The EACC, in partnership with the International Property Tax Institute (IPTI), wants to keep its members up to date with the latest developments in property taxes in the USA and Europe. IPTI has put together a selection of brief reports from articles contained in IPTI Xtracts which can be found on its website (www.ipti.org).
New York: NYC tax reform group demands feds step in to fix broken city tax system
The group that’s pressed New York City to reform its complicated property tax system for years is taking its case to the feds. In a letter sent to the U.S. Justice Department and the city’s Congressional delegation last week, Tax Equity Now New York is demanding that the federal government step in to address what it calls “the inequitable and discriminatory impact of the city’s property system.”
“As a result of New York City’s actions and inactions, majority-minority communities within the city are overassessed by billions of dollars and overtaxed by hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” the group’s policy director Martha Stark wrote in her letter, which was obtained by the Daily News. “Despite acknowledging the fundamental flaws of its own property tax system for decades, the city has done little but sanction a series of commissions, which lack any authority to take any action beyond reaffirming the existence of the problem,” the note reads.
Under the city’s property tax system in its current form, working and middle-class homeowners often pay more in property taxes than those who own more valuable homes in more exclusive neighborhoods. Mayor de Blasio — who, as the owner of two Park Slope homes, has benefited from the current system — promised early in his administration that he would reform it. But little has changed since 2014, when he assumed control of City Hall.
De Blasio has noted that state lawmakers will have to provide their own assistance to make any meaningful changes to the system. His administration’s Property Tax Commission has issued a report laying out the problem and plans to issue a second report before the end of his final term. “It will be the roadmap to solving the problem,” said de Blasio, whose term ends in December.
In 2017, Tax Equity Now decided to sue to force the city and state to reform the system. That part of the group’s efforts is still underway. After a state appellate court rejected its lawsuit last year, TENNY is planning to appeal its decision in the state Court of Appeals. “They will lay out specific solutions, and then it’s up to the legislature, of course, to act on them. We look forward to that.”
In her recent letter, Stark compares the city’s current situation to Nassau County more than 20 years ago, when the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to address racial disparities in its property tax system. “While the Department of Justice’s suit played a key role in resolving longstanding discrimination in Nassau County’s property tax system, New York City continues to maintain a property tax system that similarly discriminates against minority communities and on a much larger scale,” Stark wrote.
Florida: COVID hits Central Florida tax rolls, but real estate values still grow
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered office buildings, hotels, restaurants and even theme parks a year ago, real estate in Central Florida proved to be a resilient economic force, especially residential property values that skyrocketed.
Orange County’s residential market hit a new high — $106.5 billion in value, up 6.5% over pre-pandemic 2020, Property Appraiser Amy Mercado said in her mid-year update required by state law. Estimated taxable values, used by governments to craft their budgets, were up in most counties and cities.
Orlando’s citywide taxable value increased, too, from $37.25 billion in 2020 to $38.55 billion, a 3.5% year-to-year increase. City government is mostly funded by property taxes. Orange County’s market value for 2021 rose 1.2% over 2020 to $224.7 billion, the smallest one-year percentage increase in at least the last nine years. Mercado said the pandemic hit the county’s commercial market values hardest, dropping them 3.4% to $102 billion.
Since the region’s economic downturn in 2007, the county had averaged an annual market value growth of about 9%. “While our county experienced significant impacts due to the pandemic, there were also areas of strong growth, especially in the residential sector,” said Mercado in her first year as property appraiser after ousting incumbent Rick Singh in the Democratic primary.
In her report, Mercado mostly used market values, which subtract homestead exemptions and other tax breaks. She said market values in downtown Orlando slid slightly because the pandemic emptied out some office buildings. “The office spaces here have been pretty sparse for the last year and folks are starting to come back but we don’t know what the final outcome is going to look like,” she said.
Residential growth continued its steady surge in west Orange, led by the town of Oakland, where market values grew by 15% or more for the second consecutive year. Ocoee and Winter Garden both had market-value increases of 6% and 5.2% respectively. Growth in northern Orange was good, too, with Apopka up 8.6% over 2020. The city added over 400 new homes in 2020.
In Osceola County, taxable values rose 6.7 %, powered by $1.6 billion in new construction, Property Appraiser Katrina Scarborough said. She estimated about 70% of the new construction as single-family homes, as the county added 5,400 new homes. “All during the pandemic, we saw subdivisions being platted, building permits being pulled, and driving down the road you could see the land being cleared,” Scarborough said.
The property appraisers’ figures offer a look at the pandemic’s impact across the tourism-dependent region. “It wasn’t anything dramatic. It wasn’t like the Great Recession of a few years ago,” said Seminole County Property Appraiser David Johnson, who noted hardships in properties linked to hospitality and retail. “But all that seems to be roaring back in a positive direction.”
He was optimistic for a quick recovery. “I feel good about where we are as an economy,” he said. “But obviously we’re all part of metro Orlando. That’s the driver.” Taxable values rose in all seven Seminole municipalities with the city of Sanford the highest at 8.5%. Overall, tax rolls rose and higher rolls mean more revenue for local governments unless they reduce tax rates.
Lake County Property Appraiser Carey Baker said the strong, countywide growth in taxable values should allow cities and other ad valorem taxing authorities to adopt roll-back rates, which rake in the same amount of revenue at reduced tax rates.
He said it was the ninth consecutive year of strong growth and gains in taxable value in Lake. “I think most everyone in Lake County knows the residential market has been on fire,” Baker said.
His office processed 23,300 deeds in 2020 — and 12,408 were for single-family residential sales. Baker said the county’s tax roll jumped from $24.4 billion a year ago to $26.2 billion. New home and business construction in Lake added $819 million in taxable value, including 3,505 new homes. But some sectors struggled because of the pandemic, notably hospitality and large-gathering places. “Any places that hosted weddings, receptions, banquet, those places got hammered,” Baker said. State law requires each county’s elected property appraiser to formulate its “Best Estimate of Taxable Value” and share the data with county government, cities, school districts and other taxing authorities to help them begin annual budgeting processes.
Texas: A missing chapter
Ray Perryman is the head of The Perryman Group and serves as a distinguished professor at the International Institute for Advanced Studies. Over 20 years ago, the Texas Legislature passed the Texas Economic Development Act, which allows school districts to offer tax incentives for businesses that invest in their communities. The Act, commonly called “Chapter 313” because of its position in the Texas Tax Code, fundamentally improved the economic development landscape. Chapter 313 has been extended several times, but is now set to expire Dec. 31, 2022.
Chapter 313 gives school districts a mechanism for allowing 10-year limitations on appraised value for a portion of property taxes. In exchange for the value limitation and reduced liability, the recipient agrees to build or install new facilities and create jobs. The school district is reimbursed by the State.
I was around and did the studies when Chapter 313 was enacted and implemented. It completely changed the state’s ability to compete for capital-intensive projects, and it remains crucial to encouraging new investment. Our tax system in Texas is not conducive to attracting expensive facilities due to the heavy reliance on property taxes (which, unlike most levies, are incurred irrespective of economic fluctuations and ability to pay). This program provides a way to balance the scales, thus overcoming an otherwise daunting disadvantage.
What is often lost in this discussion is the fact that property taxes on vacant land are very low. In many rural areas (where Chapter 313 has been extremely helpful), the land was previously taxed at its agricultural value. In addition, companies typically make partially offsetting balancing payments and, of course, after 10 years the full value is eligible for taxation. A significant new location can also enhance the tax base in other ways, such as by enhancing demand for housing and other real estate and encouraging collateral activity by suppliers.
It is entirely appropriate to review Chapter 313 and strengthen compliance and oversight (which appears to be the primary concern among lawmakers). Any actual or perceived shortcomings can be addressed. Others have objected that it has been used for renewable energy projects. In truth, we are going to need all types of power to fuel the global economy of the future, and these initiatives have been vital to many small communities.
Given the tax structure in Texas and the intense competition for economic development, this measure is vital. Soon after it was enacted, the state moved from an also-ran to a powerhouse in attracting growth. In fact, Texas has won the coveted “Governors Cup” for the largest number of major locations in the U.S. for an unprecedented nine consecutive years. In essence, Texas has authored a perennial best-seller on promoting prosperity. It will soon be missing a critical chapter. Let’s hope that it is restored soon, before we spoil the ending. Stay safe!
Idaho: Property tax law shouldn’t affect local cities
Blaine County cities like Bellevue shouldn’t be too heavily impacted by House Bill 389, according to Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns and other local leaders. While cities in Idaho’s fast-growing Treasure Valley have made headlines for lamenting the potential impacts of a new property tax law on their city budgets, local leaders in Blaine County say they don’t anticipate drastic changes resulting from the measure in the next few years.
House Bill 389, a wide-ranging piece of legislation quickly passed in the final days of the Legislature’s 2021 session, introduces, among other things, new caps on the amount of valuation available to local governments to tax new construction and annexation. Taxing districts will be limited to taxing 80% of what they would normally tax on new annexation and 90% of what they would normally tax on new construction from the previous year. The new law also includes an 80% cap on taxing the value of all properties in expiring urban renewal districts and an 8% limit on yearly property tax budget increases.
In Bellevue, where a building permit for the new residential Strahorn development was approved just last week, the cap on revenue from new construction may be “limiting” for the city this year, Mayor Ned Burns said. “I think in periods of growth it’s going to be challenging [for the city] to provide service,” Burns said. “But then that new construction money will turn into regularly assessed money. We’ll be able to grow our budget a year after construction happens. “In the immediacy, I think it will be challenging. But I hope over the long run it won’t be a big budget pinch.”
Ketchum City Administrator Jade Riley similarly said he didn’t anticipate the law having devastating impacts on Ketchum’s city budget in the near future—unless, he said, the city were to annex a “very significant” amount of property in any given year. The greater expected impact on Ketchum’s budget comes from the cap on value created by an expiring urban renewal district, Riley said. When the local district sunsets in the late 2020s, he said, local taxing entities will be capped at 80% of the district’s properties’ value. Under previous statute, there was no restriction on the share of that value.
In the city of Sun Valley, it’s too soon to know how the local budget might be affected, Mayor Peter Hendricks said. “We’ll need some time to study it and figure out how it will affect us and our budget,” Hendricks said. Burns said he sees some things to like in the sweeping piece of legislation, including a homeowners exemption increase from $100,000 to $125,000. “That’s a definite plus,” he said.
But Burns said he would like to see the Legislature take a more “thoughtful” approach to another property tax-related program: the Property Tax Reduction program, also known as the “circuit breaker.” The program provides reduced property taxes to elderly, disabled and widowed taxpayers, and the state makes up the difference for local government property tax revenue that would otherwise be lost.
Rather than put limits on city budgets, Riley said, he would have preferred that lawmakers address other factors tied to rising property taxes, such as indexing the homeowners exemption to more evenly distribute the burden of property taxes among residential and commercial property owners.
“It’s residential valuations versus commercial valuations and other dynamics that people didn’t address [that are causing the increase in property taxes],” he said. “I think people will not see significant property tax relief.”
Ohio: Launches Special COVID-19 Property Valuation Complaint Process
Ohio Senate Bill (SB) 57 was signed into law on April 27, 2021 by Governor Mike DeWine. Among other changes to Ohio law, SB 57 creates a special extended property valuation challenge process for tax year 2020. The special process is meant to account for decreases in property values caused by “a circumstance related to the COVID-19 pandemic or state COVID-19 orders.” The key features of SB 57 are outlined below.
Ohio property values for a particular year are usually set on January 1 of that particular year. SB 57, however, permits challenges to a 2020 valuation to calculate the property’s value as of October 1, 2020. This change provides taxpayers relief from the impact of COVID-19 on property values in 2020.
Under Ohio Revised Code (ORC) § 5715.19, a property owner may file an administrative complaint challenging the property’s valuation with a county board of revision (BOR) once every three years. This is commonly referred to as the “triennium rule.” SB 57 permits taxpayers to disregard the triennium rule if the valuation challenge is filed in 2020, 2021, or 2022 and relates to a decrease in property value stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic or state COVID-19 orders.
Prior to the enactment of SB 57, challenges to a county auditor’s 2020 valuation or assessment of a parcel of land had to be made on or before March 31, 2021. The new rule under SB 57, however, permits challenges to a 2020 valuation to be made between July 26, 2021 and August 25, 2021.
To succeed on a request to decrease property value, the taxpayer must convince the county’s BOR that COVID-19 did, in fact, decrease the property value in 2020. To do so, the taxpayer must prove how the COVID-19 pandemic or state COVID-19 orders “caused the reduction in the true value of the property.” State COVID-19 orders include those made by the Governor, Director of Health, or any other authorized state official on or after March 9, 2020. For example, to establish a decrease in property value, the taxpayer could present evidence such as financial statements (e.g., profit/loss statements, cash flow statements) for 2020 and immediately preceding years, internal reports reflecting reduced occupancy on the property for taxpayers in the hospitality industry, decreased utilization of the property for taxpayers in the manufacturing industry, or forced reduction in business operating hours due to state shutdown orders for taxpayers in the retail or restaurant industry. Arguments citing general market or economic decline, however, are insufficient and will be rejected by the BOR.
Historically, only property owners and their spouses could bring property valuation complaints. SB 57 extends the list of permissible challengers to include tenants of the property owner if the property is a commercial or industrial one, the lease requires the tenant to pay property taxes, and the lease (or the property owner) authorizes the tenant to file a complaint.
Louisiana: Commercial property owners gripe over Assessor’s call to show how they’ve fared during pandemic
Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll Williams has requested that commercial property owners provide financial documents showing how well their businesses have fared as part of his work to create accurate valuations, a move that has irked some property owners.
The request, which was made in April, was sent to all owners of hotels, restaurants, retail outlets and other income-generating properties. The letter gave them four weeks to submit income and expenses from 2019 and 2020, either with summary documentation or via federal tax returns, to demonstrate how they were affected financially by the coronavirus pandemic.
The objective, the letter said, is to obtain “the most fair and equitable assessment for the upcoming 2022 tax year.” If property owners did not provide the data by May 15, their taxes would be assessed “from alternative methods” that might mean a big increase in next year’s tax bill.
The move, which some owners said sounded like a demand more than a request, was the latest step taken by Williams to try and navigate property values during the pandemic. Last year, Williams made sweeping cuts to commercial property tax assessments in an effort to alleviate the economic hit to businesses — especially hotels, restaurants and bars — caused by the pandemic-related shutdowns.
Williams said he was required by law to make the cuts, a position backed up by a recent ruling from the Louisiana Tax Commission. But there’s still been political fallout. City Councilmembers have questioned the move, and Williams was sued in March by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which accused him of favoring out-of-state companies at the expense of local residents, whose tax bills have gone up in recent years.
In the latest twist, Williams is now facing a backlash from some of the commercial property owners whose taxes were lower because of the controversial assessments. Williams’ office typically tries to assess the value of properties based on an educated guess as to what they’re worth. However, in the effort to account for lost income to commercial properties when tourism spending dried up and lockdowns kept people at home, he made a guess as to how much their owners’ incomes were hit last year when assessing the latest tax.
That resulted, for example, in cuts of 57% for hotels, 45% for restaurants and bars, 31% for small retailers to their 2021 assessments. Williams has said that he saw those cuts as temporary and he intends to roll them back once the economy emerges from the pandemic.
But some property owners are now worried about how the documentation will be used. Several said they were concerned about the process, and lodged privacy arguments. None would agree to do so publicly, however, citing a fear of further scrutiny from the assessor’s office. “I don’t object to sending them specific information showing how we were affected by COVID,” said a lawyer who owns more than a dozen short-stay rental properties in the parish. “But I’m not convinced about how he is going to use the data.”
One common worry was that the assessor would use the data not just to bring their taxes back into line but as leverage to slap on even bigger valuation increases. Michael Sherman, a land use attorney who advised several commercial property owners when the assessor made last year’s changes, said that it is “a perfectly reasonable request by the assessor to ask for voluntary income and loss statements.” But he said that it is only one piece of a complicated puzzle that involve many different types of leases. Just adding income statements without adding other information could end up further distorting valuations.
The commercial property owners’ concerns reflect long-standing gripes about the fairness and transparency of property tax assessments in general. Like residential property owners, commercial property owners have long complained about sudden hikes in property valuations, which result in soaring tax bills from one year to the next. Williams has been in office for a decade and was the first parish-wide assessor elected. His mandate has been in part to address the chronic undervaluation of a tax which covers 45% of City Hall’s annual income to pay for things like police, fire, schools and other amenities.
But like property taxes across the U.S., the Orleans Parish tax fosters widespread resentment because of what is seen as inherent unfairness. The tax is based on a theoretical valuation of an asset, and unlike income tax pays little heed to individual circumstances. The commercial property owners echo the concerns of some residential owners in that they argue that even with the additional data requested, the assessor would see only and incomplete financial picture of the property.
Williams’ spokesperson, Devin Johnson, said the commercial owners are over-thinking the request. He said it is meant to make assessments more accurate, while they will retain the right to appeal any assessment they disagree with. “We’re really just looking for more and better data, that’s the long and short of it,” Johnson said.
France: 36% of mairies in France ‘to raise property tax’
More than a third of communes (36%) expect to increase their part of the taxe foncière property tax this year. The information comes from a survey of 1,869 communes and intercommunal bodies by the Association des Maires de France (AMF). In 2020, the figure was 7%.
The other communes expect to make no change. The rise mostly concerns taxe foncière property owners’ tax, one of the last sources of income that local councils can influence, as well as the tax on removing rubbish.
Taxe foncière is worked out by applying a rate voted by the council to half of the property’s theoretical annual rental value, e.g. 20% x (€4,000/2) = €400. The survey also found that 29% of communes seek to reduce exonerations and allowances related to taxe foncière, whereas only 2% did this last year.
AMF leader Philippe Laurent said that, among communes surveyed, bills were expected to rise on average 2-3% (equating to around 6-9% for communes actually planning to raise the rate). The bill usually also factors in a part of the tax that goes to departmental councils, but this year the money allocated to departments is also going to the communes and is subject to the rises, where planned.
Reasons for the rises include:
- The pandemic, which Mr Laurent said had not been completely compensated for by the state: masks and gel, protective clothing and screens, cleaning, aid to firms, and lower revenues for canteens and creches;
- Total removal in 2021 of taxe d’habitation for most main households, which AMF says has not been fully compensated for in many communes;
- A government policy of lowering local business taxes, which also go towards council coffers.
AMF says the rise is also linked to communes’ determination to maintain investment. Almost 70% of smaller communes are maintaining plans compared to original estimates – 8% intend to invest more. The figures are 60% and 9% for larger towns. An AMF spokeswoman said: “The communes have lost €6billion during the Covid crisis. That’s why, to relaunch investment, the rises are necessary.”
Greece: Greek real estate property tax values increase
The Greek Ministry of Economics recently announced the increase of real estate property tax values as of 1 January 2022. Such values are the basis upon which taxes are calculated and assessed. Hence, an increase on tax values, automatically leads to an analogous impact on property taxation.
Annual taxes on property ownership:
- ENFIA (Land Tax) payable annually, irrespective if the property is rented out or not
- Additional ENFIA on individuals owing property worth more than 250.000 euros
- Council Rates (TAP) on buildings and lots (0,025-0,035 per cent)
- Taxation of property owned by offshore companies (15 per cent)
- Stamp duty (property sale tax), that is a percentage of 3 per cent on the tax value of property to be conveyed, plus Municipal Tax (3 per cent), plus Public Roads Maintenance tax (7 per cent) on such stamp duty (paid by the buyer)
- Adverse possession tax (3 per cent)
- Capital Gains Tax (15 per cent – currently suspended)
- Value Added Tax (ΦΠΑ) 24 per cent placed on new developments – of non-first-home buyers (currently suspended)
- Tax on Exchange of properties (1,5 per cent)
- Tax on Distribution of properties. (0,75 per cent)
- Analogous fee payable to the Land Registry (Ypothikofylakeion) for the registration of Conveyance Deeds to a percentage of 0,475 per cent. A percentage of 0,5 per cent – 0,1 per cent for the registration of such Deeds to the newly established Land Registry Cadastral (Ktimatologio), both calculated on the tax value of the conveyed property.
Taxes on Inheritances, Gifts and Parental Gifts of real estate property:
- From 1 to 40 per cent, depending on the consanguinity of the Deceased with the Heir or the Donor with the Grantee. The tax exemption bracket for Parental Gifts is currently at 150.000 Euros (on the property’s tax value).
Analogous fee payable to the Land Registry (Ypothikofylakeion) for the registration of Gifts and Parental Gifts to a percentage of 0,775 per cent. A percentage of 0,8 – 0,1 for the registration of such deeds to the newly established Land Registry Cadastral (Ktimatologio), both calculated on the tax value of the conveyed property.
Income tax from property:
- Imputed (assessed) income placed on the use of a residence without exchange (for free) to a percentage of 3 per cent on the tax value of such property. Such use is tax exempted if used by parents or children and it does not exceed 200 square meters
- Imputed (assessed) income for living in your primary or secondary residence (depending on its dimensions and tax value)
- Imputed (assessed) income for using your commercial property (3 per cent of its tax value).
Payments to Councils and Municipalities (ΟΤΑ):
- When farmlands are classified within the Zoning Planning, a payment of up to 25 per cent is payable to the Council. Additional conveyance of land can be demanded (10 to 50 per cent).
Fines on legalization or use of premises with building violations
Fines by building authorities are calculated according to the tax values of the properties. Having analysed all relevant taxes that are about to increase, it is recommended to those that plan gifting property to their children or buying property, to proceed as soon as possible in order to avoid the upcoming (unnecessary) tax burdens.
Ireland: Commercial Rates Waiver Extended For Q2
To assist the businesses that have been most affected by the on-going COVID-19 restrictions, the Irish Government announced a new, targeted commercial rates waiver intended to apply to qualifying businesses during the first quarter of 2021. The Government has announced an extension of this waiver to the end of the second quarter of 2021.
Qualifying businesses will be entitled to a 100% credit in lieu of their commercial rates liability in the first six months of 2021. Local authorities should automatically apply the credit in lieu to the accounts of businesses in the included business categories.
Where a ratepayer who qualifies for the credit in lieu has already discharged its rates liability for 2021, a refund towards their 2022 rates liability will be arranged by the relevant local authority. The waiver does not extend to Business Improvement District (BID) levies.
This new waiver will be available to those businesses that ordinarily provide employment and generate economic activity that have been closed or severely impacted by the Level 5 restrictions. A list of the included business categories and uses is set out at Appendix C of Government’s Circular, which includes:
- Hospitality, leisure, airports, childcare;
- Non-essential retail (shops and warehouses); and
- Essential retail (excluding large supermarkets with a floor area greater than 500 square meters).
There are certain businesses that are automatically excluded from the scheme. A list of the excluded business categories and uses is set out at Appendix D of Government’s Circular, which includes:
- Properties in the “Office”, “Industrial Uses”, “Minerals”, “Utility” and “Miscellaneous” Valuation Categories;
- Banks, building societies and credit unions;
- Public service properties and vacant properties; and
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Can an excluded business still apply for the waiver? Yes. Ratepayers in the excluded business categories may apply to their local rates office for the waiver. The form of the application is not specified, however the ratepayer will need to demonstrate:
- closure of their business or significant negative economic disruption due to public health restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19; and that
- turnover from the relevant business activity in the claim period does not exceed 25% of the average weekly turnover in 2019 (or average weekly turnover in 2020 in the case of a new business).
Accepted proofs include:
- evidence of participation in the COVID Restriction Support Scheme (CRSS) operated by Revenue;
- continued participation in the Pandemic Unemployment Payment Subsidy Scheme;
- employment ceasing and evidence of employees availing of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment; and
- by providing copies of correspondence with lending institutions and Revenue to agree relief or forbearance measures.
In any assessment of ratepayer eligibility for this waiver, the Government has stated that the local authorities should focus on the types of business records available to the ratepayer, having regard to the nature and scale of the business that would normally be readily available for such a business.
United Kingdom: ‘The business rates system is so fundamentally broken’
As he launches a new business, retailer Philip Bier tells the Standard what he thinks needs to be done to help Britain’s hollowed-out high streets
Philip Bier brought low-cost Danish retailer Tiger to the UK back in 2005, and saw it grow exponentially before making a multimillion-pound exit in 2017.
When the photographer-turned-entrepreneur sold his 50% stake in the UK arm of the business, which has since rebranded as Flying Tiger Copenhagen, he had opened more than 40 stores on high streets around the country and Tiger Retail had a turnover of £44 million.
Bier grew up in Denmark. He moved to London to train as a photographer in 1985 and has stayed ever since, working as a commercial photographer for two decades before embarking with Tiger. This month he returned to his roots, co-founding new prints business eyeeye.me with childhood friend and fellow photographer, Mark Fluri.
The new online-only venture sells limited-edition “museum-standard” black and white photographic prints – many created from previously unseen vintage negatives taken between 1880 and 1960. The prints, all made in Copenhagen, cost around £60 and are printed on museum quality paper.
Fluri amassed the collection over time and is CEO, while Bier is on board as a 50% partner providing capital and financial advice.
“We’re collectors at heart and we want to preserve vintage negatives and make them available for people to enjoy,” Bier said. “The idea is to print a quality photograph on museum quality paper – to sell a museum quality photographic print at an affordable price.”
The pair would have loved to open a gallery/shop in London, complete with print-making and framing facilities, but Bier said UK business rates meant this had to be “disregarded as an option”.
Business rates raise around £30 billion a year for the Treasury, but have been blamed for the decline of the high street, as they hit physical retailers and not online competitors. The Government launched a review of business rates last year, calling for submissions. Its long-awaited final report on the review is due to be published in the autumn.
Many companies and big-name retailers are calling for long term reforms to the system. The Government’s interim report released in March showed proposals include the idea of a 2% online sales tax, which proponents argue could raise £2 billion a year to cut business rates.
Bier is adamant on the issue. He advises Revo, the non-profit body representing the retail property sector, and recently met with Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, for a meeting to discuss business rates and the future of the high street.
He told the Standard: “There was no chance of a freestanding gallery as it would be too costly. We maybe would have done that in Copenhagen, but the risk here is so much greater, even with turnover related rent, because the business rates is a fixed overhead.
“Current business rates stifle high streets. I think the system worked up until the start of e-commerce and now it doesn’t work. The system is so fundamentally broken.”
Bier said that he does not expect a “fundamental review” in the autumn as the government’s finances are under “enormous strain”, but said: “My view is that business rates should go completely and be replaced largely by corporation tax. Tax should be a result of what you make; business rates is a tax on existence.”
The experienced retailer argues that the future of the British high street will depend both on delivering customers something they cannot get in an online experience, and on Government and business working together.
“Retailers and government need to cooperate, to get together and say ‘how does the high street stay relevant?’ Shops need to be complemented by public spaces that people want to use,” he said. “The shopping experience needs to be a good one, whatever it is. It needs really good service. It needs to offer something additional, or the customer will think ‘why didn’t I just order this?’
“If we [“eyeeye”] did have a store/ gallery, I would want to have a physical printer in store, where people could watch their images being printed frames being made – a mixture of workshop and retail. That would offer something different, something consumers can’t get online.”
Bier said his new venture and Tiger are similar in that both take “something mass market and making it less elitist”. “Tiger made Scandinavian design available at affordable prices, and this is similar in that way,” he said. “Our target audience is anyone who has an interest in photography and who wants an original print, and not a poster. It is more expensive than a poster, but not out of reach.”
He believes that Generation Z’s love of second-hand clothes and vintage items is “fantastic”, and he hopes it will help fuel interest in “eyeeye”.
Bier may have left Tiger after it got big, but he aims to stay in this business forever. He has no exit strategy and the duo dream of collaborating with museums. It is a true passion project. “We are building up a library and collection, and it would be good to collaborate with museums,” he said. “There are amazing negatives not being seen.”
- Paul Sanderson, President | psanderson[at]ipti.org
- Jerry Grad, Chief Executive Officer | jgrad[at]ipti.org
- Carlos Resendes, Director | cresendes[at]ipti.org
Compliments of the International Property Tax Institute – a member of the EACCNY.