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Some properties still mislabled as 'Vacant' on tax rolls

Friday, August 02, 2013
CBS2
by Pam Zekman

If you live in Cook County, your property taxes were due this week.

Some residents pay higher taxes than their neighbors because some developed properties are mistakenly listed as “vacant.” Those mistakes were supposed to be cleared up years ago after a CBS 2 investigation by Pam Zekman.

Now, she’s finding more problems. 

And even though a photograph on the Cook County Assessors website shows the home was there in 2008, it is still described it as vacant land and assessed that way. And that’s what infuriates neighbors who complained to CBS 2 that these homeowners are only paying $1,200 to $1,700 a year – not their fair share of property taxes.

That’s jaw-dropping to Cathy Demar, who pays up to $9,000 per year. “It’s not fair to all other homeowners around here. We are getting ripped off,” Demar says.

Chicago Police Sgt. Joseph Mark owns the home. Mark says he told the assessor’s office the house was finished but never got a corrected tax bill. “Some things I guess fall through the cracks,” he told Zekman.

As a result of CBS 2’s inquiry, the property has been reassessed with estimated taxes of $6,700. Mark will be charged for three years of back taxes. He says he’ll pay.

Still, the lapse aggravates owners of comparable home like Renee Megaro, who have been paying that all along. “I blame the politicians. They need to do something about this,” she says.

After CBS 2 disclosed in 2010 that houses all over the county were incorrectly assessed as vacant land, corrections were made and the proper taxes paid. Former assessor James Houlihan ordered a review of all vacant land. It was finished by his successor, Joseph Berrios.

The results? Four hundred and one buildings were added to the tax rolls with more than $2.2 million in taxes due.

But they missed a million-dollar home in Glenview that was assessed as vacant land for the three years the former owner lived there. His taxes were $4,000 to $5,000 when it should have been about $14,000.

The assessor says the mistakes happened because his office was not notified about the permits for the new houses by their building departments or township assessor.

That process helps flag properties that will require reassessment. Berrios also wants your help. His office fields anonymous tips online in hopes of learning about under-assessments http://whistleblowing.cookcountyassessor.com/

For people who purposely avoid paying their fair share, he says: “If we catch you, we will not only tax you we will go back three years and you will pay interest and penalties on that tax.”



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