Make no bones about it: Ohio property taxes are complicated.

And with today’s dramatic upwardly dynamic real estate market, it is more important than ever that buyers and sellers carefully consider the impact of a sales price that exceeds the Auditor’s valuation when writing a purchase contract’s tax proration provision.

Ohio’s complicated property taxation structure

First, taxes in Ohio are billed semi-annually, in roughly January and July of each year.  Those two bills are, respectively, for the first half and second half of the prior calendar year.  So, the January 2022 bill will be for the first half of 2021, and the July bill will be for the second half of 2021.  Thus, when a buyer buys property, the seller owes between seven and thirteen months of taxes in arrears. 

How tax prorations are typically addressed in “form” contracts

Typically, the purchase contract will provide for several things so that the seller credits these accrued but not-yet-due taxes to the buyer:

  • First, there will be a proration of taxes from the seller to the buyer from January 1 of the year of the closing, or July 1 of the year prior to the closing, through the date of closing.
    • (In what I consider to be a weird local custom, in the Dayton marketplace only, a “short proration” is many times utilized for residential and commercial transactions. The “short proration” ignores the first six months of arrearage, and prorates only on the part-half-year immediately prior to the closing. I do not know the logic behind this.)
  • Second, the amount of that proration in a form residential and commercial purchase contact is typically to be “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate.”  Many times the contract (and/or documents signed at the closing) specifies that the tax proration is to be considered “final.”
  • [NOTE: The new Cincinnati Area/Dayton Area Board of Realtors standard form of residential real estate contract issued in the fall of 2021 is emphatic on this topic: Tax prorations are based upon “the most recent available tax rates, assessments and valuations” and “all tax prorations shall be final at Closing.”]

What does “based upon most recent available tax duplicate” mean?

On this, issue of prorating taxes “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate,” consider a few things:

  • In Ohio, the starting point for the Auditor’s value is the actual value, i.e., what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the property.  It’s the same number used by buyers, sellers, appraisers and lenders for the property value, i.e., the actual sales price.  There is no other magical number. (Then, we speak in terms of 35% of that value as that is translated in the tax bill, but that number has no practical impact except to confuse people and does not change the analysis set forth in this blog entry.)
  • Secondly, the “most recent available tax duplicate” means the taxes to-be-paid, which is valuation times tax rate on the Auditor’s records as of the date of closing.
  • But both the tax valuation and the tax rate can change — with retroactive effect — all the way through the date the tax bill is issued in January of the following year, meaning well after the closing, or even by August or September of that following year when a tax valuation complaint before the Board of Revision is decided.  Indeed, if a valuation complaint is appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, taxes could be assessed with retroactive effect two, three or more years after a closing date.
  • (We primarily address valuation issues in this blog entry, but if a levy is on the ballot in May or November of any year, that rate increase also dates back to January 1 of that year, so a large tax levy can result in an inequitable tax proration as well.)

A sale price above Auditor’s value may result in a retroactive tax increase    

In today’s dynamic real estate market in which sales prices of certain properties are galloping upward at an astonishing pace, especially for apartment buildings, single family residences, and industrial and warehouse properties, that standard form language could leave an unsuspecting buyer holding the bag.  Here’s why:

  • First, County Auditors update their valuations once every three years, and the cutoff for those updates is around September 30 of that year. So, for a sale in a “triennial year” (six different triennial cycles for Ohio’s 88 counties) prior to September 30 of that year, the Auditor should, on his own, increase the valuation to the sales price retroactive to January 1 of that first year of the triennial (even if the sale is late in that year), but that increase only becomes reflected on the tax records when the valuation comes out with the January bill of the year subsequent to the applicable tax year.
  • But Auditor’s do not adjust values on their own after that date and in the “off” two years between the triennial valuation cycles.  So, Hamilton, Montgomery, Butler and Clermont Counties most recently updated valuations effective January 1, 2020, and those values came out with the January 2021 tax bills.  The Auditor’s of each of those Counties won’t “catch” a sale made after September 30, 2020 until the 2024 tax bills (values effective January 1, 2023).
  • Ohio law says that — with narrow and rare exceptions — the sale price is the correct property valuation. Thus, property owners have a difficult time arguing that the contract sale price is not the actual value of the property.
  • The contract sale price is reported to the Auditor with an “Real Property Conveyance Fee Statement of Value and Receipt” (“Conveyance Fee Statement”) signed by the purchaser at each closing.  It is a felony to falsify one of these forms.

It’s easy to ascertain if the sale price is above the Auditor’s valuation.  Each County publishes their valuations — current as of the date of contract signing — on its web site.

School districts can and do seek retroactive valuation increases

The biggest beneficiary of property taxes in Ohio is the local school board, which typically receives about two-thirds of the total tax bills into their coffers.

As a result, school districts hire attorneys skilled in property valuation matters to scour the Auditor’s records to find recent sales in their district that exceed Auditor’s valuation.  Then, they file Board of Revision complaints to seek an increase in valuation.  Some points on those complaints:

  • Those complaints are filed, as with property owner complaints seeking a reduction, between January 1 and March 31 of each year.
  • Those complaints by law seek a retroactive increase in taxes to January 1 of the prior year.  So, for example, complaints filed in the first quarter of 2022 will apply retroactively to January 1 of 2021, and the increased taxes are a lien on the property as of that prior year (e.g., January 1, 2021).
  • Almost universally, school districts limit their complaints to sales of a certain minimum variance from Auditor’s valuation (say, $50,000 or $100,000) and usually they ignore single family residential properties.
  • The buyer — the new property owner — should receive notice of the complaint, and could appear to oppose the increase.  But the an arm’s length sales price is, by law, the correct valuation and the Conveyance Fee Statement is usually prima facie evidence of both that contract price and the arm’s length nature of the transaction.

These school board complaints, if successful, have two effects: (i) in the tax year of the Complaint, it puts real cash in the pocket of the school district (very roughly about 3.0% of the valuation increase), and (ii) thereafter it ever-so-slightly reduces the burden on other property owners to have each property valued at its correct rate.

A post-closing surprise!

This means that buyers can get a surprise of a tax bill far in excess of the prorated taxes (otherwise by law owed by the seller) well after the closing date.  And typically contract language and perhaps papers signed at the closing make this difference unrecoverable by the buyer as against the seller.

How to address this issue in the contract

From a buyer’s perspective, if he wants to recover a proration that will fully compensate him for taxes due (by seller) accruing prior to closing, he must deviate from the typical contract language that a tax proration is to be “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate” to add “but updated to reflect the sale price in this contract” or something to that effect.  A further possibility with an entirely solvent seller whose operation would continue well after the closing would be to call for a re-proration after the actual taxes are known. But it’s far better to adjust at closing so a post-closing claim (or law suit) is not necessary.

If the issue is not addressed in the contract but brought up before or after closing, it may be difficult to argue to the seller that the contract does not reflect the seller’s actual tax liability as of the closing date.

From a seller’s perspective, it is better use the typical default language of “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate.”

Obviously, if the contract price is lower than the Auditor’s valuation, the default language” of “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate” would disadvantage the seller and benefit the buyer.  This frequently was so in the last (and every) real estate recession, and may be true with isolated sales occurring today, or for certain categories of real estate such as restaurants and hospitality, parking garages, and retail. When this happens, a seller may want to ask to prorate based on the actual sale price rather than the “most recent available tax duplicate” information.  In the alternative, the seller could preserve the right to pursue a reduction in valuation post-closing and receive any refund arising from an over-payment or excess proration.

Conclusion

For help with your commercial or residential real estate contracting matter, including the intricacies of Ohio and Kentucky tax prorations, contact Isaac T. Heintz (513.943.6654), Eli N. Krafte-Jacobs (513.797.2853), or Jennings D. Kleeman (513.943.6650) of our real estate group.

Cincinnati homeowners may obtain a Community Reinvestment Area (“CRA”) tax abatement by renovating existing residential structures. This practice is common and reduces tax liability for homeowners who make such renovations. That said, recently, various homeowners with existing CRA Tax Abatements suffered a reduction in their existing CRA Tax Abatement. This issue was as new to us as it may be to you.

To preemptively clear up the foregoing issue for others, this blog post will discuss a background of the CRA Tax Abatement Program for existing residential structures, the importance of submitting the application in a timely manner, and how the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office, which has a duty to make appraisals, and can make such appraisals based on its own preferred method, calculates Tax Abatements.

Background

The CRA Tax Abatement Program is meant to stimulate revitalization, retain residents, and attract new homeowners, in the Cincinnati area. To encourage the foregoing types of behavior, the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development provides CRA Tax Abatements to certain homeowners who renovate existing residential structures (e.g., residential homes and residential condos, up to three units). To qualify for a CRA Tax Abatement, the cost of renovations must total at least $2,500.00, or $5,000.00, depending on the number of units in the residential structure. Some renovations, which might increase the marketability of a residential structure, are not contemplated in the cost of renovations (e.g., roofing, windows, gutters, vinyl siding, etc.) Likewise, unrelated improvements and tax on the land itself are not contemplated in the cost of renovations.

To apply for the CRA Tax Abatement Program, applicants will need to submit an application to the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development. Applicants who are renovating existing residential structures must pay an application fee of $250.00, which may be paid by check, to the “City of Cincinnati.” Also, applicants will need to submit evidence showing that all permits related to the renovations are closed. Applicants may obtain such evidence here. Finally, applicants will need to submit a document evidencing the costs of the renovations. Such evidence should be in the form of a notarized list indicating (i) the general categories of the work completed; (ii) the date such work was completed; and (iii) the expenses, including costs of labor, associated with each category of work completed.

Timing of the Application

Under the CRA Tax Abatement Program, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office can set a CRA Tax Abatement Period for, at most, ten years, unless homeowners comply with LEED, LBC, or HERS standards, which are not discussed herein. That said, under the CRA Tax Abatement Program, the applicant cannot apply for the abatement until renovations are complete, and the CRA Tax Abatement is not applied to the residential structure until the application has been submitted.  Despite those rules, the abatement period begins when the renovations are commenced. Furthermore, it might take the City of Cincinnati eight weeks to respond to the application. As such, an applicant should complete their renovations and apply as quickly as possible to avoid missing out on their CRA Tax Abatement period.

Calculation of the Abatement

The Hamilton County Auditor’s Office recently started calculating CRA Tax Abatements under the “Percentage Method.” Under the Percentage Method, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office determines a homeowner’s CRA Tax Abatement amount by dividing the contributed value of all the improvements, at the time construction began, by the value of the home without improvements. The purpose of the Percentage Method is to provide homeowners with a percentage that remains consistent, despite changes in home values.

Before the Percentage Method, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office calculated CRA Tax Abatements under the “Beginning Value Method.” Under the Beginning Value Method, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office determined a homeowner’s CRA Tax Abatement amount by subtracting the value of the home without improvements from the contributed value of all the improvements, at the time construction began. The Beginning Value Method created an issue where homeowners were unable to truly appreciate the value of their CRA Tax Abatement, because, when their property value increased, the value of their abatements did not, leaving them with little tax liability savings.

Due to the foregoing issue, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office reacted by creating the Percentage Method. Despite its best intentions, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office did not provide for grandfather clause for the various homeowners, with CRA Tax Abatements, who were content with their CRA Tax Abatement Valuation. This gave rise to the issue first described in this blog post, which the Finney Law Firm resolved for similarly situated homeowners. So, if you are a similarly situated homeowner and need professional guidance on how to remedy such issue, call the Finney Law Firm, today!

There is a significant new development in Ohio property tax challenges directly and narrowly resulting from valuation reduction arising from the COVID-19 pandemic allowing such challenges this year.

As we discussed in a blog entry here, because of the unique timing of real property valuations versus billing, Ohio property owners impacted by COVID-19 rent reductions and closures really could not bring successful COVID-related valuation challenges before Boards of Revision in 2021.

To exacerbate that problem, Hamilton, Clermont, Butler and Montgomery Counties had the first year of the tax triennial in 2020 (for challenges in 2021). Therefore, if a property owner attempted a COVID valuation challenge in 2021 and lost, a property owner would be stuck with a bad (high) valuation for three years (tax years 2020, 2021 and 2022, billed and payable in 2021, 2022 and 2023).

This placed owners of certain properties in significant financial straits: Owners of apartment buildings near a university where student-based occupancy plunged or downtown when nearby office buildings cleared out, owners of large office buildings that could not rent because of COVID-related vacancies, owners of hotels and motels and other properties in the travel and hospitality industry, owners of restaurant properties and owners of malls and retail strip centers.

That all changed two weeks ago when Governor DeWine signed into law S.B. 57 which adds a second challenge period in 2021 narrowly targeted to COVID-related property valuation reduction (i.e., not that of general market conditions).

Here is the quick overview:

  • “Second bite” challenges may be filed with the Auditor only between July 26 and August 25, 2021.
  • “Second bite” challenges must narrowly be tailored to valuation reduction as a result of COVID-19.
  • The target valuation date for “second bite” valuations is October 1, 2020.
  • The “second bite” valuation reduction is retroactive to January 1, 2020 (before the pandemic hit America).
  • The “second bite” valuation reduction will last for the remainder of the triennial (in Hamilton, Clermont, Butler, and Montgomery Counties thru the 2022 tax year, billed and paid in 2023).
  • The bringing, and “win” or “loss,” of a valuation challenge for the “second bite” hearings is in addition to the general challenge filed before March 31, 2021 and does not prejudice non-COVID-related (i.e. general market conditions) challenges in later years.
  • The legal and evidentiary hurdles associated with “second bite” challenges are the same, as we see it, to challenges brought in Ohio, meaning an appraisal (supported by testimony from the appraiser) and presentation by a qualified attorney are strongly recommended.

If you have a “second bite” property that would benefit from a challenge narrowly targeted to COVID-19 economic impact, please quickly contact Chris Finney (513) 943-6655) or Casey Jones (513-943-5673) to allow us to help you secure this tax savings.

Every year, the Auditor of each of Ohio’s 88 counties publishes a chart like this showing the tax rates for each taxing district in each County.

In Hamilton County, there are 241 distinct taxing districts, each having a complex calculation to develop the net residential and commercial rates of taxation (taxing districts being greater in number than either municipalities and townships or school districts, because the boundaries of some frequently overlap one another). Here are the five highest commercial and residential taxing districts in Hamilton County:

Highest Commercial rates
Municipality Township School District Commercial millage Commercial percentage
Wyoming Springfield Finneytown 135.54 4.765%
Colombia Mariemont 131.356 4.618%
Springfield Finneytown 128.589 4.521%
Lincoln Heights Princeton 123.75 4.351%
Mt. Healthy Springfield Mt. Healthy 121.665 4.277%
Highest Residential rates
Municipality Township School District Residential millage Residential percentage
Lincoln Heights Princeton 111.466 3.919%
Wyoming Springfield Finneytown 110.344 3.879%
Mt. Healthy Springfield Mt. Healthy 104.619 3.678%
Springfield Finneytown 103.394 3.635%
Golf Manor Cincinnati 101.26 3.560%

As you can see, several Hamilton County commercial districts well exceed 4.0% in annual tax rates (approaching 5.0%) and the highest residential rates are bumping up against the 4.0% threshold.

 

Today, Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes joined Finney Law Firm Chris Finney at a webinar hosted by the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors to educate the public on “Ohio Property Tax Valuation Reduction.” Our thanks go to Auditor Rhodes and Christy Beaver, Director of Education the Board, for organizing and hosting this course.

Here is a link to the video. Please feel free to share it.

If our Property Tax Valuation Group can be of assistance to you, please contact Casey Jones (513.943.5673).

Tax bills are hitting mailboxes next week in Hamilton County and in them entirely new valuations. This year, every property in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Montgomery Counties will have wholly new valuations. We have written on these new valuation changes here and here, including a free “how-to” webinar.

On January 19th from 10 AM to noon, Finney Law Firm founder, attorney Chris Finney, with teach a free seminar on property tax valuation reduction with Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes for the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.  Auditor Rhodes has been gracious to co-teach these classes providing the public information on valuation reductions with Chris Finney for a decade.  Anyone can log in for the course: business owners, individual property owner, Realtors, etc.

The link for sign ups for the seminar is here.

There is a flurry of concern arising from the notices hitting mailboxes in Hamilton County from County Auditor Dusty Rhodes telling property owners of their new valuations for the 2021 tax bills. The notice shows the prior 2019 value (2020 tax bill) of your home or business property and your new 2020 valuation (2021 tax bill).

The valuation increases average 15%, but some property owners we are hearing from are seeking hikes more than 25% on specific properties.

Naturally, taxpayers are assuming that means their tax bill will in fact go up that same percentage. But that actually is not so, not at all. Let us explain:

  • The simplistic formula for determining your tax bill is: Property tax = property valuation * tax rate for more than 15 tax levies. Then take the sum of each of those individual calculations. The sum of these individual levy calculations plus a “kicker” for something called “inside millage” for the City, Village or Township and the School District — less a host of credits and adjustments — equal your tax bill. (The inside millage is about 10% of your total tax rate.)
  • Other than the inside millage, most (not all) of the levies generate a fixed, flat amount of income each year for the tax entity (for example, $10 million per year for a school operating levy or $15 million per year for a mental health levy). Saying it another way, total levy revenue for most levies does not rise or fall based on fluctuations in total valuations — it by law stays constant year after year.
    • On the other hand, that very small part of your tax bill that is inside millage does rise proportionately with your valuation.
  • That annual fixed revenue amount from most levies is generated from the total of the valuations in that taxing jurisdiction, i.e., the sum of valuation of all properties (let’s call this the tax base) in the political and taxing jurisdiction in question (say, a school district).
  • Thus, the rate for each individual levy is — in a simplified sense — the fixed annual sum generated from the tax divided by the tax base that changes from year to year, usually upward, but occasionally downward.
  • What this means is that as the value of all properties in a taxing jurisdiction rise, the rate drops by the same ratio (except the inside millage and a few other exceptions).
  • Therefore, if the average valuation increase in Hamilton County is 15%, then the tax rate on average should be dropping about 10-12%. Thus, the real increase in your actual taxes paid should only be around 3-5%.
  • Now, two more cautions:
    • If your tax valuation went up more than the average for the political and taxing jurisdiction in question, your tax hike will be more than that 3-5%. So, if you were unfortunate enough to get one of those 25% hikes, your taxes will indeed go up another 10% or more.
    • The other factor that impacts the taxes that you pay is the tax rate, so if your school district or City had a property tax hike (because of COVID, there were a remarkably low number of levies on the ballot this fall), your taxes may rise as a result of the as well.
  • As you can see from this blog entry, the calculation of your tax bill involves dozens if not hundreds of individual calculations. The bills are tremendously complicated. But these overarching principles do apply, and therefore most taxpayers will not see tax increases anywhere near the whopping valuation hikes they are seeing on these recent Auditor notices.

We hope that gives property owners some comfort that these preliminary notices do not reflect the actual hike in your taxes coming in January.

County Auditors in Ohio are required by law to re-value every parcel of real estate in their County every three years. The cycles differ by county, but for Hamilton, Butler, Montgomery and Clermont Counties, the next revaluation comes out on the January 2021 tax bills.  This means that for those  counties (and certain others in Ohio), the value stated on every tax bill in the January 2021 tax bills should be new for almost every property owner. Dusty Rhodes, the Hamilton County Auditor has sent new valuation notices to each property owner, and those have been arriving this week. As a result, our phones are really starting to ring.

The Enquirer today reports that Hamilton County property values have spiked 15% from the 2018 values here.

Yesterday, we wrote this blog entry: All the info you need to know on property tax valuation issues in Ohio. Click for more information.

Finally, the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors is hosting a free seminar featuring Christopher Finney and Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes on the property tax valuation reduction process. The public is invited to attend.  Click here to register to get a link for that seminar.

Contact Chris Finney (513.943.6655) or Casey Jones (513.943-5673) for more information on reducing your property taxes.

Tax bills in Hamilton County will be mailed on January 7 and are due February 1. Nonetheless, the County Auditor has sent out notices to homeowners in December as to the new valuation of properties that will appear on the January tax bills. Since the January 2021 tax bills represent the start of a new tax triennial, every property owner in Hamilton, Butler and Clermont Counties will get new valuations in those upcoming tax bills. As a result, our phones are starting to ring about help with property tax valuation reductions.

If you are thinking about challenging your property’s tax valuation, below are linked two blog entries with lots of information on the wisdom of taking such a path, and the detailed procedures for doing so. One of them has an instructional video on tax valuation reduction in Ohio.

Ohio and Kentucky property tax valuation challenges vexing in 2021

’tis the season for property tax valuation reduction (with How To video)

Contact Chris Finney (513-.943.6655) or Casey Taylor (513.943.5673) for information on how we can help get your property taxes reduced.

 

 

 

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