Assessor Kaegi says policy intended to encourage storefront leasing, address vacancy issues in districts like Jefferson Park
by BRIAN NADIG
A policy change regarding property assessment exemptions for vacant storefronts is designed to encourage landlords to lease their buildings, according to Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi.
Kaegi said that after he was first elected in 2018, business and community groups expressed concern about commercial landlords who year after year received a vacancy exemption, which lowered their tax bill and in many instances encouraged them to keep their storefronts vacant.
“A lot of you were telling us about this (problem),” Kaegi said at the March 9 meeting of the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce. About 60 people attended the meeting, which was held at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
In some instances owners were getting a “huge reduction” in their assessment — by as much as 90 percent, Kaegi said.
The vacancy exemption is not mandated by law. “It was an administrative policy (put in place by previous assessors),” Kaegi said. “We put a new vacancy policy in place.”
Under the new policy all property owners in a commercial corridor receive a reduction based on the area’s average vacancy rate, Kaegi said.
In addition, he said, owners who have a higher than average vacancy rate can seek an extra reduction in their property’s assessment but for only two years, with other limits on the percentage of reduction.
Kaegi gave an example of a corridor experiencing a 30-percent vacancy rate but with a particular owner who has half of the space unrented. He said that the owner would receive credit for no more than half of the additional 20-percent vacancy, or a 10 percent extra assessment reduction.
“You get that (extra reduction) for two years. After that, you’re done, (and) it’s working,” Kaegi said.
Landlords who deliberately took advantage of the previous policy did not pay their fair share of taxes and hurt the surrounding area by reducing foot traffic in the business district, Kaegi said.
The Milwaukee-Lawrence commercial corridor has several storefronts and lots which have been vacant for decades, and in some instances owners have sought vacancy exemptions.
In addition, a proposed vacancy fraud act would provide taxpayers the opportunity to bring a complaint when they suspect a commercial property owner makes knowing false representations to the assessor’s office in order to receive a reduction in property taxes based on full or partial vacancy.
Editor’s note: Nadig Newspapers’ publisher Brian Nadig is president of the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce.