All real property and all personal property are taxable unless the property has been exempted by law. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-3) Real property is land and generally anything that is erected, growing or affixed to the land; and personal property is everything that can be owned that is not real estate.
Property taxes are charged against the owner of the property on January 1 and against the property itself if the owner is not known. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-9) Unless otherwise specified, property tax returns are to be filed between January 1 and April 1 with the county tax commissioner's office or in some counties the county tax assessor's office has been designated to receive returns. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-10, 48-5-18)
Real property is taxable in the county where the land is located, and personal property is taxable in the county where the owner maintains a permanent legal residence unless otherwise provided by law. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-11)
For most counties, taxes are due by December 20, but this may vary from county to county. If taxes are not collected on the property, it may be levied upon and ultimately sold even though the property may have changed hands during the year. The property tax money collected by the local government is used to pay for the support of services provided by the local and state government.
The intent and purpose of the laws of this state are to have all property and subjects of taxation returned at the value which would be realized from the cash sale, but not the forced sale, of the property and subjects as such property and subjects are usually sold except as otherwise provided in this chapter. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-1)
In Georgia property is required to be assessed at 40% of the fair market value unless otherwise specified by law. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-7)
Property is assessed at the county level by the Board of Tax Assessors. The State Revenue Commissioner is responsible for examining the digests of counties in Georgia in order to determine that property is assessed uniformly and equally between and within the counties. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-340)
The tax bills received by property owners from the counties will include both the fair market value and the assessed value of the property. Fair market value means "the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay for the property and a willing seller would accept for the property at an arm's length, bona fide sale." (O.C.G.A. 48-5-2)
Property owners that do not agree with the assessed value on their proposed assessment may file an appeal to the county board of equalization, hearing officer, or arbitration. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-311)
Historic property that qualifies for listing on the Georgia or National Register of Historic Places may qualify for preferential assessment.
The preferential assessment shall extend to the building or structure, the real property on which the building or structure is located, and not more than two acres surrounding the building or structure. The real property receiving preferential assessment may not be changed for a period of nine years. Property under this special program must be certified by the Department of Natural Resources as rehabilitated historic property or landmark historic property.
Rehabilitated Historic Property may qualify for preferential assessment where the rehabilitation:
- has increased the fair market value by not less than 50 percent, or,
- if income producing property, the fair market value has increased by not less than 100 percent, or,
- real property that is primarily residential but partially income-producing, the fair market value has not increased by not less that 75 percent.
Landmark Historic Property may qualify for preferential assessment:
- where the property has been certified by a local government as landmark historic property, and
- where local ordinances extend the preferential assessment to:
- tangible income-producing real property,
- tangible non income-producing real property, or
- a combination of tangible income-producing real property and non income-producing real property.
There are other special assessment programs available to property owners. These special programs include:
Preferential Agricultural Property Bona fide agricultural property can be assessed at 75 percent of the assessment of other property. This means that this type of property is assessed at 30 percent of fair market value rather than 40 percent. Property that qualifies for this special assessment must be maintained in its current use for a period of ten years.
Conservation Use Property Bona fide agricultural property can be assessed at its current use value rather than the fair market value. Property that qualifies for this special assessment must be maintained in a current use for a period of ten years.
Environmentally Sensitive Property Property can be assessed at its current use value rather than the fair market value when the property is maintained in its natural condition and meets the requirements set by the Department of Natural Resources. Property that qualifies for this special assessment must be maintained in a current use for a period of ten years.
Forest Land Property Property that qualifies can be assessed at its current use value rather than fair market value when the property is primarily used for the good faith subsistence or commercial production of trees, timber, or other wood and wood fiber products and excludes the entire value of any residence located on the property. This 15-year covenant agreement between the taxpayer and local board of assessors is limited to forest land tracts consisting of more than 200 acres when owned by an individual or individuals or by any entity registered to do business in Georgia.
Brownfield Property Property which qualifies for participation in the State's Hazardous Site Reuse and Redevelopment Program and which has been designated as such by the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources may qualify for preferential assessment.
This special program provides for the preferential assessment of environmental and contaminated property by freezing the value for up to fifteen years as an incentive for developers to clean up the property and return it to the tax rolls. It also allows an eligible owner to recoup the eligible costs associated with the cleanup of this type property against their tax liability.
Residential Transitional Property Property can be assessed at its current use value, rather than fair market value, when it is used for residential purposes but located in an area that is changing to, or being developed for, a use other than residential.
Standing timber is not taxed until sold or harvested, at which time it is taxed based upon 100 percent of its fair market value. There are three types of sales and harvests that are taxable:
lump sum sales where the timber is sold at a specific price regardless of volume,
unit price sales where the timber is sold or harvested based on a specific price per volume,
owner harvests where a land owner harvests his own timber and sells it by volume.
Equipment, machinery, and fixtures are assessed at 40 percent of fair market value.
The tax assessor may value the equipment, machinery, and fixtures of a going business to reflect the fair market value of the business as a whole. When no ready market exists for the sale of equipment, machinery, and fixtures, a fair market value may be determined by resorting to any reasonable, relevant, and useful information available.
This information may include, but is not limited to, the original cost of the property, depreciation or obsolescence, and any increase in value by reason of inflation.
Tax assessors have access to any public records in order to discover information.
(O.C.G.A. 48-5-2 , O.C.G.A. 48-5-7, O.C.G.A. 48-5-7.1, O.C.G.A. 48-5-7.2, O.C.G.A. 48-5-7.3, O.C.G.A. 48-5-7.4, O.C.G.A. § 48-5-7.6.)