You probably just got your first half Cook County property tax bill for 2013 and it's gotten you to start thinking about how high your property taxes are and how you need to appeal them. Now is actually the right time to start thinking about that because more than anything else you need to be cognizant of the key Cook County deadlines for appealing your property taxes. But there are a lot of other things that you should also understand about how Cook County's property taxes work that will help you pursue this noble effort. So I'm going to cover a lot of the basics here and then later this week I'll cover the nitty gritty. Oh...and most of what I write here is applicable to all of Cook County but it is definitely slanted towards the city of Chicago.
What Exactly Does That Property Tax Bill I Just Got Represent?
That property tax bill you just got represents the first installment of your 2013 property taxes, which is paid in arrears. That first installment was simply calculated as 55% of your 2012 property tax bill. The second installment, due later this year, will be based upon the actual property tax for 2013 less your first installment. So that second installment might be less or more than the first installment.
What Determines Your Property Taxes
I actually covered a lot of this in a previous post about the 2012 Chicago Property Tax Rates. In a nutshell your property taxes are the city's tax rate X your assessed value. What I didn't mention in that previous post is that the county determines assessed values only once every three years but they set the tax rate every year depending upon how much money they want to spend. The assessed values for Chicago were redone for 2012 so the next time they make these numbers up will be 2015.
The Property Tax Appeal Process
First and foremost you need to understand that you don't exactly directly appeal your property taxes. What you appeal is your assessed value, which can be way out of whack. If you like to complain that life is not fair, studying this issue will give you plenty to complain about. In fact, down the road I'll do a blog post highlighting some of the gross inequities in Chicago's assessed values which will make your blood boil - and there's probably nothing anyone is going to do about it because you're dealing with the government and this is the way things have always been done.
There are actually five levels/ avenues of appeal available to you so if you are really determined you have 5 shots at it:
- You can file an appeal with the Cook County Assessor's office
- You can ask for a re-review
- You can file an appeal with the Cook County Board of Review
- You can appeal to the Cook County Circuit Court
- You can appeal to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board
When I appealed my assessed value last year I got no satisfaction at the first level and ended up going to the Board of Review. I can't remember if I asked for a re-review or not but I did get my valuation reduced by the Board of Review. In fact, I wonder if the first level is just there to say "no" in order to discourage the weak or those with less to gain.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, the critical part of this process is understanding the deadlines, which are tight and firm. You have a small window each year to do this and your window is determined by which township you live in. As if Chicago wasn't confusing enough with it's community areas, wards, and precincts it is also broken up into 8 townships. I'd love to show you a map of these townships but I have yet to find a decent one. The best way for you to know what township you live in is to look at your property tax bill or most of your property tax records on the Web also list it. Do not confuse your township with your community area even though some townships share the same name as community areas - e.g. Lake View and Hyde Park. Could this be more confusing?
The Cook County Assessor's office lists the property tax appeal deadlines by township on their Web site. Be sure to click on the link on that page that says 2014 filing deadlines to get to the township details. It's Java script so I can't really provide a direct link to it.
Remember I just asked if they could make this whole township thing any more confusing? Apparently they can and do. Please note that they do not use a consistent naming convention. There is a North Chicago and a South Chicago township but no West Chicago township. It's just called West.
Just to keep you guessing they never show you the entire year's schedule up front. Apparently they just make this stuff up as they go along so you have to keep checking it throughout the year to find out when the deadlines are. However, I suspect, though I can't be sure, that the dates are roughly the same from one year to the next, adjusted for where the weekends fall.
For each township the schedule shows the following:
- Approximately a one month window when you can file your initial appeal with the assessor's office.
- About one month later is the final deadline for requesting a re-review. However, if you get your appeal in toward the end of the initial appeal window by the time you get an answer back how much time will you have to request a re-review? That may be the reason I have no record of requesting a re-review.
- A one month window that varies by township but falls within the last 5 months of the year.
This post, written at a later date, covers the details of how to appeal your property taxes: How To Appeal Your Cook County Property Taxes - The Details
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