The short answer is that you don’t: any property owner is allowed to represent themselves pro se (i.e. without a lawyer) so long as the property is held in that individual’s name or in a trust for the benefit of the individual appealing.
The longer answer is that many properties do need attorney representation for numerous reasons:
- If the property is held in title by a corporation, The Illinois Supreme Court and the Illinois Property Tax Appeal board require that the property be represented by an Illinois licensed attorney at the Board of Review, the PTAB, and in court.
- Individuals who could represent themselves many times choose not to due to the complexity of the property tax system, the difficulty in doing research using public records, and the persistence and organization needed in order to track the many appeal deadlines at the various levels of appeal.
- Hiring an Illinois licensed attorney is always a better choice than hiring a non-attorney tax rep. The property tax bar in Illinois is a highly competent group that keeps abreast of every change – major and minor – in the property tax code as well as the variations in the internal practices and procedures of hundreds of assessing offices in the State of Illinois. Non-attorney tax reps are not permitted to file in circuit court or at the Property Tax Appeal Board. They are also not allowed to advocate for property owners before most of the boards of review in the state. Their agreements always mention how they are going to ‘hire a lawyer for you’ at some point. Hiring the lawyer first is cheaper and more effective in most cases.
- Attorneys have legal malpractice insurance that can be verified with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee. If a deadline is missed, or some other mistake is made, there is recourse for an aggrieved taxpayer if they hire an attorney.
- Attorneys are required to take 30 credits of continuing legal education in every two-year period.
Illinois is well-known for its over-reliance on the property tax to fund the schools. We have the second-highest property tax burden in the country. As such, the accuracy of assessed values is a point of contention in Illinois that is frequently worth pursuing. In other states that do not rely on the property tax to fund the schools, the property tax appeal process is less utilized because the bills are more manageable to begin with. Those who do not appeal for several assessment cycles in Cook County end up the highest assessed in the neighborhood.