Under Joseph Berrios, assessments of commercial and industrial properties defy logic, punish taxpayers and enrich lawyers

Amid the most tumultuous real estate market since the Great Depression, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios produced valuations for thousands of commercial and industrial properties in Chicago that did not change from one reassessment to the next, not even by a single dollar.

That fact, one finding in an unprecedented ProPublica Illinois-Chicago Tribune analysis of tens of thousands of property records, points to a conclusion that experts say defies any logical explanation except one:

Berrios failed at one of his most important responsibilities — estimating the value of commercial and industrial properties.

What’s more, a separate analysis reveals commercial and industrial property assessments throughout Cook County were so riddled with errors that they created deep inequities, punishing small businesses while cutting a break to owners of high-value properties and helping fuel a cottage industry of politically powerful tax attorneys.

And because commercial and industrial properties as a group were not assessed properly, residential homeowners across the county were forced to carry an additional and unnecessary burden, paying more in property taxes than they would have otherwise.

State law says the assessor must revalue property every three years. Yet Berrios, using methods hidden from the public, repeatedly produced initial valuations of commercial and industrial properties — known as first-pass values — that did not change.

For example, as the financial crisis cratered the real estate market in 2009, Berrios’ predecessor estimated the value of a stout brick building in a bustling commercial area on Chicago’s Northwest Side at $13,455,132.

Three years later, in 2012, Berrios had taken office and the commercial real estate market had come roaring back. Yet the assessor’s estimate did not change: $13,455,132.

Click here to read more about the investigation.