Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 97--MR--284
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Honorable Henry C. Tonigan III, Judge, Presiding.
The defendants Lake County Board of Review (LCBOR) and Hawthorne Community School District 73 (Hawthorne School District) (collectively, the defendants) appeal from the March 11, 1998, and June 24, 1998, orders of the circuit court of Lake County granting the plaintiffs relief on their complaint for administrative review. As a result of the trial court's orders, the plaintiffs received a reduction in the assessment established by the LCBOR on 51 separate properties. On appeal, the defendants argue that (1) the trial court did not have jurisdiction to hear the administrative review action because the plaintiffs sought a change in assessed valuation in excess of $300,000; and (2) the trial court erred in ruling that the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB) had improperly relied upon certain comparable properties provided by the LCBOR. The plaintiffs have filed a cross-appeal, arguing that the LCBOR should have been held in default for failing to comply with the PTAB's administrative rules. We affirm.
The plaintiffs are owners of 51 apartment buildings in a 54-building apartment complex in Vernon Hills. Thirty of these buildings are located on Westmoreland Drive. The remaining 21 buildings are located on either Court of Spruce or Court of Birch. Each individual apartment building has its own property identification number (PIN) for tax assessment purposes. Larry Smilgius, vice-president of Pace Realty Group, Inc. (Pace), owns several of these buildings. The other buildings are owned by other individuals and entities that are also plaintiffs herein. Pace provides property management services to all of the buildings.
After receipt of the tax assessment for the 1994 tax year, Smilgius believed that all of the buildings in the 54-building complex had been overassessed. The assessments were as follows:
Location: Westmoreland, Courts of Birch and Spruce
Assessment: $68 per building; $94 per building; $103 per building; $105 per building
Smilgius sent a letter to each property owner in the complex requesting them to appeal their 1994 assessment. All of the owners of the buildings on Westmoreland Drive appealed their assessments as did the owners of 21 of the 24 buildings on Court of Spruce and Court of Birch. The owners of the buildings at 709, 715, and 790 Court of Spruce did not appeal their assessments. Thus, in total, 51 of the 54 buildings in the complex appealed their assessments for the 1994 tax year. The assessments of all 51 properties were subsequently upheld by the LCBOR.
On February 24, 1995, the plaintiffs filed 51 separate petitions with the PTAB. One petition was filed for each of the 51 separate apartment buildings detailed above. In each of these petitions, the plaintiffs alleged that the assessments on their properties were substantially higher than neighboring comparable properties. The plaintiffs argued that their assessments violated the constitutional guarantees of uniformity of taxation and equal protection of the laws. The plaintiffs requested that their assessments be reduced to the following levels:
Courts of Birch and Spruce$28,409 per building
830-985 Westmoreland$43,982 per building
805-915 Westmoreland $51,163 per building
840-950 Westmoreland$53,528 per building
Pursuant to section 16--180 of the Property Tax Code (the Code) (35 ILCS 200/16--180 (West 1996)), the LCBOR served a copy of the plaintiffs' petitions to all taxing districts shown on the last available tax bill. After receipt of this notice, Hawthorne School District intervened in 21 of the 51 petitions. Specifically, the Hawthorne School District intervened in the petitions relating to the buildings located on Court of Birch and Court of Spruce.
The PTAB consolidated the 51 petitions and held a hearing on July 9, 1996. During the hearing, the plaintiffs argued that the LCBOR should be held in default for its failure to comply with Form "PTAB-6." Pursuant to PTAB rules, when a taxpayer files a petition, the local board of review is obligated to file a Form PTAB-6. At the time in question, that form contained the following provision: "NOTE: If the appellant has submitted assessments of comparable properties as a method of establishing an inequity in the assessment process, the county board of review must submit justification for the variation in the assessments between the subject and comparable properties submitted by the appellant. Evidence may accompany this form or be presented ...