Q: We have just received our real estate tax assessment for the 1983 tax year. We believe that it is much too high, especially in light of this recessionary period and slow real estate sales throughout the country. Can we protest or appeal this assessment, and if so, what are the procedures?
A: Every year, the District government is required to reassess all 151,000 parcels of real estate in the city. Property owners in the District of Columbia are taxed on a fiscal year, beginning July 1 and ending June 30 of the following year. The first-half taxes are due on Sept. 15 and on March 31 for the second half. There is a stiff penalty for late payment.
A notice of new assessments must be sent out between Jan. 1, and March 1, for the upcoming tax year beginning July 1. The law requires that the assessment be equal to the estimated fair market value of your property on Jan. 1 in the year of the assessment. The office of the assessor is required to determine the market value of the property.
The City Council then establishes a real estate tax rate, which is expressed in dollars per $100 of the assessed value. The council has divided property into three classes for tax purposes. They are Class I--improved residential property, owner-occupied condominiums and cooperatives in which at least 50 percent of the dwelling units are occupied by shareholders; Class II--residential property which is not owner occupied; Class III--all other property, primarily commercial.
Needless to say, none of us like to pay taxes. There is a procedure for appealing the assessment, but you must meet the April 15 deadline. If you are unhappy with your assessment, you may appeal to the Board of Equalization and Review, in the District Building, 14th and E streets NW, Washington 20004 (telephone number 727-6860). The appeal forms are available from the Board, or at any public library in the District of Columbia.
One should not decide hastily to file an appeal. Before you fill out the form, you should inspect the preliminary assessment rule, which is available at the Martin Luther King Library, and at selected libraries throughout the city. Keep in mind that the law requires the assessor to evaluate the property on the basis of the market value--and for a long time the assessment rarely caught up with the escalating real estate prices in the District.
But it is important to determine whether the District has in fact inspected your property, evaluated your neighborhood and calculated the value of any improvements. Call the assessor who worked in your neighborhood, and you can reach the assessor by calling 727-6460. You may want to have a professional appraiser give you an independent evaluation of your property, but this appraisal must be less than a year old.
If you want to file the appeal, keep the April 15 deadline in mind. The Board of Equalization and Review is an independent real estate body composed of 15 members appointed by the mayor with the approval of the City Council.
According to Samuel Reynolds, chairman of the Board of Equalization and Review, 2,500 appeals were heard last year and approximately one-third of those appeals had their assessment decreased.
But here's a word of caution: the board is required to raise or lower the assessment of any real property that it finds to be more than 5 percent above or below the estimated market value of the property as determined by the assessor. By filing your appeal, you run the risk that the assessment will be increased, rather than lowered.