Property owners who disagree with the Property Appraiser’s assessment of their property have the option of scheduling an informal conference with the Property Appraiser, filing a petition to the Value Adjustment Board [“VAB”], bringing an action in circuit court, or all of the above. If there is a clear error in the Property Appraiser’s calculations or in their assumptions about your property, you can probably resolve the issue with a simple phone call. However, if there is a serious disagreement about the ultimate value of the property, and you want to file a VAB petition, this post will explain that process.
What is the VAB?
The VAB is a a five member quasi-judicial board that consists of two county commissioners, one school board member, and two citizen members (one appointed by the county commission and the other appointed by the school board). The VAB is not affiliated with the Property Appraiser’s office.
The VAB petition forms can usually be obtained from the Clerk of Court and the Property Appraiser. The petition must be filed with the Clerk of the Value Adjustment Board no later than the 25th day after the Property Appraiser mails the Truth in Millage [“TRIM”] notice to the taxpayers, which usually occurs toward the end of August. The VAB may only consider untimely petitions upon a showing of good cause, so it is important to file by the statutory deadline.
Once your petition is filed, if you request a hearing, the Clerk will schedule a hearing before a Special Magistrate. In small counties, the hearings may be held before the entire VAB. However, in larger counties, special magistrates are appointed to hear testimony, take evidence, and make recommendations to the VAB. In disputes about the value of real property, the Special Magistrate will be a real property appraiser. In disputes about the value of tangible personal property, the Special Magistrate will be a tangible personal property appraiser. In exemption and classification disputes, the Special Magistrate will be an attorney. The Special Magistrates are hired by the VAB, and are not affiliated with the Property Appraiser’s office.
You are entitled to be represented by an attorney or other agent in the VAB proceeding, but that is not a requirement. If you decide to proceed without an attorney, you should be sure to review both the applicable Florida Statutes and any local rules adopted by your county’s value adjustment board. In particular, you need to be aware of the requirements for exchanging evidence prior to the hearing as failure to do so may result in your evidence being excluded.
Prior to the hearing, the Special Magistrate will usually review the procedures with all of the petitioners in attendance and administer an oath to all testifying witnesses. When it is your turn to present your case, you will have an opportunity to present your evidence and the Property Appraiser’s representatives or counsel will be permitted to cross-examine you. You will have the same right when the Property Appraiser presents their case. You may also be given time for a brief rebuttal (basically, the last word). Some VABs are stricter than others in applying the rules of evidence. In general though, you should always be prepared to present live witness testimony, as affidavits, letters and other hearsay evidence will usually not be admitted.
Some Special Magistrates will advise you of their decision at the conclusion of the hearing, but most will take the decision under advisement and issue a written recommendation shortly after the hearing. The written recommendations are submitted to the Value Adjustment Board, with copies to both parties. The Value Adjustment Board will hold a final meeting or meetings, during which it will either reject or approve the recommendations of the Special Magistrates. Some VABs allow petitioners to address the Board, but generally no new evidence may be presented at the final VAB meeting. Any evidence you want to present must be presented at the hearing before the Special Magistrate.
Following the final VAB meeting, you will receive a Final Record of Decision, which represents the final decision of the Board. If your petition is approved, your assessment will be reduced accordingly. If it is denied, you would have the right to file an action in circuit court, but it must be filed within 60 days of the Record of Decision.