Tax talk: Tell the lawyer, 'No thanks'
Sunday, December 28, 2008
by Kristen McQuerey
If you own a house or apartment building, you may have received a
letter in the mail imploring you to hire an attorney to appeal your
property tax assessment.
I remember one such letter at my house. The basic message was: "Your
assessment is too high. If you don't hire me, you're an idiot."
For most of us, however, the opposite is true. You can appeal your
assessment on your own. Only corporations are required to hire counsel
at the Cook County Board of Review level; Will County does not require
legal representation even for corporations.
Will County already completed its appeal process. If you live in
Will and want to appeal your assessment, your next chance will be late
summer 2009 when you get a new assessment notice in the mail.
But Southland Cook County property owners still have time to appeal
with the Cook County Assessor and the Board of Review, a three-member
panel of elected officials who review assessments. A list of deadlines
is included at the end of this column.
You may have to do a little investigative work on your own by
reviewing properties in your neighborhood to gauge whether your
assessed value is out-of-whack.
This can be done online at www.cookcountyassessor.com under "Online
tools" and then "residential search" or by calling the Cook County
Assessor at (312) 443-7550 or the Board of Review at (312) 603-5542 for
help. Have your property identification number (PIN) handy.
The Cook County Board of Review Web site also has a great Frequently Asked Questions page at www.cookcountyboardofreview.com.
You see, assessments aren't usually lowered based on specific
characteristics of your house: two bathrooms vs. three, attached garage
vs. detached or a finished basement vs. unfinished. Those details are
important, but not enough to push your assessment down, regardless of
how your house compares with your neighbor's.
What matters is uniformity. If you can find four or five neighbors
on your block with assessments substantially lower than yours, you may
be eligible for a reduction.
There is no cost to file, and it's not terribly time-consuming.
And here's the answer to your burning question: No, you don't risk
increasing your assessment by filing an appeal, either with the county
assessor or the board of review. That basement bathroom you never
pulled a permit to install? It's OK. They aren't going to punish you by
increasing your assessment. No one comes to your home.
If you file an appeal based on square footage, however, and a field
visit is required to measure the exterior of your house, that
measurement could increase your assessed value if the actual square
footage is greater than what is reflected in your notice.
But most appeals are filed under the generic "uniformity" category, which is a process reviewed by staff downtown.
For Cook County residents, there are three levels of appeal. The
first is the county assessor, James Houlihan. The second is the Board
of Review. The third is the Property Tax Appeal Board.
The deadlines at each level vary.
Residents of Thornton Township can file an appeal with Cook County Assessor James Houlihan's office until Jan. 9.
Rich Township property owners can file an appeal with his office until Jan. 21.
Bloom Township property owners can file an appeal with the assessor's office sometime in January; no opening date has been set.
All Southland Cook County townships can appeal with the Board of
Review, even if you already got a reduction with the assessor or missed
Bremen and Palos township residents can file an appeal with the Cook County Board of Review until Jan. 29.
The dates for all other Southland townships have not been announced
yet by the Board of Review, but they'll be in January, February and
To appeal at either the assessor's office or the Board of Review,
visit their offices at 118 N. Clark St. in downtown Chicago or call
(312) 603-5542 to speak with a staff member. If you can't get downtown,
there are other ways to file.
If you get no relief at either the assessor's office or the Board of
Review, the state Property Tax Appeal Board is a third option.
Let me know how it goes. I'll publish your comments in an upcoming column.
To learn more about property taxes or read the last four
installments of "Tax Talk," visit our Web site at
One more thing: Even though that secret bathroom won't hurt you, you
might want to make sure you're on good terms with your neighbors. If
you recently built a big addition and didn't file permits - and your
neighbor snitches to the assessor, who then stops by for an exterior
measurement - you could be looking at a higher assessment.
That's why cookies are crucial to the assessment process. Buying the
silence of your neighbors often requires a double batch of chocolate