Ironclad Deadline Crushes Tax Plea
by Ron Davis
A challenge to a local government request for tax-related information has not gone well for the owner of a Minnesota shopping center.
The shopping center is Irongate Mall in Hibbing, and the assessor for the county in which the center is located made the request following a valuation of the property. The owner objected to the valuation as too high, but responded by providing income statements and rent rolls. In turn, the county assessor expressed a need for more information than that. He also wanted, among other documents, copies of all tenant leases.
Meanwhile, a 60-day time period for providing such information ended, and the center’s owner had not complied with the assessor’s request for the leases. So at the assessor’s urging, a tax court dismissed the shopping center owner’s plea for reevaluation.
The center’s owner apparently believed that all income and expense information needed by the assessor was contained in the income statements and rent rolls. The owner also argued that the tax court erred in concluding that leases containing income and expense data must be produced within the 60-day time frame.
Moreover, the center’s owner noted, a taxpayer simply cannot anticipate every document that the assessor might find is needed to complete an appraisal.
The county assessor replied that lease provisions contain additional relevant income and expense information. Specifically, the assessor asserted that leases provide information relevant to the income approach to real-estate appraisal. Such information, he added, was not included in the income statement and rent rolls that the center’s owner provided.
The Minnesota Supreme Court, in a split decision, sympathized with the shopping center owner and his plight, but ruled in favor of the tax assessor, explaining, “We recognize the harsh nature of the remedy imposed by law when a property owner fails to provide sufficient information, but that remedy was enacted by the state legislature, and any disagreement with the policy underlying that decision or the rule should be directed to the legislature.”
The justices therefore decided that the 60-day rule applies and requires the shopping center owner to provide all pertinent information, “even if that information might not allow the county assessor to reach a final conclusion regarding the property’s value.... And because leases provide information bearing on income and expense data, the center’s owner could reasonably anticipate providing leases under the 60-day rule.”
In a dissenting opinion, two justices described the 60-day rule as “a guessing game,” with one justice noting that the rule “is, at best, too vague, and at worst, without limits. Based on the majority ruling,” he added, “my best advice to property owners who wish to contest their property tax assessment is to crank up the copy machine and provide absolutely everything they have within 60 days.” (Irongate Enterprises v. County of St.Louis, 2007 WL 2199264 [Minn.])
Decision: August 2007
Published: August 2007