State’s Attorneys and other attorneys representing a county Board of Review may have noticed an increase in the number of local assessment complaints. Statewide, the appeals of county Boards of Review decisions to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB) have increased 35% from 2010 to March 12, 2013.1 The number of annual filings of such appeals was 31,554 in 2010, 37,960 in 2011, and 42,871 in 2012.2 The PTAB’s timeliness in rendering decisions and the need for additional resources to address the significant increase in workload were noted as a weakness by the PTAB’s Auditor’s Report for the two-year period ending June 30, 2012.3 The goal of this article is to offer some practical guidance to county Boards of Review, and the attorneys who represent them, in addressing current assessment complaints and future appeals.
It is a Board of Review’s duty to review the assessments of supervisors of assessments or chief county assessment officers upon the filing of a complaint.4 Fortunately, there are statutes in place that provide guidance to the Boards of Review and their attorneys in these matters.5 For example, complaints are required to be filed in writing, including a description of the particular property, and are to be filed within the time provided by law.6 In addition, each county assessor, board of appeals, and board of review is authorized to make and publish reasonable rules for the guidance of persons doing business with them and for the orderly dispatch of business.7 In 1991, then Attorney General Burris reviewed the scope of the Boards of Reviews authority in adopting rules.8 Specifically, a Board of Review in a county with less than 1,000,000 inhabitants has the authority to publish rules relating to proceedings before it.9 Any such rules adopted must appropriately protect the due process and equal protection rights of the taxpayers whom they affect.10
A Board of Review rule requiring an assessment complaint to be signed by the taxpayer or an attorney representing the taxpayer is properly characterized as a rule of procedure. As long as the rule is adopted and published in such a way as to give property owners notice and an opportunity to be heard before the tax is conclusively established, the requirements of due process are fulfilled in this context.11 Further, the requirements of equal protection are satisfied, as long as a reasonable basis exists for establishing a classification and each member of that classification is treated uniformly.12
A Board of Review rule that an assessment complaint must be signed by the taxpayer or an attorney representing the taxpayer is consistent with PTAB rules already in place. PTAB rules provide that appeals shall bear an original signature of the contesting party or the contesting party’s attorney on at least one petition.13 PTAB rules further provide that a party has the right to represent him- or herself in any PTAB hearing, and only attorneys licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois are permitted to represent a party at a PTAB hearing.14 Accountants, tax representatives, tax advisers, real estate appraisers, real estate consultants and others not qualified to practice law in this State may not appear at hearings before PTAB in a representative capacity.15
By putting into place the rule described above, a Board of Review may dismiss, before hearing, an assessment complaint filed without the signature of a taxpayer or the taxpayer’s attorney. A pleading signed by a person not licensed to practice in Illinois is a nullity.16 No person is permitted to practice law without having previously obtained a law license from the Illinois Supreme Court.17 The filing of an assessment complaint without a law license is the unlawful practice of law. In addition to the dismissal of the filing, penalties are provided by statute. Any person practicing law without a license in the State of Illinois is guilty of contempt of court and shall be punished accordingly, upon complaint being filed in Circuit Court.18 The remedies include: (i) appropriate equitable relief; (ii) a civil penalty up to $5,000 paid to the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation; and (iii) actual damages.19 And, although a person may appear in his or her own proper person to prosecute or defend a claim—and a corporation may act through any officer, director, manager, or supervisor—the claim must be his or her own, or the corporation’s, respectively, and not on behalf of another.20
A Board of Review that has adopted a rule prohibiting the filing of assessment complaints without the signature of the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s attorney has a useful method by which to monitor and limit unauthorized filings. The enforcement of such a rule would be helpful to PTAB and does not offend taxpayers’ constitutional protections of due process and equal protections if properly adopted, published, and applied. By remaining vigilant for individuals or entities not authorized to file assessment complaints, Boards of Review and the attorneys representing them can assist PTAB address current complaints and future appeals.