Senior citizens in Cook County must now take the affirmative step of applying (or reapplying, as the case may be) for property tax exemptions based upon having reached the age of 65
Many of us senior lawyers, practitioners in Cook County, have already received or certainly will receive phone calls from one or more of the 270,000 senior citizens in Cook County who “lost” their senior citizen exemption. They will be asking why they lost it, how to get it back, and how to get a refund for the years they lost.
First, let’s define the “Senior Citizens Tax Exemption” in Cook County. It provides tax relief by reducing the equalized assessed value on an eligible single family residence. The savings is in the form of a reduction in the second installment of the property owners’ real estate tax bill. Historically, once established by the qualifying senior citizen single family property owner, it was automatically renewed every year. However, in 2012, as a result of legislation signed by the Governor, this exemption was no longer automatic, year-to-year, and the senior citizen is now required, presently at least, to apply annually for this tax saving. Pursuant to the website of the Cook County Assessor, Joseph Berrios, “this exemption is available to all Cook county home owners who were born prior to or in the year 1946 and use their home as their primary residence. This exemption entitles a senior to a reduction in the equalized assessed value of his or her property.” Of course, this means that some senior home owners who did not “reapply” for this exemption will end up with higher property tax bills for failing to file the correct paperwork year after year.
This exemption resulted in tax breaks ranging from as little as $157 for qualified home owners last year in an upscale community such as Kenilworth, to as much as over $800 for seniors in not so affluent neighborhoods such as, and for example, Ford Heights. In Chicago, the average senior tax savings amounted to about $193 in the year 2011.
Therefore, our senior lawyers will be getting calls from elderly home owners asking what happened, which now you know, and how to “get back” this exemption. First, let’s make specific what your senior citizen home owner must be or have in order to qualify for this exemption/tax savings:
• You must be 65 years of age or older during the tax year for which you are applying;
• You must either own the property or have a lease or contract which makes you responsible for the real estate taxes; and
• The property must be your principal residence.
Senior citizens will need to complete and sign a Senior Citizens Exemption Application Form. Information necessary to complete that form is easily found on your property tax bill, e.g., permanent index number and township. The application form can be acquired from any of the regional offices of the Cook County Assessor, at its downtown office at 118 N. Clark Street, 3rd floor, or it can be downloaded from the Assessor’s Web site.
It is necessary to accompany your application with a recent real estate tax bill for the subject property and proof of age. If the recent tax bill is unavailable, the home owner, senior citizen, must supply one or more documents that would prove the home address. A voter’s registration card, voting record for the tax year(s) for which you are applying, a driver’s license or an Illinois Identification Card showing the address as your address and issued prior to the earliest year for which the application is being made should be sufficient.
As for proof of age, it is necessary to submit only one official document that clearly shows the date of birth of the applicant, such as a driver’s license, Illinois Identification Card, Alien Registration Card, Social Security Form 2458, Naturalization Papers, Passport, Birth or Baptismal Certificate or the like. Of course, women who submit documents with a maiden name must provide a marriage certificate to show the connection with the current married name. The Assessor’s website indicates this application can be done by mail but the by-mail applicants are encouraged to send only copies, keeping the originals, because the documents are not returned to the home owner by the Assessor. Of course, it is much easier, and more immediate, to apply in person at the Assessor’s office downtown or at any of its regional offices.
Now, let’s assume that a senior citizen lost the exemption, reestablishes the exemption and wants to obtain a refund for the year (or years) that the Senior Citizen Exemption wasn’t provided. What do we tell that client? First, point out that the refunds are not made automatically. The senior seeking a refund for a year that exemption wasn’t provided must submit a refund application along with proof of payment of the subject taxes.
The Assessor’s website makes it clear what must accompany the application for refunds, reminding the reader again that the refund application form can be acquired from the Assessor’s Web site or in person at any one of its offices. Sign and return the application in person or by mail, with one or more of the following proofs of payment for each payment:
• Copy of canceled check(s); copy of imprinted, validated tax bill and the like.
With just short of 300,000 seniors losing their Senior Citizen exemptions in Cook County, because it was not renewed automatically, and the requirement of annual applications, many of us can expect calls from our elderly clients asking the questions set out in this article. Now, you have the answers.
I hope this helps. ■