MIKE’S TOP TEN TIPS FOR ARB HEARINGS
“The other teams could make trouble for us if they win.”
– Yogi Berra
Spring means baseball, flowers, and looming ARB hearings. While I don’t have Yogi Berra’s tum-of-phrase, I hope that my suggestions – gleaned from 13 years of watching tax agents’ triumphs, disasters, and everything in between – will help you “swing for the fences.”
Know the rules
Don’t assume that ARB and CAD
representatives know every tax law and hearing rule, especially if you’re citing one that is seldom considered. Take the Tax Code and ARB rules to your hearings, so that you can cite a law or rule if needed. The ARB will appreciate your professionalism and respect for the rules. Install an electronic version of the Tax Code and local hearing rules on your laptop, so you can easily search and cite them when needed.
Look at last year's evidence
Appraisal records errors (such as mistakes in square footage) can persist from year to year. Copies of last year’s hearing evidence can help. You can show where the mistake is, how the CAD/ARB addressed it last time, and how to fix the problem. Proof of a recurring problem can also undermine the credibility of CAD arguments. Get historical information inexpensively from the CAD, including last year’s evidence and ARB audio recording, under the Texas Public Information Act.
Pictures are worth a thousand words.
Photos – especially color photos – can persuasively show property defects and other important characteristics. Aerial photographs show where the subject and comparables are located – and why those comparables are or are not relevant. Online resources like Google Earth (www.earth.google.com) and Bing maps (www.bing.com) are enormously useful. Include date stamps showing when a photograph was taken, to help respond to claims that a picture is too old or too new to bear on the assessment date.
Honesty is vital, especially when uncontroverted evidence detracts from your case.
Show that you are trustworthy by acknowledging this evidence up front. This might even make the ARB more open to your arguments. Submit copies of the CAD’s documents with your own evidence. You can then de-emphasize the strengths of the CAD’s position, highlight any irregularities, and help the ARB focus on central issues.
Show up on time and use hearing affidavits
You may inadvertently miss a hearing due to a calendaring error, for example. So, once a hearing is scheduled, consider submitting an affidavit with your evidence under Tax Code Section 41.45(b). This prevents a protest from being “no-showed,” but won’t affect your ability to personally attend the hearing. Use the State Comptroller’s form “Property Owner’s Affidavit of Evidence to the Appraisal Review Board.” Submit the completed form with your evidence. And, if you later lose your working file, you can get copies from the CAD records.
If it sounds like an agreement on value, it's probably an agreement on value
When CAD and property owner representatives agree on a property’s value, the agreement is final. If the CAD representative agrees with your opinion of value at the ARB hearing, your client will still get an Order stating that he has the right to appeal. But when he files the appeal, the CAD will move to dismiss it, after listening to the ARB.recording. So, insist that any settlement be formalized under Tax Code Section 1.111(e). The ARB may ask you for an opinion of value when a hearing starts. If you have one, give it, but premise it by stating that your opinion of value may be revised up or down based on evidence given at the hearing.
Give each ARB member an outline of your presentation.
This will keep you organized, help emphasize your main ideas, and draw attention to issues that the CAD representative may be unable to address. The outline should be only page long and on colored paper. This sets the outline apart from the many other pieces of paper in front of the panel.
First impressions matter. Avoid political, religious, or revealing attire, bizarre haircuts, and the like.
Have a closing.
Take one minute or less to close your presentation with confidence, and state clearly how you want the ARB to rule. Emphasize your case theme and summarize key facts. Your close should show that you understand both sides’ arguments, presented things fairly, and that the relief you seek is appropriate. Consider using a rhetorical question. These are not so much questions as persuasive statements. For example: since A and B are undisputed, isn’t C the result?
In limited circumstances, ask the ARB to set aside a panel recommendation.
Yogi’s saying that “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” applies to both baseball and ARB decisions. If a panel recommendation clearly violates state law, contact the ARB Chairman in writing immediately. The ARB can set aside errors of law, but does so rarely and only at full Board meetings. Include with your written request any supporting documentation, and cite the applicable authority. Although panel recommendations are seldom set aside, this may be possible if a clear error of law is shown.
Atty at Law
Michael Saegert was formerly legal counsel to the Harris County Appraisal Review Board, one of the largest administrative
appeal boards in the United States. His responsibilities included teaching public officials about local property taxation. Mike’s Top Ten Tips are general observations, should not be considered legal advice, and are not based on any specific actions or inactions of any particular individual, living or dead.