When Is It Time To Call an Attorney With Your Property Tax Appeal?

We are property tax attorneys. Not surprisingly, we believe you should call an attorney sooner, rather than later, to help you with your property tax appeal. We have seen too many instances where smart people have made mistakes in their property tax appeals, including:. 

  • missed deadlines
  • not using the proper valuation date
  • not understanding the applicable burden of proof
  • not knowing what evidence is relevant and what is not 

Sometimes these mistakes are not fixable. Just like a lot of other things in life, if you don't do it every day, it is easy to make a mistake. That being said, it is helpful to know when you are legally required to have an attorney to represent you and when you aren't; as well as when you really, really should have an attorney, even if not legally required.

In North Carolina, you generally cannot go to court unless you are represented by an attorney. There are exceptions to this rule. First among these exceptions is that generally people have the right to represent themselves in court. However, a legal entity such as a corporation, limited liability company, etc. [which I will refer to herein generically as a "company"] is a  separate entity for these purposes and obviously cannot represent itself because it can only take action through a human being [e.g., officer, manager, etc.]. So, a company must have an attorney to represent it in court.

So how does this apply in the context of a property tax appeal? Remember that the property tax appeal process in North Carolina is a two-step process:  first, a local appeal to the county Board of Equalization and Review [BER] and, second, an appeal to the Property Tax Commission [PTC]. A hearing before the BER is considered a "quasi-judicial" proceeding, i.e., a mix of a court proceeding and something else. A hearing before the PTC is, on the other hand, considered a court proceeding.

Because an individual can represent himself in a court proceeding, an individual who owns property in his individual name is not legally required to have an attorney represent him in a tax appeal at either the BER or the PTC. Representing oneself at the BER might make sense to keep costs down. However, given the more elaborate proceedings at the PTC, we think representing oneself at the PTC is not advisable.

With respect to property owned by a company, counties will generally allow a company representative [officer,manager, etc.] to represent the company at a BER hearing. Counties also generally allow other parties [e.g., accountants, tax consultants, etc.] to represent the company at a BER appeal, but generally require the company to sign a power of attorney evidencing the authority of these other representatives to speak for the company.

With respect to property owned by a company, the PTC until recently required a company to be represented by a licensed attorney in any appeal before the PTC. This position was based on proposition that the PTC hearing was a court proceeding and that, therefore, the representation of anyone before the PTC constituted the practice of law, which could only be done by a licensed attorney. Several years ago, however, in an effort to make appeals to the PTC more accessible, the legislature changed the law to allow certain authorized representatives [officers, managers, certain employees, certain owners] to represent their companies before the PTC. Other representatives [accountants, tax consultants, etc.] are, however, still prohibited.

For the same reasons that apply to individually owned properties, we do not recommend that companies represent themselves in hearings before the PTC. Hearings before the PTC are governed by rules that are often challenging for the non-attorney to navigate successfully.

About the Author

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John A. Cocklereece, Jr.

John Cocklereece concentrates his practice on property tax appeals, business law, tax controversies, and estate planning and administration.
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