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The Basics of a Real Estate Tax Appeal in Lancaster County, Pa.

2018 Reassessment: What to Know If Your Taxes Are Too High

Lancaster is a third class county (based on population), and the Lancaster County Property Assessment Office is administered under the Pennsylvania Third Class Assessment Law, the Pennsylvania General County Assessment Law, and the Pennsylvania Consolidated County Assessment Law. The Property Assessment Office is required to develop an assessment for each property within the county based on the concepts of fair market value and uniformity.  

Fair market value has been defined by the courts to mean the most probable price that a property will sell for in a competitive and open market, having been exposed to the open market for a reasonable amount of time, the buyer and seller being well informed or well advised, acting prudently and knowledgeably and typically motivated. The fair market value represents the typical selling price for the property, unaffected by special or creative financing or sales concessions granted by anyone associated with a sale. Whereas, uniformity requires that like properties be assessed similarly throughout the county.

As prescribed by law Lancaster County has a three-member Board of Assessment Appeals that is appointed by the County Commissioners and is governed by statutes established by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The primary function of the Board is to oversee office administration and hear assessment appeals. The Board reviews all available information in making its decision concerning the assessment for a property under appeal. However, the law does not provide for the Board's giving an analysis with its decision. The decision of the Board is final unless an appellant files an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County within 30 days of the mailing date of the Board's decision.

Types of Appeals

A tax assessment appeal can be filed with the Property Assessment Office by the property owner, a legal representative of ownership or taxing entities (county, municipal, and school district) for the purpose of correcting over- or under-assessed properties. There are three basic types of appeals:

“Annual appeal”—may be be undertaken in any year provided it is filed on or before August 1. The result of an annual appeal will be effective at the beginning of the subsequent tax year.

“Interim appeal”—required to be filed within 40 days of any assessment change notice issued by the Property Assessment Office after a physical change has occurred to a property that affects its fair market value.

“Reassessment year appeal”—in which the property owner has 40 days to file an appeal from the day of the reassessment notice.

When appealing a property, the burden of proof is the appellant's (property owner or taxing entity) responsibility to show that the assessment is incorrect. The assessment, which is based on the fair market value of the property, is presumed to be correct until the appellant provides credible evidence to the contrary. The appellant should be prepared to present one or more of the following: an appraisal report prepared within the last 18 months by a Pennsylvania certified real estate appraiser; comparable sales that have sold within the past 18 months; or the testimony of a competent witness as to the fair market value of the property under appeal. For properties recently acquired, information concerning the purchase such as: a sales agreement, a deed or a
HUD 1 settlement sheet is acceptable.

Common Level Ratio

At present, the relationship between a property’s assessment and fair market value is determined by the common level ratio, which as of July 1, 2015 is 77.5 percent.  As an example, if the fair market value of a property is $100,000, the assessment should be $77,500. The common level ratio for each county is published annually by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue State Tax Equalization Board based on real estate sales data compiled from the previous year.

Lancaster County was scheduled for a countywide reassessment to be effective January 1, 2017. However, due to the need for additional customization of the newly acquired software for the reassessment, the Lancaster County Commissioners elected to postpone the reassessment for one year to complete the software design. Thus, a countywide reassessment is to be effective January 1, 2018. In the year of reassessment, assessed values will reflect 100 percent of fair market value.

Author Richard Cornogg is Chairman, Lancaster County Board of Assessment Appeals.

This article is intended to be an overview of the real estate tax assessment system in Lancaster County (PA). It does not purport to give either legal or tax advice. Before taking any action, you should consult with with your attorney, tax, or real estate adviser.