on a set of select property characteristics that the assessor believes to be particularly relevant in estimating value. Such algorithms can be very effective in estimating values for common types of properties that have similar characteristics, but they perform poorly for properties whose values depend upon unusual characteristics that are not addressed by the algorithm’s formula. For all properties, it is critical that the property characteristics used by the assessor are accurate. It’s the old “garbage in, garbage out” problem, and if the characteristics used by the assessor misrepresent the property, it can result in a substantial overvaluation. If you have concerns that the assessor’s formula is overvaluing your property, you should check to make sure that the assessor’s data for your property is accurate.
It depends. In most counties in Washington an appeal must be filed with the county board of equalization by the later of: July 1, or 30 days after the “Change of Value Notice is mailed to the taxpayer by the assessor or posted to the assessor’s website if the taxpayer has elected to receive valuation changes electronically. Some counties, including King, Pierce, Clark, Thurston, & Yakima, accept appeals that are submitted within 60 days after the date of the Change of Value Notice. It is important to note that the filing period runs from the date printed on the Notice, not the date the notice is received. It is also important to note that if you believe that the prior year’s value would be excessive for the current year, you should file your appeal by July 1 because the assessor may not change that value and you may not later receive a Change of Value Notice.
Property taxes in Washington are administered on a two year cycle. The first year, known as the “assessment year,” is the year in which the assessed value is determined. For most properties, the valuation date is January 1 of the assessment year. For new construction, however, the assessor may set the value as of July 30 to reflect the additional value added to the property by the new construction. Taxes on that value are payable in the second year of the cycle, known as the “tax year.” Tax bills are issued on or about February 15 of the tax year and tax payments are payable in two installments, the first is due on April 30, and the second half is due on October 31. Late payment or nonpayment of taxes can result in substantial penalties and interest, so it is important to assure that tax payments are made on a timely basis.
If you have any concerns regarding your assessment, I strongly recommend paying the taxes under protest. Paying under protest preserves the property owner’s right to bring a tax refund action in superior court to challenge the assessment even if appeal was filed with the county board of equalization. The protest letter must set forth the “grounds for protest,” that is, the reasons for the protest. If the taxes at issue are significant, I recommend obtaining legal advice to assure that the grounds stated in the letter are legally adequate.
Yes, if you pay the tax under protest. See the discussion of payments under protest above.
Not necessarily. The amount you pay in property taxes is determined by multiplying your property value by the aggregate “tax levy rate” that applies to properties in your area. The aggregate tax levy rate depends upon how much tax each taxing district is authorized to levy and the total amount of assessed value in each taxing district’s tax base. The amount of an owner’s tax is determined by multiplying the property’s assessed value by the applicable tax levy rate. The tax levy rate for each taxing district is set by dividing the total taxes authorized for the district by the total assessed value of all taxable property in the district. The aggregate tax levy rate is set by combining the levy rates for all of the districts authorized to tax the property. Thus, for example, if the property is subject to taxation by state, county, city, in school district, the Levy rates for each of those taxing districts are added together and multiplied against property value to determine the amount of tax due. If taxing district budgets go down (a rare occurrence) or if the aggregate amount of assessed value in that district increases more than the increase in your property’s value, the tax levy rate may go down to more than make up for the increase in your property’s value. In other words, even if your assessment goes up, your taxes could go down.
There are a variety of property tax exemptions provided by Washington law. They are too numerous and to various to describe in detail here. It is crucial to note, however, that virtually all of them depend on how the property is used, not just on whether it is owned by a tax exempt entity. Most tax exemptions are administered by the State Department of Revenue, and that is a good place to start if you have questions regarding whether your property qualifies for tax exemption. If the Department is unable to answer your questions to your satisfaction, I recommend seeking legal advice.
Washington State County Assessors
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