MONTVILLE, NJ – In a year when property tax credits have become a hot issue due to the new tax plan, former Morris County tax commissioner George Stafford spoke at the Jan. 18 Montville Township Democratic Committee meeting to offer tips on appealing one’s property taxes.

Stafford said the first thing that’s important to understand is that you’re not actually filing an appeal on your property taxes.

“You’re actually appealing the town’s assessment of the value of your property,” he said.

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He told attendees they need to file their appeal by April 1, but he found the Morris County Tax Board’s website to be very unhelpful and recommended instead using the information on the Sussex County Tax Board site’s FAQ portion (here).

Stafford explained that in a re-evaluation year, when an assessor comes and checks each house for its value, the town has to be “on the nose” with the value of each house.

“In other years, they have a plus-or-minus 15 percent cushion,” he said.

Stafford says step one is to find comparable homes to yours with less value than yours, especially in your neighborhood.

“You’re proving that the market is not what the town says it is,” Stafford said. “Currently, the market is rising, though, so that’s going to work against you in a tax appeal case.”

The Sussex County Board of Taxation website says that comparables’ characteristics include: recent sale price, similar square footage of living area measured from the exterior, similar lot size or acreage, proximity to your property, the same zoning use (e.g. duplex in a duplex zone), and similar age and style of structure.

Stafford said a homeowner needs to show “unreasonable, excessive, or discriminatory” assessment of the value of a property. He said the Sussex County website suggested homeowners take photos of their own property and of three other properties. Then he advised homeowners go to real estate websites and check on the price that the homes sold for to prove that a similar home had less value. He said each town also has a file on every home, showing sales and assessment data.

Depreciation is also something that can be claimed as a factor in an appeal case, he said, and any work permits taken out will increase the value of the house and be seen in an increased tax rate soon after.

“They won’t wait for a reassessment year, you’ll see an increase in your tax bill the next year,” he said.

Stafford also recommended looking for discrepancies in the specifications of your house.

“Maybe the town says you have three bathrooms in your house when you only have two, or they say you have a fireplace and you don’t,” he said. “And some assessments are just done by square footage – if it’s heated, it’s added in.”

He concluded by saying that this is not a good year to file an appeal because the market is improving.

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