COVID and Property Value
By Laura Bellotti Cardillo
When property-tax assessments in Massachusetts came out at the end of 2020, many business owners were surprised to find their values had stayed the same or increased. Those assessments were premised on income and expense data from calendar year 2019, and therefore did not factor in the beginnings of the economic impact of the pandemic.
Now that property-tax assessments for fiscal year 2022 are being determined, commercial property owners whose real-estate assets were negatively impacted by the pandemic should take another look. Assessors must rely on calendar year 2020 income and expense data to determine current values and assessments, and after almost two years of living with COVID-19, the question remains whether the pandemic is a temporary anomaly or the economic impact will be of longer duration.
If your commercial real estate has been hit hard by the pandemic, here are some best practices that could help you achieve a reduction in your property assessment and lower your real-estate taxes.
Provide Extra Data and Projections
If the pandemic has continued to hamper your property’s performance through 2021, provide data through the third quarter of this year. While the assessment is based on numbers through year-end 2020, proof that things have not improved undercuts the argument that the pandemic is merely a blip.
Projections for 2022, 2023, and 2024 can be helpful in this regard as well. Many industries anticipate that a full recovery will take years. Demonstrating that you are not anticipating a swift bounce-back can support your argument that a reduction now is warranted.
“If the pandemic has continued to hamper your property’s performance through 2021, provide data through the third quarter of this year. While the assessment is based on numbers through year-end 2020, proof that things have not improved undercuts the argument that the pandemic is merely a blip.”
Document Use of PPP and Other Relief Funds
In some cases, assessors have asked if businesses received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or other relief initiatives. It is highly unlikely that these funds would have been used in a way that would increase the value of your real estate, so they should not factor into the fiscal year 2022 assessment.
Because PPP was designed specifically to cover payroll, utilities, and operating expenses, demonstrating in detail how these funds were spent (using materials you likely already have from your loan-forgiveness application) should help assessors put the receipt of these funds in proper context.
Values and Assessments Can Change Annually
Municipalities in Massachusetts have the ability to adjust assessments annually. Because values can be recalibrated year to year, now is the time for assessors to lower the values for the commercial property types hit hard by the pandemic.
Assuming certain commercial real-estate markets have begun to tick back up already or will begin to do so in 2022, assessors can make the necessary adjustments if and when the various sectors of the commercial property market roar back to life.
Laura Bellotti Cardillo is vice chair of the property-tax and valuation practice at Pullman & Comley. She heads the law firm’s Springfield office.