Self-Represented Litigants Appeal Assessments In Tax Court and Lose

by: Allan Zhang
8 Jun 2023

Save Big on New Construction Homes - Minteer Real Estate Team

This recent Tax Court opinion is based on an appeal by self-represented litigants of the 2021 added assessment and 2022 tax year local property tax assessment on a single family home in Montclair Township. The Court affirmed the 2021 added assessment and 2022 tax assessment.

The self represented litigants, Lucy and Daniel Yang, purchased the home in March 2021 for $1,230,000 from 88 Sanford St., LLC who bought the home in 2019 for $375,000 and thereafter made significant renovations and alterations prior to selling to the Yangs. Certificates of Approval were issued on March 2021 by Montclair’s Building Department for the renovations and improvements.

Around October 2021, a 2021 tax year added assessment of $680,600 was imposed on the home due to the renovations. The Yangs challenged the added assessment to the Essex County Board of Taxation which affirmed the added assessment. The Yangs appealed the added assessment and 2022 tax assessment to the Tax Court.

During the trial, the Yangs, self-represented litigants, introduced comparable sales information and offered testimony. They provided sales of 4 single-family homes sold in Montclair for 2021 and sales of 3 single-family homes in Montclair for 2022. Montclair offered testimony from its tax assessor with regard to the 2021 added assessment and a report with valuation testimony from an NJ-certified general real estate appraiser for 2022.

The assessments and judgments from the county boards of taxation are “entitled to a presumption of validity.” MSGW Real Estate Fund, LLC v. Borough of Mountain Lakes, 18 N.J. Tax 364, 373 (Tax 1998). The “appealing taxpayer has the burden of proving that the assessment is erroneous.” Pantasote Co. v. Passaic City, 100 N.J. 408, 413 (1985). “Sufficient evidence” must be provided to overturn the assessment. Little Egg Harbor Twp. v. Bonsangue, 316 N.J. Super. 271, 285-86 (App. Div. 1998).

The Twp. motioned to dismiss the matter at the close of evidence stating that the Yangs had not provided sufficient evidence to overturn the assessment, including offering testimony from a valuation expert. The Court held a taxpayer is “not required to provide an expert witness and an appraisal report” at trial and denied the Twp.’s motion.

First, the Court determined the highest and best use of the property was for single-family residential. Next, it determined that Yang’s purchase price of the subject ($1,230,000) at was trustworthy and a reliable indicator of the property’s market value. The Court also found that the Twp.’s Assessor had a legitimate reason for imposing the added assessment. Lastly, the Court questioned the accuracy of the sales presented by the Yangs as they did not verify the sales with anyone and determined that the Yangs’ comparable sales failed to factor in location, condition, and size. The Court concluded that the market value of the Yangs’ property was $1,230,000 (their purchase price) and affirmed the 2022 added assessment and 2023 tax assessment. Perhaps the Yangs would have fared better had they hired sound property tax appeal counsel…

To review the full Yang v. Montclair Twp. opinion click here.