Illinois State Bar Pushes Back Against Unlicensed Appraisal Charges

CHICAGO (CN) – The Illinois State Bar Association says that charges filed by a state department against two of its member attorneys for including valuations of their clients’ properties in assessment appeals are unfounded.

The association’s lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday, “challenges the efforts of the [Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation] to prosecute Illinois licensed lawyers for activities in connection with real estate tax assessment proceedings that constitute the practice of law.”

The IDFPR’s prosecution of the lawyers claims “that briefs the lawyers submitted in support of their position regarding the proper assessed value of their client’s property constituted the development of an appraisal,” according to the 15-page complaint.

The charges stem from the attorneys filing forms to reduce the assessed value of their clients’ properties, which in turn would lower their property taxes, the complaint says. According to the State Bar, the form must include either an appraisal or public information about the value of comparable properties.

IDFPR claims the lawyers’ assessments amount to making property appraisals without a license to do so.

But the association refutes this interpretation. The attorneys simply discussed their clients’ property values using the value of comparable properties, something the bar association says is a common and necessary practice.

An appraiser is defined by the IDFPR as someone who performs an independent, impartial and objective appraisal of property, says the complaint.

According to the association, the information provided by attorneys doesn’t fit the bill because “a lawyer who represents a client in connection with property tax assessment matters is acting as an advocate and is not, and is not reasonably perceived to be, independent, impartial or objective.”

On top of that, the lawsuit points out, the IDFPR cannot prosecute attorneys for the way they practice law, since that can only be regulated by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The association, represented by Thomas J. McNulty of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, is asking the court for a declaratory judgment that IDFPR lacks the authority to prosecute its lawyers and that their briefs do not constitute actual appraisals.

It is also looking for injunctive relief and a writ of prohibition blocking IDFPR from prosecuting any attorneys for the same actions.

Terry Horstman, a spokesperson for the IDFPR, told Courthouse News that the department is in the process of reviewing the lawsuit and does not have a comment at this time.

Illinois property taxes just saw a 32 percent increase for 2018 after the state legislature overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of their budget, which included the increase, according to Reuters. It is the first budget the state has passed in two years.

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