I am not a Republican. I am a Democrat. In fact, I am a Liberal Democrat as liberal as Bill Maher. So progressive in fact that I believe that even drugs like cocaine and heroin (not to mention weed) should be de-criminalized, regulated and taxed and all people who are currently in prison for non-violent drug-related offenses pardoned and allowed to be re-united with their families. There is no need to pay millions of dollars to keep them in jail not to mention that the “war on drugs” is a) not working and b) is racist and discriminatory as it puts disproportionate number of minorities in jail. These millions of dollars will be better spent on treatment and better education on the serious side-effects if you choose to take these drugs. Besides, drugs that are currently illegal aren’t much worse than some of the legal drugs Big Pharma is pushing on us with their own drug dealers – the doctors. Just ask your doctor if drug abuse is right for you. Anyway, I want to stay on topic so enough about that.
Today’s conversation is about MA Assessors. With the previous paragraph all I wanted to say is that I am not against taxes as I am a Liberal Democrat. I just want to be taxed fairly.
Also I am also not easily moved. I regard myself as an even-tempered individual. Usually it is hard to make me explode but a couple of times a year someone rattles my cage so hard that I feel compelled to come out of it and spank them.
Last year and the year before I had a dispute with one assessor who was so retaliatory and nasty that I had no choice but to say something.
Every year I file for abatement for most of my buildings and I recommend that you do the same.
In my experience most Assessors steal money from you and count on your ignorance and lack of desire for confrontation to get away with it. And they do get away with it.
While I have had disputes with other Assessors over the years, I have managed to settle them before reaching the Appellate Tax Board (ATB). However, this Assessor couldn’t get over the fact that she had to settle with me in a prior year and I was the only one in the City she had to settle with and so she went into a full-blown obstruction and retaliation to my efforts to get fair valuation.
I finally had enough of her.
I sent the following email to the Assessor, the Local Newspaper, the Mayor and the entire City Council:
“Last year we ended up in front of the Appellate Tax Court in Boston and we are still waiting on a decision on a Real Estate Property Dispute over the value of (1st address). You were told by the judge (in fact that was the very first thing she told you before even hearing from anybody “You can’t levy personal taxes on him, what are you doing?”) that you cannot charge personal tax on (1st address) at all. Then you went outside with your lawyer and came back and said that you just had “discovered” a statute that does not allow you to charge personal taxes if the personal property is less than $5,000 and so you and your lawyer just decided that my personal property was worth “4,999” at (1st address) and so you are going to refund all “personal property” taxes collected from me. I don’t think I was ever refunded that, I am not sure, but that is not even why I am writing this email.
This year I received another bill from you for “personal tax” on (1st address) and this time your “valuation” was for twice the amount from last year (last year was about 6K and this year was about 12K). When I called you to ask why you said, not to worry, this was issued automatically and in error and as long as I file the abatement request it would be abated per ATB instructions and I will be all set.
You told me that the reason it is twice as high is because it “included my personal property at (2nd address) as well”. I don’t know how a bill for one building can be “included” in the bill for another building but in any case I listened to you, I did not pay the $75 tax installment because this bill was just a mistake and filed the necessary abatement saying that this whole thing should be abated to zero because it was a mistake.
First, I was never charged by you for personal property at (2nd address). I have no bill for that. The Bill that came was for (1st address). In any case I only have 6 refrigerators at (2nd address) that are 5 years old and fully depreciated, probably worth $100 each. (total of $600). I also have 6 gas stoves there that are permanently attached with gas piping to the walls just like a boiler and they cannot be counted at all for that reason.
Second, I only received a “personal property” tax bill for (1st address). What I own there is 5 fridges that are at least 10 years old and 5 stoves but 3 of those stoves are gas-on-gas stoves and cannot be removed and cannot be counted also. The stoves are at least 30 years old. Total value of personal property is less than $700.
So the total value of all my “personal property” in (your City) for both buildings is less than $1,300 (nine TIMES less than what you have “assessed” it at !!!!!! What are you doing?)
You recently denied my application for abatement for personal property at (1st address). You say that that includes a denial for (2nd address) but you cannot deny an abatement of personal property tax on (2nd address) if it was never levied in the first place.
I will give you until the end of this week to fix your errors.
If not, I will file with the ATB again but this time because of your intentional, retaliatory, discriminatory and/or incompetent behavior I will ask the judge to order you to refund all property tax illegally levied to all property owners like me over the past 4 years.
(Name of Assessor), you are a mess and completely undeserving to be an assessor for any city or town. I own about 50 apartments and condos in 5 other cities and I have a lot of experience in dealing with assessors. I have been a landlord over the past 15 years. I have never seen anything like this before in my life.”
The Assessor replied:
“Thank you for your email from earlier this morning, specifically dated (—–). While reasonable people can disagree on such things as the fair market value of real and personal property, I will not allow you to continually besmirch my character and my professional qualifications. If you continue with these attacks, I will have no choice but to cease communicating with you but for formal responses as required by law.
I understand that you believe you know Massachusetts assessing law better than I do, but you are wrong. I have been a Massachusetts Accredited Assessor for over eight years, and am constantly taking classes and seminars to maintain my Accreditation.
Your recitation of the events at the Appellate Tax Board (ATB) is also wrong. Under Massachusetts General Laws, your personal property, in your apartments, is taxable. The dispute last year was that you failed to identify personal property items, which forced us to produce an estimate. Once you identified the items and their manufacture date, which you were required to do under the law, but which you failed to do, we then determined that their value was less than the $5,000 statutory threshold. Therefore, based on that, an abatement was issued. This covered Fiscal Year 2012. However, we just recently discovered that your identification of the items for Fiscal Year 2012 at the ATB was incomplete, and hence misleading.
You are required to report ALL personal property for ALL of your apartments. You did this for Fiscal Year 2013—identifying personal property at (1st address) and your (2nd address) apartments. A tax bill was in fact issued because the value of your personal property, located in these apartments, exceeded the $4,999 statutory threshold. Please note that unlike real property tax bills, which are address specific, personal property tax bills are not address specific. You receive a single personal property tax bill, covering all of your personal property, wherever located in (City).”
Here is my reply to that email:
“We are not talking about reasonable people disagreeing about real estate valuation. We are talking about a Governmental Employee who is most likely retaliatory, discriminatory and/or incompetent. You can take all the classes you want. They are not helping.
No one is supposed to lie on the stand but out of all people Governmental Employees are really not supposed to lie on the stand because of the extraordinary power they have over regular citizens.
In 2011 you and I exchanged 45 emails and in 2012 we exchanged 134 emails. I repeatedly asked you to remove the “personal tax” levied as that would result in double-taxation and is otherwise unwarranted. In no email you mentioned anything about this $5,000 exclusion. You only mentioned it on the day of the trial after the judge yelled at you for levying that tax in the first place. That is misleading and dishonest behavior.
You also lied about using the income approach instead of the sales approach. In most of my emails I consistently insisted that you use the income approach instead of the sales approach and you consistently refused. Only on the actual day of the trial you agreed to admit that it should be used. That is also misleading and dishonest behavior.
Don’t make me order the full transcript from the hearings and to compare that to all the emails we have on record.
So we are not talking about a civil disagreement about real estate values here. We are talking about you being unfit to hold any Governmental Office, in my opinion.
My recitation of events at the ATB is not wrong. Those specific personal property items that I failed to identify initially were identified by me subsequently and way before the actual trial. You knew exactly how many fridges and stoves I own in (City) and you still chose to withhold from me the information about the $5,000 rule until you were forced to do so by the judge.
You say now that you do not need to send multiple bills for “personal property” tax located in different buildings. You say you only need to send one bill that covers all personal property tax in all buildings in (City). Based on your previous record of not telling the truth, I can’t believe you now. But even if what you say is true please read my previous email – my total personal property in (City) is worth about $1,300 which is less than $5,000. You cannot levy a personal property tax in this case.
It is also worth noting here that I am appealing the Real Estate valuation on (1st address) again this year. You are “valuing” it at $182,200 when in 2011 there were 8 good (non-foreclosure) sales in (City) of 3,4,5 and 6 -family residential buildings and the highest sale price was around $140,000. If the highest good sale of similar buildings in (City) for 2011 was $140,000 how is it possible that my 5-family building is valued by you at $182,200?
In my opinion your behavior is unfit for that of a Governmental Employee and someone needs look into it and remove you from office before your whole City gets sued.
I must have wasted weeks having to write these unnecessary emails and to do research. I will ask the ATB to compensate me if ever we get to it again.”
Ok, so that was the email that I wrote.
Several weeks later she was no longer the Assessor of that City.
A month or two after that when the new Assessor was hired, I received a call and within 5 minutes all was resolved. I didn’t even had to say a word. She told me that I was right – I was not supposed to be charged for personal taxes and that the value of my building cannot be over 140K.
Soon after that I received the abatement checks in the amount of $926.
Well, you say, just because you had a bad experience with this one Assessor what makes draw such a generalized conclusion that most of them are basically thieves like her?
That’s a legitimate question and my answer is this: Each January I look at the sales for similar non-foreclosure properties to mine in the town or city that they are in and if the assessment is much higher than what an average building my size and number of units sold then I file for an abatement. I have done that multiple times for multiple buildings in multiple cities and towns.
Here is the game that the Assessors play: They wait until the last minute allowed which is 3 months and then always deny the abatement knowing that since most people won’t know that their money is being stolen their legitimate fight will end there and the town will permanently legalize the theft they have committed.
By the way, you can’t sue the City for anything including 93A because they have given themselves immunity. That’s where the expression “You can’t fight City Hall” must come from.
So…after they deny your Abatement Request which they always do (at least that has been my experience with 7 different assessors in 6 different cities for over 11 buildings over many years) then you need to file for an appeal with the Appellate Tax Board in Boston which costs $100. There are many procedural traps that if you don’t pay your bills on time or file this paper just like that or by this or that date, you lose your right to appeal altogether. But assuming you do everything right and file it the right way and serve it the right way, then the Hearing is scheduled for 3-7 months down the road. About 1 week before the Appellate Hearing Date these Assessors call you to try to settle and you usually meet in the middle. Your money is still being stolen but not as much. Going to the ATB is always an option but they are known to decide mostly for the Cities and Towns.
I have received what must be over $10,000 by now back from these Cities and Towns that are in the habit of pulling these valuations out of their you-know-what. Let’s call it what it is: This money was knowingly and intentionally stolen from me and it was only returned because I was willing to fight. That’s at least how I feel about all of this.
If you want to reduce the money that Cities and Towns try to steal from you by overestimating the value of your buildings the first thing you need to do is every January 1st (that’s in 10 days) you get the sales of similar buildings for the year before from your Realtor or you can go online and search for sites giving you access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and get them every January. The site I use is http://www.MlsPropertyFinder.com. Export them, save them in PDF format and wait to be over-charged by the Assessors. Then file for abatement and when it is denied, file with the Appellate Tax Board, serve the Assessor and wait to get a call from the Assessor.
Again, I am not against taxes. I just want to be taxed based on non-foreclosure sales of buildings similar to mine and if there are no sales like that then to be taxed based on the Income Approach using a justifiable and reasonable CAP rate. A lot of Assessors play with the CAP rate too, by the way.
Is that too much ask? Apparently it is, if you are a Landlord in the state of Massachusetts.