Public auction price can be true value (Cuyahoga Court of Appeals Ruling upholds 98.5% property value reduction)

In NDHMD, Inc. v. Cuyahoga County Board of Revision, et al., 2015-Ohio-174, the Eighth District Court of Appeals reviewed the finding by the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court that the surplus land auction conducted by the Cuyahoga County Auditor constituted an arm’s length transaction.

In 2009, the County Treasurer foreclosed on a property for delinquent taxes. Two attempts at auction failed, resulting in the property being turned over to the state. In March, 2010, the County Auditor placed the property for sale as part of a surplus land auction. The auction was conducted on March 24. One week later (but prior to the filing of the executed deed) the winning bidder (at $1,500) filed a challenge to the property valuation with the Board of Revision.

At the Board of Revision, the value was reduced from $963,300 to $444,720. The owner appealed that decision to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, which upheld the BOR decision. The owner then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which ruled that because the challenge to the BOR was filed prior to the recording of the deed, the owner did not have standing to bring the challenge and dismissed the complaint (returning the value back to $963,300).

During the same triennial, the owner filed a new challenge for tax year 2011. Having satisfied the jurisdictional requirement of recorded ownership, the owner now faced the statutory prohibition against bringing two challenges in the same triennial absent an exception (one of which is an intervening arm’s length sale).

The Auditor argued that the surplus auction sale is not an arm’s length transaction.

Relying on the Ohio Supreme Court ruling in Olentangy Local Schools Bd. of Edn. v. Delaware Cty. Bd. of Revision, Slip Opinion No.2014–Ohio–4723, the Cuyahoga Court of Appeals found that, while an auction sales price is presumably not a voluntary, arm’s length transaction, this presumption can be rebutted.

Supporting the finding that the transaction was arm’s length was the fact that the county auditor had not been compelled to auction the property; that two prior auctions had failed, resulting in the property being transferred to the state; that the auction had been advertised; and that there were multiple bidders.

The finding that the auction constituted an arm’s length transaction was crucial for two reasons in this case. First, because NDHMD had filed a prior challenge to the value of the property (that had been dismissed on jurisdictional grounds), the sale provided an opportunity to bring the challenge at all. Second, as an arm’s length transaction, under the applicable law (since amended) the County Auditor was required to use the sale price as the true value of the property.

The final result is that a property that the County Auditor had valued at $963,300.00 was given a new value of $1,500.00, at least for the remainder of that triennial (in the most recent triennial, 2012, the value was adjusted to $170,100).

Notwithstanding the results in this case, the Court was clear that the general presumption remains that an auction price is not the true value for tax purposes.

Have a question about the County Auditor and Board of Revision Valuation Process? Contact Anna Ausman at (513) 943-6651.

 

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