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Article updated: 3/18/2013 2:31 PM

Lake County panel limits property assessment appeal assistance

By Russell Lissau

Landowners no longer can hire real estate agents or specialty firms to appeal their property assessments, the Lake County board of review decided Monday.

The unanimous vote in Waukegan followed about two hours of public comment, mostly from opponents of the plan. Those speakers included residents and people who've built businesses around helping people fight high property assessments and taxes.

Only a few people spoke in favor of the change, which prevents property owners from being represented by real estate appraisers, accountants or consultants during the appeals process.

Under the new rules, people can represent themselves or hire lawyers to speak for them.

Under state law, the board of review holds hearings to determine if a property is assessed properly, following written appeals.

The appeals process begins with township assessors. Assessors send cases to the county panel.

Opponents said the new rules will keep a group of experienced professionals out of the process.

"An attorney may know the law, but that doesn't mean they know the (appeal) procedures," Libertyville Realtor Marty Rafter told the board.

Critics, including Zion resident Tracey Johnson, also said the change eliminates an affordable option for people who want to contest assessments. Some people can't afford an attorney or might be intimidated calling one, Johnson said.

Proponents say allowing people who aren't lawyers to represent property owners in these matters encourages the unauthorized practice of law.

The Illinois Bar Association, a state group for lawyers, supports the change, officials said.

Tom Battista, a former deputy director of the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board, said that group bars people who aren't attorneys from representing land owners. The rules are designed to protect the public, not professionals, he said.

But more audience members sided with opponents like Curtis Perlman, owner of a business called Lake County Appeal.

He insisted the appeals process is administrative and shouldn't require advocates to have law degrees.

"There's no law involved," Perlman said. "License the profession if there's a problem."

Cook, Kane and Will counties already have limitations similar to those approved Monday, officials have said.

A few Lake County Board members observed the discussion, but that group has no say in the review board's decision.

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