Q&A: Hiring a Tax Attorney

Q. As a condo association in Illinois, do we have a fiduciary duty to hire a property tax attorney in an effort to lower our assessed valuations? If successful, each owner would pay a percentage of the first year’s savings.  

     —Seeking Advice on Assessments

A. According to attorneys Timothy Jacobs and Jessica Ryan of the law firm Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit, which has offices in Chicago, Mundelein, Naperville, and Racine: “The prospects for a successful appeal are maximized in a group appeal, inclusive of all units, for a variety of reasons, including:

“1). The Illinois Constitution requires that assessments be uniform. Appealing all units of an association together aids the assessors in ensuring this uniformity of assessment within the association.

“2). Lower sale prices that reduce the market value of one unit will have a similar effect on all other units regardless of type. A group appeal allows the assessors to spread this reduction on all units more easily in a single group appeal.

“3). Assessors prefer group appeals because it allows them to analyze all units in the association in one appeal rather than perform a piecemeal analysis that individual appeals engender.

“As a result, it behooves an association to file collectively as a group so as to improve the chances of securing reductions in the units’ property tax assessments. Although the association board may not have a fiduciary duty to pursue a group tax appeal on behalf of all owners, the board does have an obligation to act in the best interest of the owners collectively, and to obtain/adhere to the advice of experts. Because a group appeal maximizes the likelihood of success, most property tax attorneys recommend that an association board pursue an appeal on behalf of all owners. 

“In addition, the Illinois Condominium Property Act allows for the board to charge back the legal fee to the owners. Most lawyers charge a percentage of the tax savings and inform the board what each unit should be assessed to cover the legal fee. Therefore, because there is very little risk to an association, and great benefit to the owners, a group tax appeal is generally the best option for successful results.”

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