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Lessons for Detroit homeowners on appealing your property tax assessments

WDET’s Laura Herberg sat in on Board of Review sessions and came away with some insights

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Every January, Detroit homeowners get a letter from the city outlining how much their property has been assessed. This, of course, affects how much they have to pay in taxes.

If an owner disagrees with the city’s assessment, an appeals process is in place. First, they must submit a letter (or email) during the February Assessors Review Period. If that’s denied, they have to appear in person at a Board of Review hearing in March at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

If you miss this deadline or can’t appear during your appointed time, you won’t be able to contest your assessment.

A reporter for WDET, Laura Herberg, sat in on these hearings and came away with some insights.

One person at the hearing was David Codd—he lives in Saint Clair Shores but owns three properties in Detroit. That was a common refrain in Herberg’s observations: None of the people who appealed during her visits lived in the homes—they were all landlords.

And that makes sense. A landlord is more likely to understand the avenues available to property owners and have free time during the day to attend a hearing. “They’re the ones that pay attention,” Herberg told Curbed Detroit. “It’s a business to them.”

In Codd’s case, the city presented several other local assessments as comparisons. Codd argued that those weren’t relevant to his home because it had been vandalized. The city eventually reduced the assessed value by over 50 percent.

“On the one hand, Codd’s case shows the appeals process can work,” Herberg says in the audio story. “On the other hand, it shows how hard it can be for the city to get assessments right in the first place.”

The city of Detroit has a poor record of getting properties accurately assessed. Research has shown that Detroiters routinely had their homes overassessed by an amount so high that it was deemed illegal after a successful lawsuit by the ACLU. It’s one major reason why an estimated 150,000 tax foreclosures devastated Detroit neighborhoods this century.

Herberg spoke with a lawyer for the nonprofit law firm Detroit Justice Center who said that all of the owners they helped got their assessments reduced for a total of $430,000.

Bernadette Atuahene, a professor and activist who’s worked to ameliorate the city’s foreclosure crisis, told Herberg that because of the city’s poor track record, if a home ends up facing tax foreclosure, it should be the responsibility of the city to prove their assessments were correct—not the other way around.

“It’s inappropriate for the city of Detroit to say, ‘Oh we systematically got it wrong, it’s up to you.’”

Herberg says the city never got back to her with numbers about how many people appealed their taxes or by how much they were reduced.