We cannot provide legal assistance or advice. Because most cases filed in the Tax Court are property tax appeals, this guide focuses on property tax cases and serves only as a general guide.
Before filing your tax appeal, you may wish to look at other options. The county assessor may agree to an informal review, or you may file a request for a formal hearing, or you can take your case to the State or County Board of Equalization. Consult your county assessor's office for information on these options. If you do choose to appeal in court, there are alternatives. Any tax appeal may be filed in the Arizona Tax Department. If you are appealing the valuation of your owner-occupied residence regardless of its value, or the valuation or classification of any real estate with an assessed full cash value of two million dollars or less, or any other state or local tax of less than five thousand dollars (including penalties and interest), you may file in the Small Claims Division of the Arizona Tax Department. Hearings in the Small Claims Division are less formal, and you do not have to hire a process server (the Clerk of the Court will serve the taxing authority for you); however, there is no appeal. For property taxes only, you may file an appeal as a regular civil case in the Superior Court for the county in which your property is located. Contact the Clerk of the Court in the appropriate county for information on how to file. Please note that the small claims procedure is not available if you choose this route. The Arizona courts have no authority over the Internal Revenue Service, so if you object to your federal tax bill, contact the IRS directly.
No matter which alternative you choose, you must begin by filing a complaint with the Clerk of the Court. (If you use the suggested form and you are filing in the regular Tax Court, not the Small Claims Division, please strike through the reference to small claims on the first page.) Arizona follows what is called notice pleading, so no magic words are necessary--just explain your objection to the tax and the relief you seek as clearly as possible. You may file just one appeal for multiple parcels of property. Bring the completed complaint to the Tax Filing Counter in the Central Court Building, 201 West Jefferson Street, 1st Floor, Phoenix, AZ 85003. A small claims complaint can be mailed to that address; however, delivering it in person avoids any risk that it will be lost in the mail. There is a required filing fee; please consult the Clerk of the Court website for the current amount.
There are certain rules that must be strictly followed, or your case will be dismissed. The appeal must be filed by December 15 of the year prior to the tax year - for example, an appeal of the 2022 assessment must be filed by December 15, 2021. (This deadline may be different if you have previously appealed to the assessor or Board of Equalization; the letter you received informing you of the decision will explain the timing of your appeal.) The tax for the tax year being appealed must have been paid on time (if it becomes due while your case is pending, it must be paid promptly), and there can be no delinquent taxes for previous years still unpaid. Unless you filed in the Small Claims Division, you must have the summons and complaint served upon the taxing authority. This can be done by the county sheriff's office or by a registered process server.
Once the taxing authority has received your complaint, it will investigate and get in touch with you. Because taxing authorities receive many tax appeals at around the same time, this can take several weeks or even months, so be patient. If you and the taxing authority cannot reach an agreement, you must inform the judge or commissioner assigned to your case by filing a motion to set the case for trial.
In either the Tax Department or the Small Claims Division, you may represent yourself or have an attorney represent you. (There are a few non-attorneys who have been authorized to represent clients in Small Claims Division. Ask to see the person's authorization before hiring him or her.) If your case is in the Tax Court, you may wish to hire an attorney, as the rules of evidence and civil procedure are strictly followed. In Small Claims Division, the rules are more relaxed, and you may be more comfortable handling your case yourself.
If you believe the assessed valuation of the property is incorrect, the burden of proof rests with you, the plaintiff, and you must present factual evidence to disprove the assessor’s valuation of your property. To prove the value of the property is too high, you must present evidence as to its actual full cash value.
If you present an appraiser's written report of the property's value, the appraiser does not have to attend the trial to testify, if you are proceeding under the small claims tax procedures. A small claims tax trial is informal. Any evidence may be received which will assist the Court to arrive at a just and fair determination of the case. Although the Arizona Rules of Evidence govern the taking of evidence, the judge in a small claims tax case may receive any relevant evidence which the court determines to be reliable, even if the evidence would otherwise be inadmissible by strict application of the Rules of Evidence.
Arizona Revised Statutes, sections 42-12001 through 42-12009 describe the classes of property uses upon which tax valuation is based. All property in Arizona is classified according to its current use. If you intend to dispute the classification of your property, you need to prove how you use the property. If the assessor has changed the classification and the property has not been sold or transferred, you must prove that your property should be in a different classification. Go to the library and look up Arizona laws on classification, including A.R.S. sections 42-12001 through 42-12009. You will find the Arizona Revised Statutes in most public libraries, college libraries and all law libraries. The Maricopa County Law Library is located in the East Court Building, 101 West Jefferson, Phoenix, Arizona 85003-2243.
Bring all of the evidence you wish to present, such as photographs or written reports. Make sure your witnesses are in the courtroom. There is usually an easel in the courtroom that you can use to present evidence. If you need other special equipment, such as a laptop, blackboard or other equipment, you must make your own arrangements. Bring the completed complaint to the Tax Filing Counter in the Central Court Building, 201 West Jefferson Street, 1st Floor, Phoenix, AZ 85003. A small claims complaint can be mailed to that address; however, delivering it in person avoids any risk that it will be lost in the mail. There is a required filing fee; please consult the Clerk of the Court website for the current amount.
When you arrive at the courthouse, look for a posted calendar outside the courtroom or check with the judge's staff. They will tell you the order in which cases will be heard. The judge will call your case from the bench, which is your signal to come forward. As the plaintiff, you will be asked to present your evidence first. If you bring witnesses, the county attorney or assessor will be allowed to question them. You will be allowed to question the county's witnesses as well. The hearing will continue until all evidence is presented. Most small claims hearings in Tax Court last about 30 minutes, sometimes more. There is no time limit, but the judge may impose reasonable restrictions.
You do not need to bring witnesses, but it might be difficult to prove your case without information supplied by witnesses, such as an appraiser. In most Tax Court cases, the owner of the property testifies and presents an opinion of value or use. The Tax Court will probably give more weight to testimony from trained appraisers than from non-experts.
Planning Your Presentation
Make a list of key points you wish to make. Keep it with you for reference.
Be on time. Dress neatly. Call the judge "Your Honor."
Describe your property to someone who has never seen it before. Where is the property located? What buildings are on it? How are the buildings used? How much did you pay for it? How long have you owned it? Have you made improvements? Are there natural features, like washes, streams or timber, that affect the value or use of your property? How much would you sell it for? Describe the issues that are in dispute in the case.
Whether you are questioning a witness you have brought or one the county attorney or assessor has called, ask specific questions to gather information. Do not argue with witnesses.
If you have prepared well, you should know exactly what evidence you want to present. Do it directly and factually.
Listen respectfully to the opposition. Do not interrupt. Make notes on any points you would like to clarify further when you get a chance to question the county's witnesses.
After both sides have called their witnesses, you will get a chance to sum up your case before the Court. This is your chance to pull your evidence together so that the judge understands your views. Again, keep your statements brief and factual. A long speech will not improve your case if the facts do not support your view.
Both parties will receive the Court's written decision within 60 days of the hearing. Generally, the judgment will be paid by the county treasurer out of tax money collected from property taxes during the next fiscal year, unless there is enough money available in funds budgeted for that purpose by the county to allow an immediate refund. Of course, if there are any taxes still owed on the property, which is the subject of the appeal, the amount of the judgment may be credited against the amount of outstanding taxes. The Tax Court does not make refunds. That is the responsibility of the county or state. Cases heard by the small claims tax division of the Arizona Tax Court cannot be appealed. The judge's decision is final.