Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Homeowners Look to Join Assessment Lawsuit Class Action against Appeals Board Asserts Validity of Certified Appraisals

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Homeowners Look to Join Assessment Lawsuit Class Action against Appeals Board Asserts Validity of Certified Appraisals

Article excerpt

Some Allegheny County property owners dissatisfied with the results of their assessment appeals are seeking to join a class- action lawsuit.

They want to add their names to the list of 11 people who say the county's independent appeals board ignored or modified the results of their certified appraisals, according to lawyers who brought the legal action.

"We're taking their names and phone numbers," attorney Grey D. Pratt said.

His colleague, David M. Huntley, filed the lawsuit last week in the county Court of Common Pleas. It alleges that some of the hearing officers who decided formal property assessment appeals "engaged in arbitrary and capricious conduct" when they disregarded the results of certified real estate appraisals.

It names the county and the separate, quasi-judicial Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review as defendants. The hearing officers, who are employed by the appeals board, are completing the last of more than 100,000 formal challenges to new assessment numbers.

David Montgomery, solicitor for the appeals board, defended the work being done by the hearing officers. In their role as fact- finders who make recommendations to the appeals board, they have discretion in evaluating the quality of all evidence presented to them, Mr. Montgomery said.

"They can accept or reject, in whole or in part, expert testimony, even if it is not rebutted," he said.

Mr. Huntley disagreed. Hearing officers should not reject the results of certified appraisals and substitute their own judgment in the absence of contrary evidence, he said.

The county had encouraged residents filing appeals to pay for and present certified real estate appraisals as the best proof of the value of their properties, he said. Yet when his clients presented their appraisals, some were accepted and others ignored, he said.

"And there was no counter-evidence," Mr. Huntley said.

Taxing bodies, especially school districts, have the right to be heard at assessment appeals, usually arguing that new real estate values are correct or should be increased. …

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