A Guide to Multifamily Property Tax Appeals

Learn how to navigate the multifamily property tax appeal process to ensure your tax bill accurately reflects your investment's market value and income-generating potential.

By
Gemma Smith
|
Last Updated
June 1, 2023
A Guide to Multifamily Property Tax Appeals

Understanding property taxes, particularly multifamily property tax appeals, is essential for landlords of multi-unit rental properties. Property taxes represent a significant cost, directly impacting a multifamily property's net operating income and profitability. These taxes are influenced by the assessed value of the property, which considers factors like market value, new construction, and the value of comparable units.

This assessment becomes more intricate for multifamily properties as it considers their income-generating potential, including aspects like vacancy rates and rent levels. Therefore, owners and investors should understand the appeal process for potential disagreements with the assessment, which could lower their tax bills and increase profitability. Professional assistance, such as real estate attorneys or tax consultants, can help navigate these complexities.

Understanding property tax assessments

Property tax assessments are a critical part of rental property ownership. This formal process involves an assessor determining the value of a property, which is then used to calculate the property owner's tax bill.

The assessment considers the property's size, including the overall lot size, square footage of buildings, and the number of units in the case of multifamily properties. The location of the property, its construction type, any improvements or renovations made, and the income potential are also considered. 

Property taxes and multifamily units

Multifamily properties, such as apartment buildings, duplexes, or any property with multiple separate housing units, have unique attributes when it comes to property taxes. Typically, the property tax assessment process begins with the assessor estimating the market value based on the data from recent sales of comparable homes in the same jurisdiction. This data is then used to derive the assessed value of the multifamily property. 

However, unlike single-family homes, the income approach to valuation is commonly used for multifamily units. A multifamily unit or apartment building’s assessed value also factors in the property’s condition, size, location, and income-producing potential.

In the income approach, the assessor determines the property's net operating income by subtracting operating expenses (excluding property taxes) from the property's annual income. This annual income is typically derived from rents collected from tenants residing in the property's units.

Capitalization rates (or cap rates) are then applied to this net operating income to estimate the property's value. These rates are determined based on the return investors expect from similar properties, considering their risks and rewards. The cap rate formula is:

Property Value = Net Operating Income / Capitalization Rate

It's worth noting that the appeal process is available to property owners who believe their multifamily property's assessment doesn't accurately reflect its market value. During the appeal, the owner or their attorney may present evidence, such as recent sale prices of comparable units or new construction costs, to challenge the assessment.

However, multifamily property managers and owners must also consider the implications of their net operating income and cap rates. If these are under- or over-estimated, it may lead to a skewed property assessment, thereby significantly affecting their tax bills.

The complexities inherent in this process underline the importance of property owners being vigilant about their property assessments and understanding the nuances involved in property tax appeals for multifamily properties. It's often beneficial to bring tax or legal professionals into this process to accurately determine the property's value and effectively navigate the appeal process.

Navigating the multifamily tax appeal process

Even with a thorough understanding of property tax assessments, circumstances may arise that prompt an owner or landlord to consider an appeal. For example, there may be a discrepancy in the assessed value due to inaccuracies reported around the property’s size, age, construction type, or number of units.

A significant increase in the property tax bill, downturns in the market affecting the value of comparable multifamily properties, or changes in the rental income can also be reasons to initiate an appeal. Through the appeal process, real estate investors can ensure that their tax liabilities accurately reflect their investment's market value and income-generating potential.

Pre-appeal preparations

If a tax appeal is deemed necessary, careful preparation is key. This involves gathering all relevant documentation related to the property, such as floor plans, survey reports, and records of any renovations or improvements.

Investors should collect data on the property’s income and expenses. Securing a professional property valuation also helps to determine an unbiased estimate of the property's worth, which can be compared to the assessor's valuation. Lastly, analyzing comparable properties in the area provides a benchmark to determine whether the property in question has been fairly assessed.

Filing the property tax appeal and next steps

Once you have all the necessary information, you can file the appeal. This usually involves submitting a form to your local tax assessor's office and any supporting documents that challenge the property assessment.

Next is the hearing process. Depending on your jurisdiction, this might be an informal meeting with the assessor or a formal hearing before a board of review. It's crucial to present your case clearly, using your gathered evidence to show why the current assessment is inaccurate.

The appeal process culminates in the assessor's decision. If successful, the assessor will adjust your property's assessed value, resulting in lower property taxes. If not, the assessed value remains unchanged.

The role of professionals

Involving professionals like real estate attorneys or tax consultants can help your chances of success, as their expertise in real estate law, property valuation and tax law enhance the quality of your appeal. They can help prepare proper documentation, advise on the best strategies, and represent you during the hearing process.

Of course, hiring professionals comes with costs, so be sure to weigh these costs against the potential tax savings from a successful appeal before deciding to bring on consultants.

After the tax appeal

A successful appeal results in a revised property tax assessment, leading to lower property taxes for the owner. But if the appeal is unsuccessful, the assessed value and tax bill remain unchanged. Regardless of the outcome, property owners can typically appeal their property assessment again in the next tax year.

Ongoing property tax strategies

Active management of property taxes involves regular record-keeping, staying informed about relevant changes in tax law, and periodic professional property valuations. These voluntary assessments help you proactively identify changes in your property's value, so you can take action before your tax bill increases significantly.

Moreover, understanding local tax laws and any proposed changes allows property owners to anticipate shifts that may impact their taxes. This can inform decisions about potential property improvements, rent adjustments, or the timing of property sales.

Implementing these strategies can help prevent the need for appeals in the future while ensuring your multifamily property remains profitable in the long run.

Multifamily property tax appeals: A final overview

Understanding multifamily property tax appeals is a critical aspect of successful rental property management. Your multifamily property's assessed value is based on a variety of factors — including income generation potential, size, location, construction type, and any improvements made. Sometimes assessors get these details wrong, and these discrepancies can significantly impact the property's tax bill — which is why property tax appeals are a necessary tool for multifamily investors.

Preparation for an appeal includes assembling pertinent documentation, obtaining a professional property valuation, and analyzing examples of similar properties in the region. This lays the foundation for any challenges during the appeal process, where the case facts are presented, heard, and finally a decision is made.

Enlisting the professional help of a real estate attorney or tax consultant in this scenario will provide expertise and experience that could enhance the appeal’s chances of success. But before hiring outside help, understand whether the cost of their services will outweigh the savings of a successful appeal.

Once the appeal concludes, regardless of the outcome, multifamily owners need to strategize for the future. This may involve regularly updating property valuations, maintaining accurate records, and staying abreast of changes in tax laws. Building a solid relationship with local tax assessors can also help investors understand assessment criteria and maintain open communication channels.

In summary, while property tax appeals can lead to substantial savings, they're just one aspect of effective property tax management. Multifamily property owners should adopt a holistic approach that includes proactive tax planning, regular property valuations, and effective communication with local tax authorities. This comprehensive approach ensures that multifamily property taxation doesn't become a hurdle in their path to profitability.

Gemma Smith

With 7 years in property management, Gemma serves as a key content strategist at Azibo.com. While excelling in writing, editing, and SEO, she also enhances Azibo's social media presence. Passionately, Gemma educates others to make informed real estate investment decisions in the ever-changing market.

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