The deadline for filing property tax abatements in New Hampshire is typically March 1 for the previous year’s tax bill. In summary, the property owner (taxpayer) needs to prove the property’s tax assessed value (adjusted for equalization) is higher than its actual fair market value as of April 1 of the applicable tax year. (RSA 76:16)
The fact you personally believe that the property is assessed for more than what it is worth is not sufficient. You must objectively prove the fair market value of the property. This generally requires a real estate appraisal or credible market analysis of comparable properties. If this level of proof does not resolve the issue, then you can file for a hearing before the Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) or a trial in Superior Court by August 1 or September 1 depending upon the city/town where the property is located.
As a starting point, you should first verify the accuracy of the data on your property tax card. Tax assessors will, on occasion, erroneously record information on the tax card. This can greatly affect a property’s tax assessed value. These errors can range from the incorrect number of bathrooms or bedrooms; incorrect square footage; road frontage; acreage; etc. It can, in fact, be more complicated such as a finished attic being treated as entire finished floor space when only a portion is truly floor space because of the lack of headroom created from the roof pitch in the attic. The computer model used by your town/city may not take this geometry problem into consideration!
Second, look for similar (comparable) properties that have sold on or before April 1 of the tax year. Comparable property sales should be close in location to your home in order to treat them as “similar” properties. There are wide variations in neighborhoods such that one property sale of equal size, amenities, and age may not have the same value as a similar home simply because of its location. In fact, many appraisers argue that there are three (3) factors in determining fair market value: location, location, and location!! Also, the sales should be near to April 1 of the tax year in issue as possible. Otherwise, there may need to be adjustments made because of market sales trends.
Finally, the comparable sales you choose to support your valuation should, generally, not be foreclosures, short sales, related party sales, or other sales where there has not been a true “arm’s length transaction.” Arm’s length transfers are defined as “a transaction freely arrived at in the open market, unaffected by abnormal pressure or by the absence of normal competitive negotiation as might be true in the case of a transaction between related parties.” Appeal of Lakeshore Estates, 130 N.H. 504, 508 (1988). If in doubt as to the value, the actual sale prices can be generally confirmed by looking at the tax stamp amount on the deeds. This deed information will help you determine the amount of the sales price, as well as if the buyer of the entity appears to be a bank or lending institution.
The tax abatement petition can be found online at https://www.nh.gov/btla/forms/. The application must be completed/signed. It should include all of the initial reasons for why you believe the assessment is incorrect. If you have available information, you should attach it to the petition. However, you are allowed to supplement with additional information as you develop it. Do NOT allow the language in the form to prevent you from at least filing for an application for your abatement as the failure to file timely by March 1 will be an absolute bar to pursuing a tax abatement.
The best way to prevail on your application, if it is cost effective, is to obtain the services of a certified real estate appraiser. This type of appraisal will be given much more weight by the city/town assessor or Board of Adjustment than, generally, your computer derived research/analysis. The appraisal report will also be specific to your property for fair market valuation; as opposed to the mass appraisal techniques used by assessors.
When a town/city assesses properties, it uses a mass appraisal methodology. The assessors are not looking at any property specifically; but rather appraising properties in general based on their location, size, age, condition, amenities, sales price, and other objective factors. These factors are then all analyzed and weighted in the municipal computer models and a value derived for a particular property based on mass data.
Again, if your abatement petition is not acted upon favorably by the municipality, then you have a right by August 1, (or September 1 depending upon the city/town) to apply to either the BTLA or the Superior Court where your property is located for a merits hearing on your claim. You must select one forum or the other. You cannot file in the BTLA and then appeal to the Superior Court.
Many people choose the BTLA as it is more convenient and less expensive. As a law firm, we typically use the Superior Court system because of the results we have achieved as better/fairer in our opinion; coupled with the fact that there are generally larger property assessed values in dispute which justify the additional costs involved.
If the property is income producing or of a commercial or unique nature, then you should definitely consider having an attorney assist you. Income producing properties are more complex when it involves proving value and, therefore, challenging the assessment/abatement process. In those types of cases, property value is typically driven by income the property generates or costs of construction; not as much as by rebuilding costs than comparable properties given the fact that there are often times few comparables for the given type of property in issue. In comparison, there are many “similar” residential sales compared to “similar” commercial property sales.
Welts, White & Fontaine, P.C.’s attorneys are experienced in tax abatement issues and regularly pursue abatements for commercial clients. Please contact us by calling (603) 883-0797 or using the form at the foot of this page if you think we can be of service. Welts, White & Fontaine is Nashua’s largest law firm and serves the legal needs of both individuals and businesses in towns such as Amherst, Milford, Hudson, Brookline, Windham, Hollis, Merrimack, Litchfield, Bedford, Londonderry, Pelham, and of course Nashua.
Author: Jack S. White
This blog is intended for informational use only. The information contained herein should not be construed as offering legal advice or a legal opinion.