For the first time in three years, Philadelphia released a new property assessment on May 9. Residential assessments are rising by 31% citywide, and zip codes like 19140, 19132, 19133, 19121, and 19104 are seeing more than a 50% increase, especially in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. This could mean an increase in property taxes for many homeowners.

Usually, the city sends out assessment notices in April and May, but this year is different: You won’t get an official notification about your assessment until September. But even before then, you can start an appeal, and it’s a good idea.

Here’s what you need to know:

Key takeaways

  • You can start your appeal even before you get your notice of assessment. And it's a good idea to, or you might not be able to get an answer until after your taxes are due. 
  • There are two ways to appeal: an informal appeal (with the Office of Property Assessment) and a formal appeal (with the Board of Revision of Taxes). 
  • You can apply with both at the same time. If you get a result from one sooner than the other, just withdraw the other application.
  • You can't appeal to the OPA until you get the official notice of your assessment, but you can appeal to the BRT now.
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How does the city decide what my house is worth?

The property assessment is what the city thinks your house is worth based on historical public records. The Office of Property Assessment (OPA) looks at information the city has on when your house was built, number of stories, neighborhood, features, lot size, condition, and other property characteristics. The city uses the assessment to calculate your property tax by multiplying it by the tax rate (which is 1.3998%).

You can look up your property’s public history and assessment at property.phila.gov.

But the assessment may not reflect what your house is actually worth today because city assessments are done as mass appraisals.

“Oftentimes there is a slight potential for variance between what the city thinks the property assessment value is and what the value would actually be if they would be able to inspect each property,” says lawyer Jonathan Sgro, who works on homeownership and consumer rights at Community Legal Services (CLS).

And if you can show the assessment is inaccurate, you can appeal it.

When to appeal your property assessment

Disagreeing with your property assessment is not a reason to appeal it. There are two ways to appeal: an informal appeal with OPA or a formal appeal with the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT). Both can result in a reduction of your property assessment, if you can prove that your property is at least one of the following:

  • assessed too high by the city.

  • not similar to other properties in your neighborhood that share some of your house’s characteristics.

  • inaccurately characterized by the city (for example, if the city record says your house has seven rooms, but it has four).

Before filling out the appeal

Before you file, here's what you need, according to the Board of Revision of Taxes:

  • Your OPA number: It’s a nine-digit number unique to your property. If you don’t know it, you can find it with your home address. 
  • Evidence to attach to the appeal. This can be photos that show the condition of your property, data from online real estate marketplaces (Trulia, realtor.com, etc.) that documents the value of other properties on your block that are similar to your home, evidence the OPA has incorrect information about your house, or an appraisal report (if you bought your house in the last year).
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Appealing your assessment with the Office of Property Assessment (OPA)

Usually, people appeal to the OPA first because it is a more direct process. You fill out the form (including evidence) and wait until they mail you a decision. Then, if you don’t agree with the outcome, you can file a separate appeal with the Board of Revision of Taxes. But most cases are handled directly with the OPA, according to Carla Pagan, executive director of the BRT.

But this year isn’t as simple.

The OPA typically sends your assessment notice (if your property assessment increased) in April or May. It includes details about your property (category, type, and zone) and what the city thinks the market value is. (It is not a bill, but you can use the information to understand why your taxes have increased.) And with that notice, you are also sent a form (called a First Level Review, or FLR) which you can use to appeal the assessment.

However, this year, your notice may be mailed as late as Sept. 1. And you can’t appeal to the OPA before you get it (and the FLR that’s attached). “This doesn’t leave a lot of time,” says Sgro. It takes the OPA two to 10 months to decide your appeal, so you may not have a lot of time before you have to pay your property taxes.

So, instead of waiting to appeal to the OPA, Pagan and Sgro both suggest filing an appeal with the Board of Revision of Taxes as soon as possible if you think your assessment is too high. (You will still be able to appeal to OPA even if you filed with the BRT first.)

(There are other programs that can help you reduce your tax bill. Find out about four of them here.)

Appealing your assessment to the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT)

You can appeal your property assessment to the BRT at any time; you don’t need to appeal to OPA first. The BRT process is a bit more complex.

Like the OPA, the BRT requires you to submit evidence. But the BRT appeal includes a hearing where the board reviews your case. Only you, a lawyer, or someone you authorized to represent you can file the appeal application. If you can’t go in person, you can request a remote-only hearing. If you don’t show up, your appeal may fail.

About 40% to 50% of BRT appeals are successful in reducing property taxes, according to Pagan.

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The deadline to appeal the 2023 assessment to the BRT is Oct. 3, but it’s a good idea to file early.

You can apply in person, by email, or by mail. If you have more than one property you want to appeal, you have to submit a separate application for each one.

  • 📍 In person: Take your printed application and evidence to 601 Walnut St., Suite 325 East. They are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

  • ✉️ Email: Send the form, along with the evidence to appealinquiry@phila.gov

  • 📪 Mail: Mail the form and evidence to the Board of Revision of Taxes, at the Curtis Center, 601 Walnut St., Suite 325 East, Philadelphia, PA, 19106. It must be postmarked by Monday, Oct. 3.

How long the process takes will depend on how many cases the BRT gets. On average, says Pagan, it can take the BRT four to 10 months to get a hearing date.

Usually, hearings don’t start until January, but this year is different, and hearings will start in November. “The earlier you file, the more likely you’ll have a hearing this [2022] calendar year,” Pagan says, increasing your chances of getting a decision before your 2023 taxes are due.

If you win the appeal after you pay your property taxes, you will either get a reimbursement for the difference or a credit for your next year’s property taxes.

Sources

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