Tax Court affirms lakeshore property assessment

A lakeshore property owner in northern Indiana was unable to convince the Indiana Tax Court on Wednesday that an abuse of discretion took place when his vacant lot was assessed at a higher rate than he had hoped.

When a piece of property located in Long Beach owned by J. Charles Sheerin was assessed at a value of $220,000, he appealed the 2015 assessment to the LaPorte County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals. Sheerin’s land, while zoned residential and considered buildable, had a severe slope, no rear access, needed septic installation and was closely situated to overhead powerlines.

Still unsatisfied with a reduced assessment of $132,000, Sheerin sought review with the Indiana Board of Tax Review, electing to have his case heard pursuant to the Indiana Board’s small claims procedures. The assessor argued the lot was worth $160,000 as of Jan. 1, 2015, based on the sales of three vacant lots. Sheerin, however, asserted that the differences between the lots were significant, arguing that the assessor’s appraisal was flawed.

The Indiana board concluded that those minor flaws did not negate the appraisal’s probative value completely, thus deciding not to change the reduced assessment amount. It concluded the assessor made a prima facie case supporting it, Sheerin failed to rebut it with market-based evidence and the assessor did not ask for an increase.

In affirming the Indiana’s Board final determination, Indiana Tax Court Senior Judge Thomas Fisher agreed that the appraisal’s flaws did not negate the probative value of the assessor’s appraisal.

“Indeed, Sheerin has not presented any market-based evidence showing that either the appraisal’s $160,000 estimate of value or the PTABOA’s $132,000 assessment are inaccurate,” Fisher wrote. “Moreover, Sheerin has not shown that either the appraiser’s description of the subject property or his adjustments for topographical, size, and location differences are inaccurate.”

The Tax Court further found that the Indiana Board evaluated the assessor’s evidence and determined it had probative value, finding that despite the inaccuracies, the contents of the appraisal, coupled with the appraiser’s testimony, provided a sufficient explanation of the methods and information used to derive the estimate of value.

“Accordingly, Sheerin has not met his burden of demonstrating that the Indiana Board’s final determination constitutes an abuse of discretion because it comports with the law and is supported by substantial evidence,” the court wrote, therefore affirming in J. Charles Sheerin v. Michael Schultz, LaPorte County Assessor, 19T-TA-7.

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