‘Uninhabitable’ property tax break issue hits Pritzker where he lives
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I would love to know why J.B. Pritzker paid $3.65 million in 2007 to buy the Gold Coast mansion next door to his own, then allowed it to fall into such disrepair that he now claims it is uninhabitable.
Maybe it started off as a security measure, as his campaign has suggested, with the Pritzkers wanting to create a buffer between their home and the neighbors.
Maybe he and his wife started to remodel the property and the cost got out of hand, so they decided to just shut it down until they came up with a new plan.
The more I thought about it, though, I realized that maybe it’s none of our business. Just because a rich guy runs for public office doesn’t require him to explain every strange rich guy decision he’s made — Gov. Bruce Rauner owning nine homes being a case in point.
What IS our business is that one of the wealthiest people in America was allowed to receive a real estate tax break on an extremely valuable home on one of this city’s most exclusive streets on the basis that he ran the property into the ground.
That makes no sense.
The result is that Pritzker, now a Democratic candidate for governor, is not paying his fair share of taxes for this property.
It may be entirely legal, as both the Pritzker campaign and the Cook County Assessor’s office insist. But it shouldn’t be.
At the very least, it’s bad public policy, and someone who wants to be the supreme decider of public policy in Illinois ought to recognize it as such and address the issue directly. I can promise him it’s not going away.
The Illinois Republican Party assured us of that much Monday, sending forth former state GOP chairman Pat Brady to castigate Pritzker as “your typical Chicago politician that rigs the system and engages in a con game to benefit himself.”
I don’t believe the facts, as first reported by Chicago Sun-Times’ Watchdog Tim Novak, support Brady’s accusations of collusion. More likely, it’s just another aspect of the inside game of Cook County property tax appeals, available to anyone who hires the right lawyers.
But it was clear by the GOP’s in-your-face handling of the matter, with a news conference on the sidewalk outside Pritzker’s homes complete with color photo blowups of how the “uninhabitable” manse looked when he bought it (very luxurious), that Rauner intends to latch onto this issue like a dog with a bone.
In response, the Pritzker campaign continued to try to muddy the waters by noting that both Rauner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy also appealed their property tax assessments, as “50,000 other property owners in Cook County do every year,” and that Kennedy received a reduction, too.
They also accused Rauner of trying to divert attention from his own failures as governor. Fair enough.
But let’s be clear. This is not about the commonplace practice of appealing property taxes on someone’s principal place of residence. This is about a very unique situation of a homeowner buying an expensive property next door and being rewarded for being a lousy owner.
As explained by the assessor’s office, this tax break is intended for someone buying a property to rehab it, the idea being they shouldn’t be required to pay full price on their taxes if nobody can live there.
I can’t speak to the exact condition of the home when Pritzker bought it, but I can tell you it was definitely habitable.
At some point afterward, however, all the toilets in the home were disconnected. The Pritzkers haven’t explained when this happened or why it was necessary.
Based largely on photos of the home’s interior and an affidavit from a Pritzker family employee, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios’ office declared the property uninhabitable.
The assessor’s office says there are no written guidelines on what makes a property uninhabitable, but that “you know it when you see it.”
The finding has saved Pritzker more than $230,000 so far, and he has been approved to receive the tax break again for the current year, which will be the fifth year in a row he is being credited for letting his property fall into disarray.
How long may he continue to receive this tax break? The assessor’s office says there is no time limit under Illinois law.
Pritzker’s campaign says he does intend to rehab the property at some undetermined point in the future.
This would be a good time for Pritzker to demonstrate he knows right from wrong.