Property Tax Appeals After a Natural Disaster

Photo courtesy of Raquel Baranow

With all of the property damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, most people in affected areas are still working hard to bring their homes back to their former beauty. It may seem hard to believe for those who are somewhat removed from the situation, but many New Jersey towns unfortunately have quite a few residents whose houses and properties were essentially ruined. Now it’s been nearly a month since Sandy blew through town. Homeowner’s or Flood Insurance claims have been filed, damage has been mostly cleaned up, and rebuilding is starting to take shape.

Homeowners in towns like Asbury Park, Point Pleasant, Manasquan, Avon, Allenhurst, and so many others along the New Jersey coastline who have suffered property damage may be coming to some harsh financial realities. Although helpful, insurance just isn’t going to pay for all of the bills that are starting to pile up. As homeowners and business owners reach this conclusion, they are left scratching their heads about what else can be done.

Many home mortgage lenders are seeing an influx in applications for loan adjustments, and many are responding with forebearance plans. In a forebearance plan, lenders agree not to force borrowers into foreclosure as long as they bring their loan payments current by the end of the term of the plan. In addition to loan modifications, New Jersey residents have another avenue to travel down if their home, business, building, or property of any type sustained damage due to Hurricane Sandy.

New Jersey law, specifically statute N.J.S.A. 54:4-35.1, states: “When any parcel of real property contains any building or other structure which has been destroyed, consumed by fire, demolished, or altered in such a way that its value has materially depreciated, either intentionally or by the action of storm, fire, cyclone, tornado, or earthquake, or other casualty, which depreciation of value occurred after October first in any year and before January first of the following year, the assessor shall, upon notice thereof being given to him by the property owner prior to January tenth of said year, and after examination and inquiry, determine the value of such parcel of real property as of said January first, and assess the same according to such value.”

What that means in layman’s terms is that property taxes are based on the value of a piece of land and the building(s) on that land. If any of those buildings were damaged so much that their market value has decreased, the homeowner or business owner is entitled to owe less in property taxes. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, commercial and residential property owners must make a request to have their tax assessor revalue their property by January 9, 2013.

It is possible that you may be required to attend a public hearing at your County Board of Taxation, and in this case it is highly recommended that you retain the services of an attorney and be sure that he or she is in attendance with you at the hearing.  Look for an attorney who specializes in real property or real estate, and ensure that he or she is licensed to practice law in New Jersey. All businesses aside from sole proprietorships are required to be represented by an attorney at the public hearing level.

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