Monday, June 9, 2014

Board Finds Assessor with Burden Failed to Support Property's Assessed Value with Comparable Sales or Building Permit

Excerpts of the Board's Determination follow:

17. The parties agreed the Respondent has the burden of proof because the 2012 assessment increased by more than 5%.


18. The Respondent did not make a prima facie case that the 2012 assessed value is correct. The Board reached this decision for the following reasons:

b. The Respondent described the procedures in the Guidelines that were followed in computing the effective age, condition, and depreciation. But as the Indiana Tax Court has explained, strictly applying the Guidelines does not prove the assessed value is correct in an assessment appeal. See Eckerling v. Wayne Twp. Assessor, 841 N.E.2d 674, 678 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2006) (holding that taxpayers failed to make a case by simply focusing on the assessor’s methodology rather than offering market value-in-use evidence).

c. The Respondent’s reliance on the sales/assessment ratio study (and the market adjustment factor derived from it) is misplaced. While the DLGF approved the ratio study, the Respondent offered no authority for using a ratio study to prove an individual property’s market value-in-use. In fact, the IAAO’s Standard on Ratio Studies, which 50 IAC 27-1-4 incorporates by reference, prohibits using ratio studies for that purpose:

Assessors, appeal boards, taxpayers, and taxing authorities can use ratio studies to evaluate the fairness of funding distributions, the merits of class action claims, or the degree of discrimination. . . However, ratio study statistics cannot be used to judge the level of appraisal of an individual parcel.

INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ASSESSING OFFICIALS STANDARD ON RATIO STUDIES VERSION 17.03 Part 2.3 (Approved by IAAO Executive Board 07/21/2007) (bold added, italics in original).

d. Comparable sales or comparable assessments can be used to help prove the correct value of the subject property. Conclusory statements that a property is “similar” or “comparable” to another property, however, do not constitute probative evidence of comparability. Long v. Wayne Township Assessor, 821 N.E.2d 466, 470 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2005). Instead, the party seeking to establish comparability must identify the characteristics of the subject property and explain how those characteristics compare to the characteristics of the purportedly comparable properties. See Id. at 470-71. When seeking to establish comparability between parcels of land, the relevant characteristics to compare include things such as location, accessibility, topography. See Blackbird Farms Apts., LP v. Dep’t of Local Gov’t Fin., 765 N.E.2d 711, 715 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2002) (holding that taxpayer failed to establish comparability of parcels of land where, among other things, taxpayer did not compare the topography and accessibility of parcels). The party seeking to establish comparability between properties also must explain how any significant differences between the properties affect their relative values. See Long, 821 N.E.2d at 470-71.

e. The Respondent identified two properties as comparables, one located in Mooresville and the other in Plainfield. But the Respondent made only a minimal comparison of the properties with photographs and the front page of the property record card of the Mooresville property owned by Mac’s Convenience Stores LLC. Without a meaningful explanation and analysis, such evidence is conclusory. This part of the Respondent’s presentation was insufficient to support any legitimate conclusion about the relative values of the properties.

f. The Respondent presented a building permit for the Mooresville property that purportedly shows $60,000 was spent on remodeling/updating the Mac’s Convenience Stores property in 2011. Actual construction costs can be probative of market value-in-use, but here no explanation was offered to explain how this evidence might help establish the true tax value of the subject property. Although the properties may have similar exterior views, a far more detailed comparison of the characteristics of the properties would be required to make this evidence probative. For example, the Respondent failed to address the notation on the building permit that it was for “interior remodel” on a building with more than twice the square footage as the subject property. This building permit does not help to prove an accurate value for the subject property.

g. The Respondent also introduced evidence relating to an agreement that settled the Mac’s Convenience Stores’ 2012 appeal of its Mooresville property. According to Ms. Brummett, the agreed valuation in that settlement was $145.49 per square foot and the disputed assessment on the subject property is only $124.03 per square foot: “The subject property is currently assessed at $124.03 per square foot, which is $21.46 per square foot less than what the Petitioner agreed to on the very like building that’s in Mooresville.” Although her testimony is not entirely clear on the point, it appears that Ms. Brummett was stating that the Petitioner was the same in both cases. Perhaps this confusion results from the fact that Mr. Smith was the taxpayer representative in both cases, but he is not the Petitioner in either case. The Respondent presented no probative evidence or cogent argument to support her assertion that this settlement somehow shows the disputed value on the subject property is correct.

20. In other cases where the Respondent had the burden to prove the assessment is correct and the Respondent failed to carry that burden, the Board has ordered that the assessment be returned to the assessed value of the year before. Therefore, the assessment will be changed to that value, which was $194,300.