The city of Detroit is extending its usual timeline for homeowners to initiate the process to appeal their property values by one week. The appeals window is now slated to run from Feb. 1 to Feb. 22.
Property assessment notices for 2021 were scheduled to be mailed Monday, city officials said last week. Detroiters will then have a three-week period — known as the assessor’s review — to challenge their property value.
Here’s a rundown of the process:
- Detroiters will get a notice by mail, which lists their home’s assessment value and the steps involved to make an appeal. If a homeowner would like to challenge the value, they must first appeal to the assessor’s review, which takes place between Feb. 1 and Feb. 22.
- The city says that the review process takes into account structural defects, fire damage or demolition of property before the beginning of the new year.
- As part of an appeal, homeowners should start looking for comparable properties and gathering photos, repair estimates, and, if possible, an appraisal, said Marie Sheehan, student director of the Property Tax Appeal Project at the University of Michigan, which offers free legal help to homeowners who are appealing their property assessments.
- Detroiters can make an appeal via email or send questions to the assessor’s office at [email protected], city officials said. They also can begin the process through a letter or over the phone. The assessor’s review will take place through Feb. 22 in Room 804 of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center at 2 Woodward Ave. The reviews will take place 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Any appointments, via Zoom or a field inspection, will be scheduled during those hours. If an individual is unable to meet by Zoom, the assessor’s office will have a conference room set up to accommodate social distancing for scheduled appointments. For more information, they can call the city assessor’s office at 313-224-3040 or 313-224-3035.
“We always advise people to bring pictures,” Detroit Assessor Alvin Horhn said, encouraging residents who wish to appeal their property tax assessment to bring anything they think will support their case for consideration.
“A lot of it depends on why you’re appealing. Most people appeal because of the condition of the house — the foundation is cracked, something is wrong and can’t be seen externally. … If you’re appealing because of the condition of the neighborhood, then take pictures of the neighboring houses,” he said.
Horhn said that property taxes will increase 2%, the state-mandated cap for annual increases. Property valuations this year are projected to go up by an average of more than 8%, he said. Assessment notices will be mailed to nearly 400,000 residential, commercial and industrial properties.
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Sheehan, with U-M’s Property Tax Appeal Project, said a strong appeal includes similar properties that have recently sold for less than a taxpayer’s home valuation. Homeowners should aim to include three to five comparable sales in their appeal letters, Sheehan said. They can also include in their appeal, in detail, evidence of damage that reduces a home’s value, recent repair estimates and photos of the damage. Sheehan said, if homeowners can afford to, “they should have a certified appraiser come to their house and estimate its worth” and attach that report to their letter.
The Property Tax Appeal Project works with Detroit homeowners who wish to appeal their home’s assessment. Homeowners who want to apply for help should fill out an online application at app.propertytaxproject.com/detroitappeal before Feb. 15. The group can be reached by call or text 313-438-8698 or by email at [email protected].
“An advocate can help walk them through the application,” Sheehan said. The project only helps appeal owner-occupied, single-family homes and prioritizes homeowners with low-value homes, Sheehan said. The project typically receives a surge in applications during the first two weeks of February so she recommends applying early.
After the assessor’s review in February, if a taxpayer is dissatisfied with the review’s decision, they can appeal to the March Board of Review, and must send the appeal by the second Monday of March. The reviews and scheduled appointments will take place between March 2 and 25, including Saturdays, in room 1208 of Coleman A. Young Municipal Center at 2 Woodward Ave. Taxpayers can appeal for a third time before the small claims division of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, for valuation and exemption appeals, prior to July 31.
Sheehan with the U-M’s Property Tax Appeal Project said the appeals process can be difficult.
“There are a couple of significant barriers that people sometimes face in accessing the appeals process,” Sheehan said. Those barriers include a short window of time to appeal, homeowners getting their notices days before the deadline, a lack of information on how to make an appeal and the cost of hiring an attorney.
Homeowners have to make a strong appeal, but a lack of resources makes that difficult, Sheehan said. She noted that in Chicago, “the assessor has a search engine on their website where homeowners can generate lists of the data they need to include in their appeal. But the assessor’s office in Detroit doesn’t include these resources for homeowners.”
City accepts ‘record’ number of exemption applications
The city announced last week that it extended the amount of time to request an appeal because it had a record number of applications for property tax exemptions.
Detroit has approved more than 10,500 homeowners for its Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program (HPTAP) compared with about 9,000 approved last year, according to a news release. In 2014, 3,800 applications were approved.
The assessor’s office is still reviewing hundreds of applications, the city said.
“This program has one purpose and that is to help keep Detroit families struggling to pay their property taxes in their homes and to take away the fear of foreclosure,” said Mayor Mike Duggan in a news release.
During the pandemic, more than 1,700 residents applied online for HPTAP and the city with community partners, helped residents with their application at the TCF Center in December.
Sheehan says a new online application made it easier for people to access the exemption, but “the record high numbers might not be a reflection of more people being qualified for the program, but maybe that more people are finally able to access the application — as they always should have been able to.”
A survey by Quicken Loans Community Fund in 2019 found that of the 25,000 homeowners behind on paying their property taxes, 55% indicated they were unaware of the HPTAP tax exemption.
Detroit in 2018 agreed to create a more “streamlined” HPTAP application process and mail notices to homeowners every year about the program, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the city reached a settlement in a lawsuit in which the ACLU claimed the city’s poverty tax exemption system was hard to apply for and not widely advertised.
Detroit homeowners eligible for HPTAP were also enrolled in Wayne County’s Pay As You Stay (PAYS) program to reduce back tax debt. Through Dec. 20, the PAYS program accepted about 5,000 Detroiters, according to a news release.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation last year allowing local governments to automatically renew property tax exemptions through 2021 for taxpayers who received it in 2019 or 2020, and provides for a three-year exemption period for people on a fixed income.
Property tax assessments have long been a point of contention in Detroit.
The city in 2017 completed a citywide reappraisal after the state of Michigan placed Detroit’s assessment division in 2014 under state oversight for mismanagement.
The city overtaxed homeowners by at least $600 million between 2010 and 2016, a Detroit News investigation reported last year. More than 92% — of the 173,000 Detroit homes reviewed — were found to be overtaxed by an average of $3,800.
Research published in 2018 in the Southern California Law Review found that Detroit over-assessed 53% to 83% of residential properties between 2009 and 2015. A separate study in February from the Center for Municipal Finance found that Detroit was over-assessing most of its lower-value properties — homes priced below $19,000 — between 2016 and 2018.
Michigan law prohibits municipalities from assessing any property at more than 50% of its market value.
A federal class action lawsuit filed last year claims the city was late in delivering more than 260,000 residential property tax notices in 2017, leading to inflated property tax bills issued in recent years. Defendants in the lawsuit include Duggan, Wayne County and state tax officials.
Detroit City Council in November rejected a proposal by the Duggan administration to offer over-assessed homeowners a 50% discount on city-controlled vacant properties and move those homeowners to the front of the line for affordable housing and applying for city jobs. Under the mayor’s proposal, anyone who owned a home in the city and lived in it as a primary residence between 2010 and 2013 would have been eligible, which amounts to about 130,000 residents.
Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Detroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Click here to support her work.
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