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Cook County Taxman Cometh with a $17,000 Tax Bill for a House That Vanished

Bizarre bureaucratic gaffe in the assessor's office puts a Cook County couple between their house and a hard place, reports Phil Kadner.

Mary Lou and Tom Riley in front of their house. | Screengrab from SunTimes.com video.
Mary Lou and Tom Riley in front of their house. | Screengrab from SunTimes.com video.

CHICAGO — Tom and Mary Lou Riley plunged into a bureaucratic odyssey as Cook County officials repeatedly told them their house didn't exist — even though they've lived there more than three decades. And if that house really did exist, the Rileys were told, they'd owe the county lots of money.

About $17,000, give or take.

The four walls and a roof the Rileys have called home since 1978 was built in the 1950s in south suburban Hazel Crest. But the single-story frame house vanished from the Cook County assessor's records from 1996 to 2007.

The Rileys didn't find out until they sought a homeowners exemption and a reassessment of their property value, reports Phil Kadner in his Southtown column, and that's when things took an absurd turn.

The assessor's office told them they called during the wrong month for a reassessment. When they called back in the right month, they were told the schedule changed.

Then the assessor's office told them their house didn't exist.

And then they were told they'd be penalized for not paying enough property tax on the house that county claimed did not exist.

And finally, they were told to sign a document claiming the house was "new construction" built in 2004 — because this would help the problem just go away. They wouldn't owe money on a house that didn't exist, they were told.

Defeated and deflated by the bureaucracy, they signed.

"This is Cook County," Tom Riley said. "Let’s sign the thing and get out of here."

Three years later, they got hit with the $17,000 tax bill — unpaid taxes plus interest — and were forced to take out a second mortgage on the home they had almost just paid off.

And that document they signed? Well, reports Kadner, it cannot be found.

Want to know more? Read Phil Kadner's Southtown column on SunTimes.com and get his take on Cook County's tax system

Edward Andrysiak March 27, 2014 at 07:15 PM
Well Donald...you are right, what is good for one should suffice for the other. And, as I read your post you say homeowners don't even know they have a refund coming unless they hire someone like you. I say, they don't know because the lousy county didn't notify them! Notice goes both ways in my example but there MUST be notice given. I can't believe people wouldn't jump on the refunds if they knew about them.
Donald Yosef Marcus March 27, 2014 at 07:43 PM
Dear Edward The Cook County Assessor doesn't give notice of refunds the Cook County Treasurer's Office does, but you are missing the point. These refunds that I am talking about aren't refunds unless you know the loop holes & learn to apply for them. No one gets a refund automatically, you have to know how to apply for them & if you qualify for them. Unforunately Most Cook County Assessor Employee's &/or Attorneys don't have that information if you asked them. Only seasoned attorney's &/or individuals like myself that have handled 1,000's of phone calls & situations over a 30 yr period could help in these circumstances. I worked on the appeals for the Assessor & I WAS ALSO A HEARING/REACHOUT OFFICER for the Assessor SO I had to know most loop holes and that's why I am able to pass them on to my clients & non clients alike. My heart goes out to the tax payers of Crook County & IL. The bottom line is we need a new system, including the State of Revenue Department that produces the State Multiplier each year. This is all based on a flawed system. Just tax everyone by the State statue of 1/3 market value. This would saved the tax payers of IL. millions of dollars to get rid of this department. Cook County is the exception in IL. All other counties are assessed at 1/3 of its market value commerical & residential . For the most part I have kept quiet over the years about the injustices of our property tax system. I saw first hand since I am a ex-employee of the Cook County Assessor's office. I tried to contract Quinn in the late 1980's about the system,since he was considered at one time the Tax Payer Advocate of IL. His campaign mgr told me he was too busy running for State Treasurer to talk to me about this situation. So I have held all of this in for 30 yrs.
MiMi March 27, 2014 at 09:33 PM
CORRUPTION AND COVER UP IS ALIVE AND KICKING....and is SO MANY GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.....YES, IT IS INDEED REAL....crap like this happens every where....these people just got caught up in the system.....be glad it was just this instead of something else.
Edward Andrysiak March 29, 2014 at 06:42 PM
Donald, I'm not feeling any love. You stated you worked for the County for 30 years. There should have been no loop holes in an honest system where people got what they were entitled to. So you did nothing to remedy that. Now, you want to profit from the knowledge you have working on a broken system.....cheeeeez.
Donald Yosef Marcus March 30, 2014 at 10:12 AM
Dear Edward ,You miss understood what I said, I worked there 30 yrs ago not worked for them for 30 yrs. I worked there for 5 yrs in the earily 1980's to the late 1980's. You might might believe this ,but under the last 2 assessor's the office has becomed 100% more open/accessible to their information. The stystem is broken, but this would take a tremenious undertaking to revamp the whole system from top to bottom. This would be like taking on the under funded pention that still hasn't been fully addressed except on the back end some 20 to 30 yrs from now ! I did my best to help the tax payers of Cook County & that's one of the reason's why I left the Assessor's office ! I got removed as an analysis,working on the appeals for them since my production wass 40-50% less then everyone in the department. Why, because I was taking the extra time to give everyone a fair break on their assessment through the loop holes that I learned. I got removed & they put in Tax payer Assistance counter, on the phones to answer questions & then on reachout. I was there in the 1980's for the first 100 yrs flood in Des Plaines. I help homeowners write up their compliants for them.

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