Cook County Notice of Discovery: Who’s Responsible & Not

Cook County Assessor Notice of DiscoveryMany homeowners are unaware that a law referred to as “Erroneous Exemptions Statute” was recently passed allowing Cook County to go after property owners that have erroneously claimed homeowner exemptions in past years. This blog post will help you understand if this law applies to you and what to do (or not to do) about it. Stay calm and read on…

Cook County Assessor, Joseph Berrios, has attracted a lot of press about this and his office has begun mailing out Notice of Discovery letters to homeowners en masse. We’ve had multiple, innocent Cook County property owners contact us deeply concerned about receiving such a letter, and justifiably so.

Who’s Responsible?

If you own a property in Cook County, do not live there but claimed the homeowner’s exemption on your property taxes between 2011 and 2014, then you are liable under the Erroneous Exemptions Statute. If you own a home in Cook County and your spouse owns one in DuPage County, and you are both claiming homeowner’s exemptions, then you are liable under the Erroneous Exemptions Statute. If you erroneously claimed 3 or more homeowner’s exemptions, then the County can seek reimbursement from you of the savings you received going back six years to 2008.

Prior to the enactment of the Erroneous Exemptions Statute, there wasn’t a law in place allowing Cook County to take action against the recipients of erroneous exemptions. Now the county has three years in which to conduct an investigation from the date the taxpayer is served with the notice. Notice recipients that do nothing and are found in violation, will receive a Notice of Intent to Record a Lien and will likely be on the hook for the amount of the exemptions due, plus interest (10% per annum), penalties (50% of tax due) and administrative costs.

If You’re Not in Violation, How Could this Happen?

As pointed out on the Niles Township Assessor’s website, the process that the Cook County Assessor’s office has used to identify potential violators of the Erroneous Exemptions Statute appears to have been over-inclusive, meaning they appear to have sent notices out to many taxpayers that are not in violation. How could this happen? A substantial number of properties in Cook County have more than one property identification number (PINs) associated with the property, which could lead to a false positive for a taxpayer claiming a homeowner’s exemption on both PINs. The blog post also noted that one of their constituent taxpayers received two Notice of Discovery letters: one for each of the two deeded condominium parking spaces that they own. Neither of those parking spaces has a homeowner exemption, nor should they trigger a violation of the Erroneous Exemptions Statute, but they appear to have been flagged as other residential properties owned by the same taxpayer. The Assessor’s Office does state in the Notice of Discovery letters that we have seen: “Receipt of this notice does not mean that the taxpayer has been found to have an exemption they are not entitled to.” However the apparent over-inclusiveness of the searches used by the Assessor’s office in generating these letters is unfortunate because it has scared many taxpayers who have not violated the Erroneous Exemptions Statute and has now placed the burden on those taxpayers to prove their compliance.

Violation or Not: What to Do about It?

If you are not in violation, then the Niles Assessor recommends that you do nothing and that the Cook County Assessor’s Office needs to prove you are guilty. Alternatively, if you haven’t appealed your property taxes before for your home, now is a great time to do so as it may provide a forum for addressing an improperly issued Notice of Discovery letter.

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