The Finney Law Firm has been retained by leading real estate attorneys and property owners in Hamilton County to defend our system of “Land Registration” that is being threatened by some of our elected officials.  Read about that process and political battle here (in an unfortunately-slanted piece).

There are two ways in Ohio to hold title to real property — “regular” land title and the Torrens system of registered land.

Under the regular system, evidence of title is placed of record by means of recording of deeds, mortgages, easements, liens and such in the real property records.  Under the Torrens land registration system, title is evidenced by the notations on a single “Registered Land Certificate.”

In Hamilton County, more than anywhere else in the State, we have registered land — and lots of it.  About 20% of all parcels, about 52,000 in total, were voluntarily placed into the system by the owners bringing suit years ago to “register” their title.  Thereafter, all changes to title have to be handled in a careful, methodical system that assures that claims against title and transfers of title are registered on the certificate.  If someone wants to opt out of the system, there is a simple and inexpensive process that can be followed.

Until recently, the only way to de-register land en-masse and without regard to the preference of the owners of the land was to send a certified letter to each property owner, and then, following some significant legal formalities, have a vote of the County Commission to abolish the registration in that County.  Recently, the Ohio legislature dispatched with the mailed notice required to property owners.

Now, under that new abbreviated system, Hamilton County Commissioners are considering a vote to abolish all registered land in the County.  If two Commissioners vote to approve the change, the additional protections that the owners of 52,000 parcels of land in the County have paid for will disappear.

Our firm has been retained to (i) work to defeat such policy change, and (ii) if it is enacted, to bring suit on behalf of affected property owners to overturn such decision.

We are honored to have been selected to help “make a difference” for our clients in this important battle.

Wednesday, Finney Law Firm attorneys Curt Hartman and Christopher Finney brought a mandamus action at the Ohio Supreme Court to force disclosure of the official records of Cuyahoga County, Ohio relating to Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald’s use of his pass card for entering and leaving official County buildings.  FitzGerald is the democrat nominee for Governor in the November election.

Both the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper and the Ohio Republican Party have sought the records, yet FitzGerald and his County employees have refused to release the same.

The documents are clearly public records as defined by Ohio law, and no exception in the statute to their disclosure applies.  In other words, they are required by law to be produced.

Finney Law Firm has filed an original action for “mandamus,” directly with the Ohio Supreme Court.  Ohio law allows the “Relator” in such action, essentially the plaintiff, to choose whether to file the action with any of a County Common Pleas Court, an Ohio Appeals Court or the Ohio Supreme Court.  An action in mandamus is one to require a public official, here FitzGerald and other County employees, to perform duties they are required under the law to perform.

Read our complaint for writ of mandamus here.

Read our memorandum in support of writ of mandamus here.

Stay tuned to our blog for breaking developments in this matter.

We are pleased to announce that the Finney Law Firm has been selected as counsel in a suit against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald in a dispute regarding access to public records relating to Mr. FitzGerald’s work for the County.

Read the Ohio Republican Party’s Press Release here.

Finney Law Firm attorneys Curt C. Hartman and Christopher P. Finney are leading this litigation for the firm.


In this case, an unfortunate taxpayer obtained a savings on the valuation of its property of more than $1 million (about $25,000 per year in tax savings) in a proceeding before his local Ohio Board of Revision, but it appears he could not prove he actually filed a Complaint.

Result: the Ohio Supreme Court tossed the Board of Revision decision, and the taxpayer lost his previously “won” savings.

Two very simple lessons to be learned as a result of this experience:

1) File your complaint on time and in person (by March 31 of each year); and

2)  Get a keep a date-stamped copy on the filing so you can prove it was timely filed.

Let us help you save money on your property portfolio with our property tax valuation services.

Many of Ohio’s major urban counties, including Hamilton (Cincinnati), Franklin (Columbus), and Montgomery (Dayton), as well as Butler and Warren in Southwest Ohio have either major reassessment years or simpler “updates” for property tax year 2014  (bills issued first in 2015), and thus the total value of property in each taxing district will either rise and fall next year.

Now this is all a bit complicated, but, vastly simplified, the way taxes work in Ohio is that as property valuations at large fall, tax rates automatically rise close to the same percentages, thus raising much the same revenue off of the new, smaller tax base that that the larger base raised in the prior tax year.  And, conversely, as property tax valuations rise, rates automatically fall.  This entry from the Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer explains a little more about this.

As this entry explains, the early returns in Ohio for Dayton area assessments and Summit County (Akron) show that the tax bills first issued in 2015 will have lower on-average assessments for properties.  That means, even without a single tax increase on the ballot in those counties, rates will rise about the percentage.  Thus, if your property does not decline in assessed value the amount of the “average” property in that county, your overall taxes will rise.

The effect of this can be seen most noticeably in Montgomery County, where today real property tax rates exceed 3% of of the Auditor’s assessed total true value of properties.  This compares to rates in the sub-2.5% range in most of the rest of the state.  Much of this is due to the rapidly-declining tax base in this area.  Based upon 2014 tax year preliminary assessments, that trend appears to be continuing.

If you are concerned your tax bill is too high, let us counsel you on how to achieve tax savings in your real estate portfolio.


Our legal practice includes a healthy portion of property tax valuation work — challenging excessive valuations of real property by County Auditors to ultimately reduce the tax burdens for our clients.  In that practice area, we occasionally represent real estate developers who hold developed residential and commercial lots, and or condominiums that are have similar characteristics.

One generally accepted appraisal method for such property that is accepted as a valuation technique generally (by buyers, lenders, etc.) is the “bulk sales” valuation method.  Under the “bulk sales” valuation method, the question is if a series of like properties were sold in bulk today, rather than one-by-one over time, what price would they yield?  Typically that valuation is lower than a parcel-by-parcel sale.

We see this valuation challenge arise where a developer owns many residential lots, or an entire building full of residential condominium units.  He has a choice of selling each lot and each unit over a period of years, which involves, interest cost, taxes, insurance and maintenance costs until all are liquidated.  The alternative would be to sell the lots of condominium units “in bulk” to a single buyer, and to sell them all at once.  In such circumstance, even if individual sales might yield a purchase price of 15% to 25% higher than a “bulk sale,” the “bulk sale” is preferred to avoid the expense and risk of sitting on the inventory.

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that for purposes of valuing property for taxation purposes, it simply will not accept the bulk sales valuation method.  Rather, each individual parcel or condominium unit must be valued separately for tax purposes.

This was recently reaffirmed in Dublin City Schools Board of Education v. East Bank Condominiums, LLC, Slip Opinion, 2014-OHIO-1940.

Please let us know how we can make a difference for you with our real estate tax valuation team.

Politico has a brief summary of today’s Harris v. Quinn decision from the U.S. Supreme Court here.  As with the Hobby Lobby decision, it is narrow and cautious.  It is entirely limited to the attempt by the Illinois legislature to force home health care workers into unions, and likely does not apply directly to other fact patterns.

However, language in the opinion savaging Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which ruled that forced unionization for public employees was constitutional in 1977, has given renewed hope to those challenging forced unionization that the Court is moving in the direction of recognizing the right not to join a union.

Here is SCOTUS Blog’s more detailed analysis of today’s Harris decision.