IL appeals court: Alleged assessor clerical error won't excuse $58K back tax bill for improper homestead exemption

By John Sammon | Dec 5, 2017

CHICAGO —  A state appeals court has ruled an alleged clerical error from the Cook County Assessor's Office does not excuse an Illinois woman from owing back property taxes, penalties and interest totaling $58,377 under an improper homestead exemption for the years 2007 through 2013.

The appeals court also said the plaintiff, Ribhieh Hussein, upon whom the burden rested, had failed to prove a clerical error.

The opinion, issued in September by a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court, upheld a lower court's decision holindg Hussein liable for the taxes on homestead exemptions judge's had determined should not have been applied to her property.

“By placing the burden on the taxpayer to make sure the correct exemptions are applied to a given property, (the law) places the burden on the person with the greatest knowledge of the property’s use,” the opinion read - meaning the court did not believe the assessor could be expected to keep constant tabs on every change of ownership or designated use of every property in the county.

A homestead tax exemption removes part of a home’s value from taxation, exempting a certain dollar amount or percentage from the assessed valuation, and is meant under the law to be applied to a person’s primary residence, and not usually to rental or investment properties.  

The Illinois Property Tax Code allows the assessor to place liens for unpaid taxes, penalties and interest, which permits the assessor to take possession of property until a debt on it is paid.

The six properties in the case were four units in a six-unit condominium building located in Chicago Ridge. Hussein lived in a home in suburban Burbank. The plaintiff purchased the condo building in 1988 and lived there from the time of purchase until she moved to Burbank in 1992, according to court documents.

Hussein agreed she received and paid tax bills for the four properties at issue. However, she said she only looked to see if the tax bills were for the condo property or her home and the amount owed. The plaintiff maintained she never applied for a homestead exemption and did not know the exemptions were being applied to the properties.

Hussein argued, because the assessor failed to demonstrate that she had applied for the tax exemptions, she should be allowed to take advantage of the clerical-error provision of the tax code, Section 9-275, and not be held liable for back taxes, interest and penalties.

An administrative law judge disagreed with her contention that the burden of proof was on the assessor to demonstrate the plaintiff had applied for the exemptions. The judge also added that there was no evidence of a clerical error.

After review, a Cook County trial court found that the burden of proof of a clerical error lay with the plaintiff.

The plaintiff also alleged taxpayers did not need to provide documentation to prove clerical error, but the court disagreed.

“The plaintiff never made any effort to correct the erroneous homestead exemptions despite receiving tax bills that would have identified the exemptions applied to each property,” the opinion read.

The decision was authored by Justice Aurelia Puciniski, with justices James G. Fitzgerald Smith and Terrence J. Lavin concurring.

Hussein was represented in the action by the firm of Duffin & Dore LLC, of Chicago.


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Cook County Assessor Duffin & Dore, LLC Illinois First District Appellate Court

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