In Marysville Exempted Village Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn. v. Union Cty. Bd. of Revision, 2013-Ohio-3077, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the ability of a salaried employee of a corporation to fill out and execute a complaint against the valuation of real property (a “tax complaint”) on behalf of the corporation. The statutes and case law governing the filing of tax complaints are full of pitfalls for the unwary. Local school boards in turn take advantage of these pitfalls to get tax complaints thrown out on technicalities. One such pitfall involves the capacity of a non-attorney to execute and file a tax complaint on behalf of a corporation. Ohio Supreme Court precedent previously held that the preparation and execution of a tax complaint by a non-attorney constituted the unauthorized practice of law in violation of R.C. 4705.01. Pursuant to this precedent, any tax complaint executed by a non-attorney who was not the property owner was deemed defective and divested a county board of revision of jurisdiction to consider the tax complaint. Accordingly, many tax complaints executed by non-attorney employees were dismissed. Companies were left without recourse to amend or re-file a new tax complaint for the tax year in question – and consequently lost at a year’s worth of tax savings, sometimes more.
In response to these harsh results, the Ohio Legislature amended R.C. 5715.19 to expressly permit certain non-attorney individuals to execute a tax complaint, such as accountants, real estate brokers, company officers, members, or salaried employees. In Marysville Exempted, the local school board challenged the constitutionality of the amendments to the statute in an attempt to get a tax complaint dismissed because it was executed by a non-attorney employee of the property owner. The Ohio Supreme Court determined, however, that the Legislature did not substantially interfere with the Court’s constitutional authority to regulate the practice of law by amending R.C. 5715.19 to permit certain non-attorney individuals to execute and file tax complaint. As a result, the Court upheld the Legislature’s elimination of a statutory pitfall that resulted in technical dismissal of many tax complaints.
Despite the Court’s decision, the process of contesting the valuation of real property remains full of technical requirements. Just because an employee can sign and file a tax complaint on behalf of a company doesn’t mean that the form is filled out correctly or that the employee will know the requirements necessary to achieve a reduction in valuation in front of a board of revision. By the time a mistake it is discovered, it is usually too late to re-file, and the property owner’s potential tax savings for the tax year in question will be lost. Further, a defective tax complaint could cost the property owner up to three years’ worth of tax savings due to the statutory prohibition on filing more than one tax complaint in a single triennial period (even if the prior complaint was defective). Property owners are strongly advised to consult an attorney who is experienced in contesting real property valuation before setting out on their own to navigate this confounding process.