Borough’s Challenge to Change Assessment Unsuccessful

by: Daniel Kim
30 Jan 2017

The Borough of Bergenfield filed appeals to the Tax Court challenging the judgments of the Bergen County Board of Taxation which reduced the assessments on two properties in tax year 2013.  Dissatisfied with the county board’s decisions, the Borough took the appeals to the Tax Court and a trial was held in both cases.

In Borough of Bergenfield v. Juan and Vivana Carmona, the subject property was assessed in 2013 for $339,900, and through the appeal by taxpayers the county board reduced it to $320,000.  At trial in Tax Court, the Borough’s expert opined that the subject property’s value was $360,000 in 2013 based on a comparable sales comparison approach.   The Tax Court however was not persuaded.  The Tax Court conceded that the presumption of validity had been overcome but the Borough failed to meet the burden of persuading a change in the assessment.  Among others, the Borough’s expert’s failure to inspect the subject property raised doubt with respect to the expert’s testimony on a number of his adjustments (i.e., gross living area, central air conditioning, basement kitchen, bathrooms, basement finish, garage, condition, etc.).  Given the number of deficiencies in the Borough’s experts, testimony, the Tax Court dismissed the complaint and affirmed the county board’s judgment.

Similarly, in Itskov, the subject property was a duplex style property assessed in 2013 for $283,700, and through the appeal by taxpayers the county board reduced it to $265,800.  The Borough’s expert at trial in Tax Court opined that the subject property’s’ value on the relevant valuation date in 2013 was $300,000.  Like in Carmona, the Borough’s expert relied on the sales comparison approach and the Tax Court conceded that the presumption of validity had been overcome.  However, the Borough’s expert failed to convince the court that the county board judgment was erroneous.  The Borough’s expert’s data was lacking in several respects.  First, one of four comparable sales relied upon by the expert was deemed non-usable.  In addition, two of four sales relied on by the expert were townhouses and the expert made an adjustment to account for this difference.  The expert however provided no documentation or data to support his conclusion that townhouse ownership is inferior to duplex style ownership.  After considering the testimony in its entirety, the Tax Court dismissed the complaint and affirmed the county board judgment.

Given what was at stake in these two cases, the cost of litigation was probably greater than the tax refunds due as a result of the county board judgments.  These cases illustrate that regardless of who is challenging the assessment, changing the assessment is not a light burden.

A copy of the Tax Court’s opinions in both cases can be found here, and here.

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