Legal Background

The Cook County Board of Review is a quasi-judicial body, consisting of three co-equal elected commissioners, which “sits as an appellate tribunal”, inferior to the circuit. It has the power to review and correct valuations made by the Cook County Assessor. As do its counter parts throughout the state, this Board has authority to “review the entire-assessment of any taxpayer or any part thereof and correct the same as shall appear to them to be just.” Because the Board possesses these powers of a quasi-judicial nature”, its official actions are “judicial in character” (Goodfriend v. Board of Appeals, 18 Ill.App.3d 412, 418 (1973); Parker v. Kirkland, 298 Ill.App. 340, 347-350, 351-353, 358-359 (1939); People v. Atwater, 362 Ill. 546, 549 (1936); Jarman v. Board of Review of Schuyler County, 345 Ill. 248, 253 (1931); McKeown v. Moore, 303 Ill. 448, 453 (1922). The powers, duties, role, and function of the Board of Review and its quasi-judicial nature are governed and defined by the Illinois Property Tax Code (35 ILCS 200/5-5; 5-10; 6-55 16-95; 16-100; 16-140; 16-120; 16-125; 16-150). It is governed by state law (Chicago Bar Association v. County of Cook, 102 Ill.2d 438, 440 (1984)).

The Property Tax Code empowers the Board to either “confirm, revise, change, correct, alter or modify”; or “order the county assessor to correct any mistake or error” in an assessment as may “appear to the board to be just (35 ILCS 200/5-5; 5-10; 6-55; 14-10; 16-95(1); 16-95(2); 16-100; 16-110; 16-140; 16-145; 16-150 and Parker v. Kirkland, 298 Ill.App. 340, 347-352 (1939); People ex rel. Wangelin v. City of St. Louis, 367 Ill. 57, 66 (1937)). It has authority to make all changes and do whatever may be necessary, “which in its opinion”, will “make a just assessment” ”(People v. St. Louis Bridge Co., 281 Ill. 462 (1917); OPS. ATTY. GEN. (Ill.) S-991 (1975)). The Board of Review may order the Assessor to increase or decrease any assessment based only upon a finding that an assessment is not correct (People ex rel. Munson v. Morningside Heights, 45 Ill.2d 338, 341 (1970); People ex rel. Toman v. Olympia Fields Country Club, 374 Ill. 101, 104 (1940); People ex rel. Gill v. Jastromb, 367 Ill. 348, 357-359 (1937); Concordia Fire Insurance Co. of Milwaukee v. People ex rel. Parker, 350 Ill. 365, 375-378 (1932); 35 ILCS 200/16-120).

The Board of Review “may act upon information coming to it from other sources or upon its own knowledge (Earl & Wilson v. Raymond, 188 Ill. 15, 18 (1900); American Express Co. v. Raymond, 189 Ill. 232, 233 (1901); In re Appeal of Maplewood Coal Co., 213 Ill. 283, 284 (1904); Budberg v. County of Sangamon, 4 Ill.2d 518, 522 (1954). The Board may employ “information acquired by [its] investigations and may compare the value of the property in question with that of other property of the same character so as to form an honest judgment” concerning its valuation (People ex rel. Bracher v. Millard, 307 Ill. 556, 562 (1923)). In the exercise of such judgment, the Board may use any available sources of information and may “ascertain and determine the value in such manner by such means as [are] available” (People ex rel. Little v. St. Louis Bridge Co., 291 Ill. 95, 103 (1919)). The Board is free to proceed on the best evidence available and disclosures made to it are considered “judicial admissions “by way of agency (Concordia Fire Insurance of Milwaukee v. People ex rel. Parker, 350 Ill. 365, 374-375, 378-380 (1932)). Its decision-making is not confined to the material presented to it by the taxpayer as it is not a body of record. People ex rel. Murphy v. Devine, 181 Ill. 2d 522, 535 fn. 2 (1997); White v. Board of Appeals, 45 Ill. 2d 378, 381 (1970).

In the review of assessments and property classifications, it is “acting judicially” C & K Distributors v. Hynes, 122 Ill.App.3d 525, 529-530 (1984); People ex rel. Korzan v. Fulton Market Cold Storage Co., 62 Ill.2d 443, 448 (1976)). As a consequence, the Board is a “tribunal” and practice before it is strictly limited to pro se taxpayers and appellants represented by licensed attorneys only (In re Yamaguchi, 118 Ill.2d 417, 426 (1987); Chicago Bar Association v. Friedlander, 24 Ill.App.2d 130, 136-137 (1960); Opinion No. 1800, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney, (August 23, 1983); Opinion Letter of Cook County State’s Attorney, dated August 24, 1999; Illinois State Bar Association, “Policy on Real Estate Taxation Practices,” (April 3, 1992).

The Board of Review is part of “a comprehensive scheme for the computation and collection of real estate taxes”. The courts have given a liberal interpretation to the “various provisions [of the Illinois Property Tax Code] setting forth procedures for expeditious presentation and disposition of assessment complaints” (People ex rel. Devine v. Murphy, 181 Ill.2d 5 22 (1997); Citizens Federation of St. Clair County, Inc. v. Brown, 134 Ill.2d 1054, 1058 (1985); Lake County Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 152 Ill. App.3d 1093, 1100 (1987); People ex rel. O'Connell v. Chicago Tunnel Co., 263 Ill. 253 (1914).

When actually determining property tax appeals the guiding principle of the Property Tax Code is “fair cash value in the due coarse of business or trade between a willing seller and a willing buyer” (35 ILCS 200/19-155). This standard has been interpreted by the courts as being synonymous with “fair market value” (In re application of Rosewell v. 2626 Lakeview Limited Partnership, 120 Ill.App.3d 369, 373 (1983); Springfield Marine Bank v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 44 Ill. 2d 428, 430 (1970): People ex rel. McGaughey v. Wilson, 367 Ill. 494, 496 (1937); People ex rel. Carr v. Stewart, 315 Ill. 25, 29 (1925)). The Board is also governed by the constitutional command of uniformity (ILL. CONST. ART. IX, section 4 (a)) which requires equitable treatment of comparable properties with similar market values (Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co v. County Commissioner of Webster County, West Virginia, 488 U.S. 336, 102 L.Ed 2d 692 (1989); Walsh v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 188 Ill.2d 228, 230 234-235 (1998); Kankakee County Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 131 Ill. 2d 1 (1989); Rosewell v. Twin Manors of Morton Grove Condominium Association, 175 Ill.App.3d 564 (1988); People ex rel. Skidmore v. Anderson, 56 Ill.2d 334 (1974); People ex rel. Tedrick v. Allied Oil Corp. of Illinois, 388 Ill. 219 (1944); People ex rel. Parker v. Board of Appeals 367 Ill. 559 (1937)). See generally, Cook County Board of Review v. PTAB, 339 Ill. App. 3d 529 (2003), app. den. 205 Ill. 2d 578 (Table No. 96760, 2003) (Walsh).

Illinois law recognizes three basic methods of valuing real property. They are: the reproduction/replacement Cost Approach, the Income Approach, and the Market (sales comparison/Approach. (Willow Hill Grain Co. v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 187 Ill.App.3d 9, 14 (1989); Ellsworth Grain v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 172 Ill.App.3d 552, 557-558 (1988); County Collector of Pike County v. Carpenter, 133 Ill.App.3d 142, 144 (1985); Chrysler Corp. v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 69 Ill.App.3d 207, 211 (1979).

Generally, the Cost Approach is highly disfavored by the Illinois courts and may only be employed in rare and limited circumstances (“The Cost Approach: The Lost Approach to Value,” Journal of Property Tax Management, Vol. 11, Issue 3, pp. 20-25 (Winter 2000)). The income approach tends to be the predominate or more compelling method of valuation for income-producing properties (State of Illinois v. Illinois Central Railroad, 27 Ill. 64, 67-69 (1861); People ex rel. Wangelin v. Gillespie, 358 Ill. 40, 44, 46 (1934); Springfield Marine Bank v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 44 Ill. 2d 428, 430-431 (1970); Kankakee County Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 131 Ill.2d 1, 8 (1989)). Several Illinois cases hold that market value is best established by recent, voluntary, arm’s length sales (In re Application of 2626 Lakeview Limited Partnership, 120 Ill.App.3d 369, 373, 376, (1983); People ex rel. Korzen v. Belt Railway Co., 37 Ill.2d 158, 161 (1967); Springfield Marine Bank v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 44 Ill.2d 428, 430-431 (1930)). The Board must consider the Sales Comparison Approach where there is sufficient relevant evidence of comparable sales (Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 295 Ill.App.3d 242, 247, 248 (1999); Chrysler Corp. v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 69 Ill.App.3d 207, 211-212 (1979)). The Board will determine the proper weight to be given to any evidence. See Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 334 Ill. App. 3d 56 (2002).

It is within this context that the Cook County Board of Review determines correct assessments. And, in so doing it applies appropriate analytical methods and judgmental techniques consistent with commonly accepted assessment and appraisal methodologies.

The Cook County Board of Review is a quasi-judicial office as determined by the Illinois law and the practical prosecution of its mission. The analysis process is by definition multi-faceted and analytical. Each complaint is reviewed by multiple parties to varying degrees. There are intellectually simple cases and extraordinarily complicated cases. Cook County contains approximately one million six hundred thousand parcels of real estate. They are constantly being combined, classified, and divided in various ways. This, as well as normal forces of the marketplace, makes the assessment base a virtual living organism, changing constantly.

The Cook County Board of Review adheres to concepts of determining market value as proposed by, but not limited to, the International Association of Assessing Officers and the Appraisal Foundation. These organizations as well as other authorities consider recent judicial decisions and current thinking to arrive at reasonable methods to determine market value. There are four valid reasons for a taxpayer requesting a review of an established assessment. They are:

  • The face of the notice has an error
  • The value is not fair compared to other properties in the neighborhood or class
  • The property owner considers the actual valuation incorrect
  • The property owner claims an exemption from taxation

The evidence that supports these reasons may be found either in law or valuation theory. The analysis process evaluates the evidence presented in such a manner that the Board of Review can make a judicial decision, which best supports the concept of market value. There can be hundreds of derivations of this concept on a case by case basis. "The difficulty in analyzing assessment performance and, principally, the existence of vertical assessment equity, emerges from the fact that assessed values, that is, the actual basis on which property tax is allocated, must be compared to market values.” (“A New Approach to the Analysis of Assessment Equity,” Assessment Journal, March/April 1998)

As useful as information technology procedures are for assessing bodies, they became too simple or group specific instead of case specific for an appeal body. Just as an assessor will rely on multiple regression analysis to establish correct assessments, an appeal body such as the Board of Review must painstakingly review each case with its unique issues. A simple case may include four or five counts. Each count could be a different issue relating back to the four reasons for a taxpayer to request a review.

The Cook County Board of Review is the highest volume intermediate real property tax review body of its type in the United States. The collegial atmosphere by which the Board arrives at its decisions likens it more to an appellate court than an assessing office. Between the requirements of the law and the nature by which evidence is presented and assimilated, the analytical process of the Board of Review must continue in its present format. Both the individual taxpayers representing themselves and the commercial/industrial property owners represented by legal counsel benefit from the present process.