Seniors must re-apply for property tax exemption

October 31, 2011
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Cook County commissioners who represent the West Side are urging homeowners 65 or older to double-check their property tax bill as they’re making their Nov. 1 payments to make sure they received a senior exemption.

A new state law now requires all elderly homeowners to re-apply each year for their senior exemption, but many have failed to do so, said Maura Kownacki, a spokeswoman for Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios.

Cook County Commissioner Edwin Reyes, whose 8th District includes northern portions of Austin, said he has heard from seniors in his district who are worried and surprised about their rising property tax bills.

“Some call and say, ‘our bill went up, how come?’” Reyes said. “We have folks coming into the office, and our staff helps them out.”

Although the process to re-apply is “simple” and takes about three minutes to complete, “it’s amazing how many people don’t know to re-apply,” Reyes said.

“A lot of people aren’t aware. They can miss it very easily.”

Senior tax exemption

To qualify, the property owner must have:

  • been born before or during 1945,
  • own the property, or have a lease or contract that makes them responsible for the real estate taxes, and
  • use the property as a principal place of residence.

If you qualify for the senior exemption, you will automatically receive the homeowner exemption.

Kownacki said the assessor’s office mailed out about 300,000 applications earlier this year to Cook County seniors who received the exemption last year.

“We also did subsequent mailings to reach those seniors (who) did not respond and held hundreds of community outreach sessions to alert seniors of this new state requirement,” she said.

Reyes’ office also held workshops on how to re-apply and distributed flyers with information.

Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins, whose 1st District includes much of Austin, is advocating for taxpayers as well, said Teresa McKelvy, a spokeswoman for Collins. Collins or her staff may be reached at (773) 626-2184.

Collins, along with the assessor’s office, held two assistance days in March to help seniors complete the application for their homeowners exemption as well as the senior exemption, McKelvy said.

The South Austin Community Coalition and Collins’ office also sponsored a tax-exemption awareness event Oct. 12 at the Senior Center, 5071 W. Congress Parkway.

“Seniors are more than welcome to stop by Collins’ office, at 5943 W. Madison St., (to get) assistance in filling out their tax exemption and senior freeze applications,” McKelvy said.

Reyes said in the current economic times, seniors should be diligent about making sure the exemptions appear on their tax bills.

“If they have a question, they can call my office,” Reyes said. “My staff is very informed on the process, and we will help them fill it out and save them a trip downtown.” That number is (773) 588-1129.

If a taxpayer did not receive his/her senior exemption, a Senior Citizen Exemption Certificate of Error form can be downloaded from the assessor’s Web site. Seniors can also visit one of the assessor’s offices or call and request a form be mailed to them, Kownacki said.

Once they complete the form, they can mail it back with any necessary supporting documentation, or visit the assessor’s office in Chicago’s Cook County building, 118 N. Clark St., or one of the suburban branch offices in Bridgeview, Rolling Meadows, Markham or Skokie. The main Cook County assessor’s number is 312-443-7550

Time permitting, they may receive an adjusted bill before Tuesday’s deadline, Kownacki said. If time does not permit for an adjusted bill to occur before Tuesday’s deadline or if a mortgage company paid the bill, the taxpayer will receive a refund in approximately eight to 10 weeks. All exemptions appear on second-installment tax bills.

“The assessor has been working aggressively with legislative leaders to get the new law repealed – and will continue to do so,” Kownacki said.

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