The General Assembly has quietly been working on a few ideas to bring relief to owners of real property hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the House Ways & Means Committee took those ideas and an idea from last session and added them to Senate Bill 57 that was pending in the House Ways & Means Committee. SB 57 would restore the tax exemption status for housing owned by a tax-exempt (501-C-3) organization and used by individuals diagnosed with mental illness or substance use disorder. The Columbus City School District challenged the longstanding exemption, and that case is now pending in the Ohio Supreme Court. SB 57 would codify the longstanding practice of exempting this type of housing. Given the real property subject matter of SB 57, the committee decided to add other real property provisions to the bill as discussed below.
Under Ohio law, real property valuation is set as of January 1 of each calendar year. The COVID-19 pandemic did not materialize until March of 2020, a little more than two months after valuation was set for real property parcels. And more than six months after the work to set property values had been completed by county auditors. Also, under Ohio law, generally, a real property owner is allowed only one valuation challenge to a county Board of Revision (BOR) per three-year cycle. Ohio’s counties fall in varying degrees of this triennial cycle. For tax year 2020, some counties may have been in year one, others in year two and the rest in year three of the cycle.
SB 57 was amended to add language that would allow real property owners impacted by COVID-19 to file a special BOR complaint to request that the property valuation for tax year 2020 be determined as of Oct. 1, 2020 instead of Jan. 1, 2020. This complaint needs to be filed within 30 days of the effective date of this law. Additionally, language was added to allow owners to file a second complaint for tax years 2020, 2021 or 2022. These special second complaints will need to specify how COVID-19 reduced the valuation of the real property.
Finally, the House Ways & Means Committee added language from a bill introduced in the last general assembly (HB 751) that gives certain tenants of commercial or industrial property the right to file a valuation complaint to the county BOR. These tenants pay the entire real property tax bill for the property and, either by lease or letter, the owner authorizes the tenant to file the complaint. This much needed provision finally puts tenants into the long list of those who may file complaints. In current law, Ohio allows neighbors, mayors, school boards and others to file valuation complaints. It is time to add these tenants to the list. Tenants are members of the community and have a stake in the community’s future.
SB 57, as amended by the House Ways & Means Committee, was reported to the whole House, and was voted out of the House unanimously on Thursday. SB 57 now moves back to the Senate for vote of concurrence.