By Gary H. Smith
Chicago and Cook County Property Tax Appeal Attorney
More than 22,000 notices have been sent to property owners in the northern suburbs of Cook County, warning that the Cook County Assessor may place a lien on their house if found in violation.
However, more than half of these “cases” will be dismissed with no action. That’s because the Assessor’s Office used overly broad selection criteria in creating the mailing list for the notices. The effect is that more than 10,000 property owners may be unnecessarily worrying over a notice that doesn’t apply to them.
The letter is a Notice of Discovery stating that the Assessor’s Office is investigating the homeowner in the belief that the homeowner is taking advantage of more than one Homestead Exemption. Only one exemption is allowed for each taxpayer.
If you have received one of these letters, it means that you have been “tagged” by the Assessor’s Office.
The “tagging” criteria for the mailing may have been merely that your name is similar to someone else’s, your property may sit on two parcels, you may have owned more than one property for portions of the same year, or any number of other reasons that would cause a computer algorithm to incorrectly assign a tag.
Should you ignore this notice?
The notice you received should not apply to you if you have owned only one property anywhere in the United States, any time in the past seven years.
Unfortunately, the Assessor’s office has is no procedure to clarify your situation. The Assessor may investigate you anyway. You may or may not ever be notified if you are NOT found in violation.
The net effect is that a number of taxpayers will be worrying unnecessarily for an indefinite amount of time. And they may never know when to stop worrying.
What should you do?
If you have had more than one Homestead Exemption in effect for the same tax year in any of the past seven years, you should inform the Assessor’s Office in person. Be prepared to pay the amount of every year’s exemption you received, plus significant penalties and interest. The sooner you do this, the lower your penalties will be.
You will also complete a waiver of all homeowner exemptions you may be receiving for properties that are not your principle place of residence. This will correct the situation and protect you in the future.
On the other hand, if you are sure that you have had only one Homestead Exemption in effect, ignore the notice, but pay close attention to any future correspondence from the Assessor’s Office.
Because the Assessor has no procedure to inform you if the investigation is dropped, and because you cannot force your case closed with proof of your innocence, you may be sent a Notice of Intent to Record a Lien, even if the finding is in error.
We can help guide you through the process.
The first batch of these letters were sent to the north and northwest suburbs, and a replica will be sent certified mail also. The city of Chicago and the south and southwest suburbs will be receiving similar notices in the future.