Upcoming workshops to help Detroiters appeal taxes

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Detroiters who want to appeal their property taxes can get help from a series of free workshops, sponsored in part by the Quicken Loans Community Fund. 

The four sessions, titled "Understanding your Property Tax Assessment," aim to educate residents on the values their tax bills are based on and guide them through the often confusing appeals process. Residents have about a three week-window to appeal their home's 2020 assessments next month.

Detroiters who want to appeal their property taxes can get help from a series of free workshops, sponsored in part by the Quicken Loans Community Fund.

The effort is a collaboration between several community nonprofits, including Brick+Beam Detroit and United Community Housing Coalition. 

The appeals process can be lengthy and require research on similar home sales to successfully make the case a property is over-assessed. 

"Home ownership is complicated," said Alissa Shelton, the executive director of Brick+Beam Detroit, which offers home rehabilitation programs. "There is not a ton of post-purchase support."

Home values in Detroit rose 20% citywide last year, the largest overall increase in at least two decades, Mayor Mike Duggan said this week. That's the most growth in a year since 1997, according to city officials.

The home value increase won't make homeowners' tax bills jump significantly because state law caps yearly increases at the 2% rate of inflation. But home buyers could pay more because the cap is lifted when a property is sold. 

Property owners are expected to get a notice of their assessments by mail next week, city officials said. Tax bills won't be mailed out until late June.

The first session on assessments is at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 at the Detroit Public Library main branch. Child care and dinner will be provided. 

"If you feel like your property assessments have jumped incredibly high or there is a discrepancy in what you feel the value of your home is versus what it says on your property tax assessment, that is a case where you should just do a little bit of research and find out," said Laura Grannemann, Quicken Loans Community Fund vice president of strategic investments. "It’s worth doing the research even if it doesn’t pan out."

If owners aren't successful appealing the value to city officials, they can appeal to the Michigan Tax Tribunal. 

The Detroit News reported this month that Detroit homeowners were overtaxed at least $600 million between 2010 and 2016, when officials admitted the city failed to accurately bring down property values following the national housing crisis.

The News' review was the first to estimate how much Detroit homeowners were overbilled. The state ordered Detroit to do a property-by-property reappraisal after a 2013 Detroit News investigation found widespread problems. That survey, which hadn't been done in decades, was finished in 2017. 

Duggan has acknowledged the past assessment problems but said he moved quickly to correct it when taking office in 2014 and the city can't afford to reimburse all homeowners.

Appealing assessments can only lower the current year's value and can't be applied against past years, unless there was a clerical error. 

Detroit taxpayers can appeal their assessments during the February Assessors Review, which is from Feb. 1-22. For more information, call (313) 224-3035. The city also has a website to answer questions on assessments. Homeowners can search their current values online. 

The Detroit Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm, launched a program last year to help low-income owners challenge their bills. For more information, call 833-200-0093 or email CLW@DETROITJUSTICE.ORG.

"There should be a system in place to help people through the process," said Casey Rocheteau, spokesperson for the Detroit Justice Center. "We can help them. ...

They don't have to struggle alone."

City assessors generally determine a home’s worth through sales studies: the analysis of comparable sales in the same area. That worth is called an assessed value. State law requires that assessments not exceed 50% of a property’s market value.

The majority of a property tax bill is based on a version of that number called the taxable value, which is capped annually at the rate of inflation or 5%. The cap is only lifted when a property is sold, causing the taxable value to revert to the assessed value. The cap was put in place by 1994 legislation to protect Michigan taxpayers from rapidly increasing taxes when the real estate market is booming.

Quicken Loans Community Fund partnered last year on a series of similar workshops that walked residents through the application process for the Poverty Tax Exemption. That wipes away or discounts yearly tax bills for low-income owners. 

Click here for the application. For more information, call (313) 224-3560 or email assessors@detroitmi.gov.

New workshops will begin in February. The deadline to apply for the exemption in December 2020.