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Crack down on property tax cheats, assessor says

Updated: May 2, 2012 1:17AM



Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios wants to crack down on tax cheats.

He’s lobbying Springfield to pass a new law penalizing property owners who, for example, claim homestead exemptions on multiple properties rather than just the one they live in full time.

“They’re people with vacation homes, various rental properties or people claiming exemptions of homes where people have been dead for years,” Berrios told reporters at a Tuesday press conference.

His office has logged 30,000 such property owners. Falsely claiming an exemption could potentially save a homeowner as much of tens of thousands of dollars per year, officials said.

Right now, Berrios says he can only remove exemptions on properties where it’s clear the owner isn’t calling the place home. But he wants the legislature to pass a law similar to 11 other states that allow local governments to recover taxes owed along with interest and penalties. Just recovering the taxes due for the last three years would add up to $154 million, Berrios said.

Berrios said the real estate industry has opposed the measure. A staffer in his office later said the concern centers on a provision in the legislation that allows assessors offices statewide to put liens on the homes of taxpayers receiving unwarranted property tax exemptions. That could actually slow the sale and closings of properties in a market that’s already sluggish.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was also at the news conference Tuesday and supports the crackdown.

The county board OK’d a resolution urging the legislature to pass the new law.

The measure has passed the Illinois House and is pending in the Senate.

Under the proposal, someone claiming a single erroneous exemption would have to pull out their checkbook and pay the difference, plus 5 percent interest, for the past three years. Two exemptions would not only require repayment of taxes but also a penalty adding up to 25 percent of the unpaid taxes and 10 percent interest per year. Three or more exemptions would be subject to six years of repayment plus penalties adding up to 40 percent of the unpaid taxes and 15 percent interest per year.



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