A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court puts in jeopardy all of the recent real estate tax reassessments completed by the City of Philadelphia for tax year 2018 as well as appeals initiated by the School District of Philadelphia in 2016 for tax year 2017.
The City’s current practice is to certify the market values of any reassessed properties to the Board of Revision of Taxes on March 31st prior to the year that the assessment would be implemented. The City then relies on those certified values to determine the applicable tax rate when it creates its budget each summer. Accordingly, the Office of Property Assessment (OPA) submitted the values applicable for the 2018 tax year to the BRT on March 31, 2017. The City set the applicable tax rates during its summer budget sessions. However, unlike prior years, this year the City only reassessed commercial and industrial properties and excluded residential properties. The result was reported to be an increase of over $118 million in new real estate taxes.
Shortly after the City finished its budget, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the case of Valley Forge Towers Apartments N, LP, et al. v. Upper Merion Area School District. The case involved a challenge by property owners to the Upper Merion School District’s practice of only appealing assessments on commercial properties. As with the recent reassessments by the City, Upper Merion was only seeking to increase the real estate tax assessments for high value commercial properties. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the school district’s practice violated the Uniformity Clause in the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court reaffirmed the principle that real estate within a jurisdiction should be treated as a single class and that tax authorities are not permitted to discriminate against commercial and industrial properties in favor of residential properties for purposes of real estate taxation.
Reprinted courtesy of James Vandermark, White and Williams LLP and Kevin Koscil, White and Williams LLP
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