Historically, tax assessment appeals initiated by taxing authorities were a relatively infrequent occurrence. Property owners would find their property reassessed only upon the occurrence of certain events: a county-wide reassessment, a significant modification to the property, such as an addition, or an appeal filed by the taxpayer seeking a reduction. Recently, these appeals have become the norm in Pennsylvania. Although taxing authorities are permitted by law to challenge assessments, few utilized that ability, until recently.
Commercial property owners in particular have seen a significant increase in the number of taxing authority-initiated tax assessment appeals. In 2019, one Lehigh Valley school district filed 290 tax assessment appeals. The trend of these appeals is that taxing authorities are becoming more aggressive in the number of appeals filed and as well as in what is appealed. Targets include vacant land, as well as land enrolled in Act 319 (Pennsylvania Farmland and Forest Land Assessment Act) and LERTA (Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance).
In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court limited a taxing authority’s ability to pursue tax assessment appeals. In Valley Forge Towers Apartments N, LP v. Upper Merion Area Sch. Dist., 163 A.3d 962 (Pa. 2017), the Court addressed the issue of whether the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution permits a taxing authority to concentrate solely on appealing one class or type of property. The Court concluded that taxing authorities are “not permitted to implement a program of only appealing the assessments of one sub-classification of properties, where that sub-classification is drawn according to property type—that is, its use as commercial, apartment complex, single-family residential, industrial, or the like.” However, in the two years since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that case, the courts have provided little guidance with respect to interpreting Valley Forge and the extent of any restrictions on the taxing authorities.