Kieran Jennings, Esq.: A Proper Property Tax Strategy Saves Money

There are essentially four elements in developing a strategy to minimize property taxes: The law, dates and timing, risk and reward, and a professional team. As in many aspects of real estate, there are practical considerations and then there are details to be addressed by specialists.

Here are some points to consider in your strategy development:

1. The law that governs property taxation can vary greatly among states, and practical knowledge of tax law is not confined to simply how frequently jurisdictions reassess, but also to how, and what, is being taxed? In certain states, for instance, property is assessed as it is encumbered by its leases. As a result, a property purchased and improved with a building on leased land likely will not be assessed equally to an otherwise identical, neighboring property. Understanding the law regarding what and how property is taxed remains key to knowing how or if, to fight your property assessment.

2. Dates and timing involve more than just a knowledge of deadlines. Based on knowledge of the law, the savvy tax payer will know the best time to contest their taxes or to close a deal. Dependent upon the jurisdiction, an investor that enters into a land contract or purchases a property’s underlying business entity may be able to put off for years the event that triggers an assessment change.

3. Risk and reward need to be balanced. In a number of states, an ill-advised tax contest can result in an increased assessment.

Taxing authorities are digging in their heels and some are on the offensive. Owners of real estate that is under-assessed, yet they decide to file tax contests simply due to the weak economy may find that the local jurisdiction has hired professionals seeking to increase the assessment to meet fair market value. Quality professional advice reduces risk.

4. Your professional team, including expert witnesses and local counsel, should consist of knowledgeable tax professionals that fully understand local tax law as well as individuals that understand valuation. Local knowledge is essential.

With a carefully thought-out strategy, you can work with the motivations of the parties to drive a settlement or avoid a hot-button issue with the judge or assessor.

Kieran Jennings is a partner with the law firm of Siegel Siegel Johnson and Jennings, which focuses its practice on property tax disputes and is the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at