By: Brittany Flaherty Theis

Earlier this month, the Lake County Board of Review joined the ranks of numerous other counties that explicitly limit representation before the Board to the taxpayer or a licensed attorney. Those counties include Champaign, Cook, Kane, Kendall, Knox, Peoria, Rock Island, Sangamon, Tazewell, Will, and Winnebago. Local boards of review are wise to promulgate rules that reiterate the Illinois Supreme Court case law prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law, which includes representation throughout the property tax appeal process.

As described in an earlier blog post, boards of review are independent bodies responsible for reviewing property tax assessments appealed by taxpayers and are created by state statute. Under state law, real estate brokers, real estate appraisers, architects, CPAs, and other non-attorneys, cannot file an assessment appeal with boards of review. Those non-attorney licensed professionals can, however, continue to serve as expert witnesses before boards of review. Despite the Illinois Supreme Court’s holding that filing board of review complaint forms and appearing at board of review hearings constitute the practice of law, non-attorneys in Illinois have sought to assist taxpayers for decades. For that reason, boards of review should continue to be vigilant in their efforts to prohibit the unauthorized practice of law. Promulgating rules to clarify those efforts assists boards of review, taxpayers, attorneys, and professional experts understand their options throughout the Illinois property tax appeal process.

For example, in a presentation for the 2012 tax year, the Cook County Board of Review explained that practice before the Board of Review is the practice of law, and therefore, consultants may not practice at the Board of Review. “Only attorneys may argue cases on behalf of others before the Board of Review or submit/present cases on behalf of others to the Board of Review.” The Cook County Board of Review also solicited the assistance of the practicing bar to bring to light any unethical or unlicensed practice of law issues.

The Lake County Board of Review approved a rule that clarifies taxpayers’ options for appealing their property tax assessments. The Board of Review Chairman explained that the rule change clarified that “individual taxpayers may represent themselves, or retain a licensed attorney to represent them before the Board.” The Board did so after consulting the State’s Attorney’s Office, which opined that based on controlling legal authority the representation of taxpayers before the Board by non-attorneys constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. Others explain that the change is not an attempt to limit the rights of taxpayers, but rather, “to adhere to the rules of the judiciary, and maintain consistency with case law.” Further explanations provide that clearly “defining the roles of the participants in the assessment appeal is a move toward greater consumer protection in the Board of Review process.”

Whitt Law has numerous attorneys experienced in the property tax appeal process. Our attorneys have represented taxing bodies throughout Illinois, and in many cases, consult with licensed appraisers and professional industry experts. For more information on how Whitt Law can assist your taxing body in property tax matters, please contact Whitt Law Attorney Brittany Flaherty Theis.

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