‘An unusually slow year’: Philly has roughly 17K property assessment appeals to review

Property assessments dictate how much property owners must pay in property taxes. Bills are due on Friday.

A closeup of detailing on Philly row houses

Shown are rowhouses in Philadelphia, Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Nearly 20,000 property owners in Philadelphia challenged their most recent property assessment. Amid rising values, the overwhelming majority of them are still waiting for a response from the city.

Chief Assessment Officer James Aros Jr. said this week his department had ruled on roughly 3,000 of these informal appeals since last December’s deadline. He insisted the pace would pick up in the coming weeks.

“We expect that to be ramped up pretty significantly as folks are getting out there. They’re calling people, making appointments, and they’re trying to get to a couple of blocks and knock out a bunch of these at a time,” said Aros Jr. during a budget hearing on Wednesday in City Council Chambers.

It’s unclear when the city will finish responding to the remaining appeals, known as “First Level Reviews.” In the meantime, property owners must pay their property taxes based on the new assessment while they await a decision, said a city spokesperson.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

If owners also filed a formal appeal with the Board of Revision of Taxes, they can pay their bill based on their prior year assessment until there’s a ruling in their case, according to the city.

Property taxes are due on Friday.

Kate Dugan, a staff attorney in the home ownership and consumer rights unit at Community Legal Services, said the “unusually slow year” for “First Level Reviews” is causing some homeowners a major headache.

“For homeowners with mortgages, forward and reverse, that’s an especially frustrating timeline because those companies, for the most part, already advanced taxes,” said Dugan. “So we have clients whose mortgage payments went up and they’re not going to be able to fix that. They’re not going to be able to do a new escrow analysis for months.”

Lower-valued properties were most likely to be over-assessed, according to an analysis conducted by the Philadelphia Inquirer. The paper also determined the most recent assessments were least accurate in low-income and majority-Black neighborhoods across the city.

Released in 2022, the latest round of property assessments caused widespread sticker shock. Residential property values increased by an average of 31% after a three-year pause in the process, a gap partially caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Thousands of appeals followed. And based on the volume of “First Level Reviews,” Mayor Jim Kenney’s final budget proposal includes a “temporary freeze” on property assessments so the city can work through all of the challenges.

According to the city, “First Level Reviews” require a homeowner to prove that either:

  • The estimated market value of their home is too high or too low.
  • The estimated market value is accurate, but inequitable.
  • The characteristics of their property that affect its value are substantially incorrect.

This week’s progress report comes at a time when the Office of Property Assessment is short-staffed.The office is down nearly 50 staffers, including some real property evaluators, according to budget testimony.

OPA is budgeted for 225 full-time positions.

“The less evaluators we have, there’s more accounts that an individual may have,” said Aros Jr.

In the face of increased assessments, City Council passed legislation aimed at easing the financial burden of the new values. That included raising the value of the homestead exemption from $45,000 to $80,000. That change was projected to lower property tax bills by about $1,119 each year. The tax break previously saved homeowners about $629 annually.

Another measure overhauled the Longtime Owner Occupants Program, an initiative designed to protect low-to-moderate homeowners in swiftly gentrifying neighborhoods from being displaced. And another bill yielded changes to a program that enables older Philadelphians to freeze their property assessments.

City Council is weighing whether to reinstate a 1% discount on property taxes for homeowners who file them early.

Subscribe to PlanPhilly

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal