Lakefront property owners cry foul at revaluation

| 05 Apr 2012 | 12:28

UPDATE: The meeting of the West Milford Fair Tax Coalition will take place on Saturday, April 14, at 9 a.m. at the Upper Greenwood Lake Property Owners Club House.

435 Lake Shore Drive, Hewitt. WEST MILFORD — Bob Moskin has lived in Upper Greenwood Lake for much of his life. His family had a summer house here dating back to the 1950s. He built his own home on the family's property over 30 years ago and raised his family here. But when he read in The West Milford Messenger last month about homeowners on Kitchell Lake who were challenging their new assessments, he decided to take a look at his own home's new valuation. Boy was he shocked.

"I don't mind paying my fair share of taxes but this is ridiculous," said Moskin. He estimates, based on information on the revaluation company's Web site, the tax bill for the original 800 square foot home on a 60-by-100 piece of property overlooking Upper Greenwood Lake that he owns will nearly double, going from $5,600 to $10,000.

"It's a travesty," he added. A few weeks ago he heard about a meeting at the High Crest Lake Association Clubhouse. He got in touch with the organizers and a few of his neighbors went to the meeting on Tuesday, March 27, which featured local tax attorney Bob Moshman and an appraiser. The one thing they all had in common was that their valuations went up dramatically after the town-wide revaluation process ended. Another thing most of them now have in common is they are filing a tax appeal. And Moskin is looking into it possibly being a class action lawsuit as well as individual appeals.

"All 1,300 lakefront landowners have had our taxes go up," said Moskin. "It is an unfair tax hoisted on us all by an assessment company."

Moskin said there were about 110 property owners at this meeting at High Crest Lake and he's hoping to grab the attention of all lakefront homeowners who are facing the same situation.

He has formed a group - West Milford Fair Tax Coalition - and he is hoping to get the word out to all lakefront property owners in the township that there is something that can be done. He is hosting a meeting on Saturday, April 14. The place hasn't been finalized yet. It will either be at the Upper Greenwood Lake Clubhouse or West Milford High School (check back here for the time and place). There, four attorneys who are knowledgeable in tax matters will speak about the appeal process. Tax appeals are usually completed by April 1 but since this was a reassessment year, the deadline is moved to May 1. Moskin wants everyone to know they should file an appeal this year.

Advice from a tax attorney Bob Moshman is a tax attorney here in West Milford. He is representing several of the individual homeowners on Kitchell Lake in their tax appeals to the county. Moshman encourages all homeowners who are facing large increases this year to file an appeal with the county. The county tax board does not accept class action lawsuits so homeowners should not depend on that happening this year.

Another reason not to wait until next year, Moshman said, is that since this is a reassessment year, appeals can be won even if they are off by a small amount. For example, in a year when a reassessment has not been done, homeowners must show the assessment is off by more than 15 percent in order to win the appeal. That's not the case now, Moshman said.

"In a year of valuation, the burden shifts to the assessment company," said Moshman. "So even if they're just a little off, you can still win."

Moshman said if your assessment more than doubled, your taxes are going up. At the end of the form provided by the assessor's office is the amount of increase. If the number is 1.86, that is the break even number. If the number is below that, your taxes are probably going down. But if the number is above that, your taxes are rising. Moshman said most lakefront properties have increased by over 2.

When you file an appeal, you must use comparable sales to prove your point of an unfair assessment. Moshman said the comps must be actual sales of houses between Oct. 1, 2010 and Oct. 1 2011. All sales of homes in West Milford made during this time period are on the assessment company's Web site, Short sales and foreclosures cannot be used as comps.

Moshman said there were a total of just 15 lakefront home sales during that time period and 146 total sales in the township. That's off about 40 percent for an average year which usually sees between 250 and 300 sales. Comps from other towns can be used, he said.

Moshman represents individual appeals, as do some online organizations such as and Or, for a small filing fee, homeowners can file the appeal themselves (see box).

Dick Kesin was one of the folks from High Crest Lake who put together the first meeting. He said he knows the value of a lakefront home, he knows it is attractive because there are very few of them. But the increases he is hearing about are just not right.

"A neighbor is going up $3,400," said Kesin. "Some are going up $5,000 and $6,000."

He's glad Moskin is taking this and running with it. And they all hope there's a big turnout on April 14.