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This article discusses how to appeal your Wisconsin property taxes.

This article discusses how to appeal your Wisconsin property taxes.

It is critical for justice and equity to have a way to challenge assessments. Local boards of review ("BORs") in Wisconsin provide this access to property owners.  

Local citizens and municipal leaders around the state are preparing to serve on BORs. BORs play an important role in ensuring that Wisconsin's property taxes are fair and equitable, and they set a strong example of community involvement.  

BORs: A Quick Overview  

The right of a property owner to appeal a tax assessment is protected by the Constitution's guarantee of a right to due process.  

The Wisconsin Constitution provides that "every person is entitled to a certain remedy in the laws." They should be able to receive justice without having to pay for it, and they should be able to do it quickly and without delay, in accordance with the law.” This mechanism for appeal is established by state law, Wis. Stat. section 70.47, which establishes a local BOR to review and adjudicate property tax assessment appeals. The BOR is a quasi-judicial agency tasked with fixing assessment roll problems and handling property tax assessment disputes.  

For a property owner who objects to an assessment, the BOR is the first stage in the formal appeal procedure. Without initially filing a formal protest with the BOR, the property owner will be unable to pursue further routes of appeal for an individual assessment. The BOR is in charge of correcting any assessments that were found to be inaccurate, as well as any inaccuracies in the assessment roll. A BOR can't appraise property; all it can do is determine if the assessor's value is correct based on the facts provided to it.  

The BOR has certain legal responsibilities, which include the following:  

  • repairing all inaccuracies in the assessment roll's description and calculations;  

  • examining the roll for omitted property and double assessments (missing property must be added to the roll and the owner notified); and  

  • altering estimates when sworn testimony proves them to be wrong  

The BOR is in charge of reviewing evidence in the form of sworn testimony to determine if an assessed value is accurate. The BOR may not use its own valuation judgment or opinion in place of the assessor's. Unless there is substantial proof that the valuation is erroneous, the BOR is legally required to accept the assessor's evaluation as correct.  

Within two years of the board's initial meeting, at least one voting member must attend a training session approved by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) to hold a legal BOR proceeding. While it is not required by law, the DOR recommends that all BOR members undergo training once a year to ensure that correct procedures are followed and that results are uniform and equal. The following is a general timeline of events: 1) the assessment roll is open to the public for examination (open book), 2) the BOR's initial meeting (adjournment if necessary to finish the roll), 3) hearings, and 4) the final adjournment.

Timing and Access  

BORs are impacted in two ways by recent statutory changes and case law: timing and access.  

The BOR must meet every year during the 45-day period beginning the fourth Monday in April, according to revised Wis. Stat. section 70.47(1). The BOR cannot meet before seven days have passed since the assessment roll was last open for examination (open book). A property owner has the opportunity to speak directly with the assessor about the assessment and provide any relevant information during open book.  

The seven-day minimum gap between open book and the BOR hearing is a departure from previous law, which allowed both open book and the BOR hearing to take place on the same day. However, if open book did not yield the desired result, this practice left a property owner with little time to gather information for a BOR hearing. The property owner has this opportunity because of the seven-day waiting period.  

Access to the BOR for property owners. Prior to 2017, property owners were required by law to allow an assessor to conduct an interior inspection before filing a BOR appeal. Milewski v. Town of Dover, a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, found that: 1) property owners have a due-process right to challenge a tax assessor's excessive valuation of their real property; 2) a tax assessor entering a home to conduct an "interior view" for valuation purposes is entering private property for the purpose of obtaining information; and 3) the statutory procedure was unconstitutional because it required residents to waive their Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive government searches in their homes in exchange for their Fifth Amendment right to contest their property tax assessment at the BOR.

The court highlighted the option of a special inspection warrant for gaining access to an interior view of the home in circumstances where available sources do not allow the assessor to develop a sound value for the property. While the court did not specify what facts would justify an interior view warrant, factors to consider include whether information from a recent improvement inspection is available and the amount of information provided by the property owner, among others.  

The conclusion of this case has ramifications for the BOR procedure. A property owner can now refuse to let an assessor into their home while still appealing to the BOR. This does not, however, stop the assessor from obtaining a special inspection warrant if necessary. In addition, the property owner must still meet all other state-mandated requirements for appealing to the BOR, such as submitting a written objection form and providing other required materials.  

A new law allows the BOR to deny a hearing to a property owner who refuses to let the assessor complete an exterior view of the house.  

Even if the property owner denies an exterior view, granting a BOR hearing may completely avoid this potential legal issue. Even if the property owner refuses to allow an interior or exterior view, the DOR recommends allowing a BOR hearing. Rather than denying a BOR hearing, the lack of access to view and the credibility of evidence offered as a result can be handled as an evidentiary issue at a BOR hearing.  

The BOR Hearing Procedure  

The public is welcome to attend BOR hearings. Assessor, property owner or duly authorized agent, BOR members, municipal attorney (optional), property owner's lawyer (optional), assessor's lawyer (optional), and municipal clerk should all attend hearings (optional if not a member of the BOR). All of the proceedings are documented. The property owner or representative is questioned under oath first.  

Because the BOR is a quasi-judicial body, parties have the right to cross-examine witnesses for the other party. Property owners and assessors can communicate with one another and ask each other questions. Members of the BOR have the opportunity to ask questions.  

The BOR must assess the weight of evidence and its impact on the assessor's correctness presumption. A property owner may present information to the BOR that the assessor has not received or is unaware of. A land classification or valuation can be challenged by a property owner.  

The assessor is required by state law to classify land based on its use. Residential, commercial, manufacturing, agricultural, undeveloped, agricultural forest, productive forest land, and other are the eight statutory classes for real estate. The assessed value is influenced by classification.  

Property owners' Fourth Amendment privacy rights have been highlighted by recent statutory changes and case law. The need for accurate data in order to create constitutionally sound valuations, on the other hand, has not changed. While the onus is on the assessor to locate and verify such information, the property owner has a vested interest in accurate data being utilized as a foundation for assessment.  

Final Thoughts  

The work of BOR members contributes to a fair and equitable property taxation system in Wisconsin. The job isn't well-paid, and it's not advertised widely. The BOR, on the other hand, is necessary for safeguarding our constitutional rights in a fundamentally sound system. While no one looks forward to receiving their property tax bill or visiting the BOR, spring assessments are critical in generating the property taxes required to fund the local government services that all Wisconsin residents enjoy.

Request a consultation with an attorney. Call our office at (630) 324-6666 or schedule a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers today. You can also fill out our confidential contact form and we will get back to you shortly.

For more information regarding how to appeal your property tax assessment, click here.

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