By Richard Bilbao

Angel de la Portilla knows 2021 will hold additional challenges for many businesses — especially property owners.

This year, annual commercial property bills come due at a time when business owners and the overall economy are struggling due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s why de la Portilla, 53, a well-known government consultant and owner of Central Florida Strategies Inc., launched a new business called Property Tax Relief Partners LLC that aims to help commercial property owners with their upcoming tax bills.

In normal years, owners may have found the bill a normal cost of doing business, but this year is much different. Local governments tax properties based on an assessed value. However, that value doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth of what business owners are earning.

For example, companies that easily can make $1 million-plus payments in a normal year may be facing tenants missing rent or other lost revenue that makes those annual payments difficult to do.

Thus, de la Portilla believes businesses need to make a good case to property appraisers that reductions are needed. He has teamed up with Equity Investment Services LLC, an Orlando-based real estate consulting firm, to assist clients. The business will have up to six employees and will operate out of the Equity Investment office at 7575 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Suite 390. De la Portilla said it is still too early to determine the firm’s full start-up costs, but it will be funded by himself and partners at Equity Investment Services LLC.

“Seeking fair assessments on commercial property is going to be part of Central Florida’s economic recovery,” said de la Portilla in a prepared statement. “We are currently seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of commercial property owners who have seen significant reductions in their business income. As a result, their properties today are simply not worth what they were before the pandemic began. The challenge for property owners is how do you prove that? How do you demonstrate to the county property appraisers’ office a fair and accurate value for the purposes of your tax assessment? That’s what [Property Tax Relief Partners] is set up to do.”

There are many complexities when it comes to property taxes.

Many values of property and land rely on past assessments, and do not take into account other outside economic factors — like a pandemic that shut down most commerce for months. Also, municipalities will be dealing with their own revenue crises and likely will look at a mix of budget reductions and tax increases to help make up shortfalls caused by the Covid-19 pandemic’s negative impact on the economy.

In some instances, property taxes can represent more than a third of a government’s revenue stream, said a report from The Brookings Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit public policy organization.

Orange County’s largest, single revenue source is property tax, according to the county’s fiscal 2021 budget.

“We anticipate a countywide taxable value of $156 billion, giving us property tax proceeds of about $693 million or an 8.95% increase over the current fiscal year. It is important to point out that property values were determined before the coronavirus pandemic occurred. We are forecasting a drop in property values in 2021 that would impact the county budget for fiscal year 2021-22, if new construction and home values were to decline in the coming year. We will continue to monitor these developments closely,” said the county’s budget report.

Officials with Orange County’s Property Appraiser’s office said property owners seeking adjustments to their property values can see the process on how to petition to the Value Adjustment Board via its website.

Other professional services, such as law firms or tax consultants, also offer value adjustment work for property owners.

Hurting the workforce

Property tax relief would be a boon for multifamily property owners as they face the inability to evict tenants who are unable to pay rent, said Lee Steinhauer, president with The Steinhauer Group law group and the government affairs and legal counsel for the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando. “To get [multifamily property owners] some relief on the property taxes or give them the ability to delay paying them is a huge thing,” he told Orlando Business Journal.

Steinhauer added that de la Portilla’s experience and knowledge should help the new venture succeed and provide a “great job” for clients.

“Property taxes have risen significantly over the last several years,” Chuck Whittall, president with Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments Inc., told Orlando Business Journal. His company owns several properties across Orlando ranging from retail to restaurants, multifamily residential and entertainment. “We have many apartments, and this really is hurting working-class people. When our taxes are raised, we have to raise the rents to the tenants. This should be adjusted downward.”

Whittall, who did not share how much he pays in annual property taxes, said he would welcome help on reducing property tax bills.

Meanwhile, Orange County’s latest budget shows no property tax increases are expected for fiscal 2020-2021, which ends Sept. 30, 2021.

Still, property owners face a challenging year ahead as the pandemic rages on. Vaccine distribution has provided a glimmer of hope, but it may be a while before that results in a wider consumer confidence level to increase business traffic back to normal.

De la Portilla expects this year to have many property owners looking for some type of relief on property taxes. While tax collections may not be exorbitant amounts for all property owners, the costs could add up to more unneeded burdens, he said. “We see this effort taking place over a period of years. The pandemic has had a huge impact and it’s going to affect certain industries for years to come.”

Staff Writer Jack Witthaus contributed to this report.

Source: Orlando Business Journal

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