Earlier this year, we filed residential real estate tax assessment appeals in Lancaster County on behalf of several clients. An appraiser from the County Assessment Office showed up at the door of one of our clients wanting to look at the property to ostensibly resolve a discrepancy between the County's records and the appraisal of the property that we submitted to the County Board of Assessment Appeals. Our client was not home at the time so the representative left a message and a business card and a yellow form asking for information with respect to the number of rooms, size of finished basement, size of finished attic, number of fireplaces, heating and cooling systems, plumbing, utilities, remodeling and new construction. (We are also familiar with property owners being mailed forms requesting information, particularly after having obtained building permits.) We wondered under what circumstances a representative of the Tax Assessment Office has a right to this particular information, and more particularly, what right does such a representative have to enter property and inspect?
Our research yielded no direct answer to this question in Pennsylvania. However, we are aware that in some states legislation was enacted that specifically denies the right of entry, and some specifically grant the right of entry. Other statutes don't directly address the question of authority to enter, but can be construed to grant that power by implication. Pennsylvania is one of several states in which the statute is silent on the power of entry. Under those circumstances, we refer to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure, and we would advise a property owner that although they could allow a tax assessor entry by permission, if they chose not to do so, a warrant would need to be obtained by the tax assessor in order to enter without permission. In addition, once a case is in litigation, the solicitor for the County Board of Assessment Appeals could seek a Court Order to allow inspection in order to establish the fair market value of the property at a hearing.
If a representative of the County seeks entry to your property or additional information for tax assessment purposes, you should consult an attorney to determine what approach is in your best interest. I have found in my own experience that I am often able to resolve these issues without the need for an inspection of the property.
Christina Hausner is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Duquesne University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Real Estate.