Northeast Ohio Counties Lower Property Values After Complaints

CLEVELAND (AP) - Several northeast Ohio counties are lowering property values after thousands of homeowners complained that their appraisals, assigned in 2006 just before the beginning of a housing slump, do not reflect their homes' true value.

In Cuyahoga County, nearly 30,000 of a total 600,000 residential property owners successfully lobbied to lower their home appraisals, erasing almost $1 billion in estimated property values. Another 6,000 complaints have yet to be considered.

The region's sagging economy, with job losses and stagnant property values, have made Cuyahoga the leading county in the most impacted state for home foreclosures. Without rising property values to boost their equity, homeowners don't have a useful safety net.

Ohio law dictates that counties must adjust property rates every three years, and do a parcel-by-parcel appraisal once every six years.

In Lorain County, which did its sixth-year reappraisal last year, about 5,000 of the county's 70,000 homeowners complained to the auditor about property values and about 2,500 received reductions.

As homes linger unsold on the market, anxious property owners are calling more frequently to complain about a local economy that has weakened in the last year, said deputy Lorain County auditor Craig Snodgrass.

"They call and say 'My house isn't worth that today.' But it was back then," she said.

Auditors in Lake County have also seen complaints about home values rise to almost 13,000 since last year, with about 6,000 homeowners winning reassessments. The county's Board of Revision is handling an additional 2,600 commercial and residential complaints.

Medina County's sixth-year reappraisal was completed this year and home values increased about 10 percent, said auditor Mike Kovack. Complaint hearings are already being scheduled, he said.

School districts, which stand to lose the most by reductions in values, often contest appeals by big property owners. And, reductions for some homeowners could mean that others will pay more in taxes, said economist LeRoy Brooks at John Carroll University.

Counties are adjusting only the properties of homeowners who complain, in essence cheating the people who don't appeal, he said.