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Metropolitan Pittsburgh REALTORS® Push for Property Tax Fairness

By HOM Editorial Team
April 2015

Property taxes are a major expense for homeowners, and the REALTORS® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh is working hard to make that expense more predictable and fair for homeowners in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

In Pennsylvania, there is no state law that specifies when real estate property must be reassessed. Many Pennsylvania taxing authorities file assessment appeals when a property is sold. These “spot assessment appeals” have resulted in a “newcomer tax” for homebuyers. In the Pittsburgh area, this process has caused property taxes to increase by as much as 40% after a sale. Spot assessment appeals can also result in gross unfairness. Two nearly identical houses may have wildly different tax assessments because a newcomer’s property was reassessed on appeal, whereas the assessment on a home owned by a long-term resident may have remained the same for many years.

The current process causes great uncertainty for homebuyers. Taxing districts typically do not make public the formula used for reassessments. A buyer cannot anticipate or plan for the cost of property taxes because there is no way to estimate how much they may increase after a purchase.

In response to this problem, the REALTORS® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh has started a campaign against the newcomer tax and the lack of transparency in property assessment appeals. The association is sponsoring an “End the Newcomer Tax” website, through which REALTORS® have sparked public support for reform of tax assessments.

Recent efforts have focused on tax assessments in the city of Mt. Lebanon. As a result, Mt. Lebanon has agreed to revise its property tax assessment appeals to include all properties, regardless of when they were last sold. The Mt. Lebanon Commission has also agreed to take steps to increase the transparency of the appeal process. Reassessment appeals will focus on those properties that are “most egregiously under-assessed.”

Kelly O’Donnell, government affairs director for the REALTORS® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, says the association will continue its campaign for fair and transparent tax assessments in all communities in Greater Pittsburgh.

“The association will continue to pursue these efforts in the interest of disclosure, equity and public protection with the long-term objective of rectifying a process burdened with inconsistent and vague protocols,” O’Donnell said.

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