In this era of computer-generated recordkeeping, Georgia taxpayers should be aware of several areas in which accurate records are critical in the proper valuation of their properties for ad valorem tax purposes. While software and online filing save time, these tools also increase the opportunity for inaccuracy and unfairly high tax bills.
The importance of accurate written records begins with the initial purchase of the property. Georgia law requires property owners to report real estate sales on a PT-61 form, which is filed online with the clerk of the county superior court. This form is transmitted to the county tax assessor, who is required to consider sales in determining the fair market value of property.
Taxpayers should ask themselves if there has been a proper allocation between real and personal property. Examples of personal property include furniture, fixtures and equipment for the operation of hotels. Has there been a proper allocation of tangible vs. intangible property?
A new statute in the Georgia property tax code requires that tax assessors exclude the value of intangible assets such as patents, trademarks, trade names and customer and merchandising agreements. If the reported sale price of a real property contains these intangibles, then inflated tax valuations are likely to occur.
Sometimes there is no allocation in county records of the underlying business being acquired as part of a property transaction. For example, portfolio purchases of convenience stores or daycare centers may reflect only the aggregate purchase price and not a proper allocation of the individual components being acquired. Has there been a proper allocation of specific assets in a multi-property sale transaction? Inaccurate sale price allocation among properties purchased as a portfolio often results in improper tax valuations.
A purchaser with ownership and control of a property must make certain that internal recordkeeping is accurate, for both real and personal property. Inaccuracies can expand over time throughout the length of ownership and life of the property. For instance, owners of personal property may carry pieces of property on their books and ledgers that have been sold, disposed of, moved from the county to another facility owned by the taxpayer, or which are obsolete or no longer in use.
County tax assessors rely upon taxpayers to accurately report property held by the taxpayer in the county on Jan. 1 of each tax year by filing the business personal property tax return. If owners carry over historical purchase prices of personal property without analyzing the facts surrounding current ownership, location, and use of the individual pieces of property, the inaccuracies will result in improper tax valuations of personal property by the county tax assessor. Each passing tax year can compound problems if additional pieces of property are disposed of or moved but continue to be reported to the tax assessor as being held in the county by the taxpayer on Jan. 1.
Real property owners should periodically review and make sure their internal records are accurate. For instance, for office, apartment, retail and warehouse properties, does the software used by the taxpayer to maintain rental records accurately reflect both actual contract rents and the current market rent of the property? Dated and inaccurate market rental rates can be misleading to county tax assessors, who review taxpayer rent rolls to obtain market information used to value commercial properties.
Similarly, for hotel properties, is the actual and market room rate data accurate in all fields of the software, or have record-keepers merely carried over historical market rates that could mislead the tax assessor and cause improperly inflated valuations?
Another area of proper record-keeping involves the actual county tax records. The new Georgia statute requiring county tax assessors to issue annual tax assessment notices to every real property owner places an even greater burden on the tax assessor than in years past, which may result in more factual errors in the county property tax records.
Taxpayers should review their individual property tax records maintained by the county tax assessor to determine whether the specific facts of their property are accurate. Is the amount of acreage or square footage accurate and up to date, including any additions or demolitions that have occurred? Does the county have the correct age for the property, including all of the portions of the improvements, which may have been built at different times?
Along that line, does the county have the appropriate percentage breakdown for the various areas of use at the property, such as office vs. warehouse or rentable area vs. common area? Are the wall heights correct for all portions of the property? These are just a few examples of the type of data maintained by the county tax assessor which must be correct to assist in the accurate valuation of a taxpayer’s property.
Electronic records offer many advantages. But savvy property owners invest some of the time they are saving through modern technology, and make sure that inaccurate records related to their property aren’t contributing to an overstatement of their tax burden.
Lisa Stuckey is a partner in the Atlanta, Ga. law firm of Ragsdale, Beals, Seigler, Patterson & Gray LLP, the Georgia member of American Property Tax Counsel.