SteveK December 6th, 2011
The Tax Court in a recent unreported decision allowed evidence, including adjustments to comparable sales by a pro se taxpayer at trial. However, the case, Kula v. Township of Downe, provides a more important strategic lessons to municipal attorneys and tax assessors. Sometimes it is better not to put a case on at all.
The pro se taxpayer did not have an appraiser. But, unlike the town’s appraiser she relied upon comparable sales in the subject municipality. A lay person generally is not permitted to provide expert testimony. But, it appears that the lack of credibility of the municipal appraiser may have influenced the court’s decision to reduce the assessment on the property and give more than the usual weight to valuation evidence provided by a lay person.
The pro se taxpayer effectively cross examined and apparently destroyed the town’s appraiser. The taxpayer was able to show that the appraiser for the municipality produced three different appraisal reports, first, at the County Tax Board, then secondly in Discovery, and then a third, at trial at the Tax Court. The appraiser made widely different adjustments on the same properties in each report. In addition, the appraiser used sales outside of the subject municipality. The Court therefore found that the town’s appraiser lacked credibility and relied upon the pro se taxpayer’s comparable sales and even her adjustments.
It is, of course, easier to criticize trial strategy after a case is over. But, perhaps in this instance, it would have been better for the town to leave well enough alone and not put on its case at all.
DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, PC (www.dbnjlaw.com ) is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services, including the representation of clients in real estate tax appeals. For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s real estate tax appeal group, please contact Martin Allen, Esq
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