Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

For Property Tax Parity Newcomers Are Right to Challenge Spot Assessment

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

For Property Tax Parity Newcomers Are Right to Challenge Spot Assessment

Article excerpt

Two Squirrel Hill residents have filed suit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, alleging they were singled out for a real estate tax hike because they were recent homebuyers. They're right. So-called spot assessments are blatantly unfair, and they throw cold water on what should be the happy occasion of settling into a new place.

If they want to question assessments, local governments should push for a countywide reassessment, ensuring that all residential and commercial properties get scrutiny. Because they are unpopular, unwieldy and expensive, reassessments are undertaken infrequently. So some municipalities and school districts have resorted to what is derisively called the "newcomer's tax," appealing the assessments on some homes that sell for prices that seem out of whack with their assessed values.

In their suit, Joseph Nissim Martel and Ester Martel allege that the practice, which raised their assessment to $690,000 from $464,700, violates the state constitution's prohibition against unequal application of tax laws. They also claim the county administrative code expressly prohibits the kind of targeting they experienced from the Pittsburgh Public Schools. They want their assessment returned to the previous level, and the suit, filed by the Friedman and Friedman law firm, also asks the court to order the same relief for other homebuyers similarly affected between 2014 and last year. That would mean tax refunds for the Martels and who-knows-how-many others.

Apart from the legal issues they raise, the Martels have the moral high ground here. They and others bought houses understanding that they came with tax bills of a certain size. It's unfair for a municipality or school district to move the goal posts on them, especially when a big tax jump can make an affordable home unaffordable overnight. …

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