Senior Tax Opportunity Program (STOP)

The Senior Tax Opportunity Program (“STOP”) began in 2007 as a telephone counseling service using volunteer attorneys to assist seniors at risk of losing their homes to the Cook County annual property tax sale for properties with delinquent taxes due.   Volunteers explain that seniors may be able to take advantage of unused tax exemptions, thereby lowering their tax burden and, hopefully, avoiding a potential forfeiture of their properties.

Many homeowners already receive the Homeowner’s tax exemption which reduces their home’s assessed value by $7000.  Seniors and people with disabilities may be entitled to other exemptions, including the Senior Citizen Exemption (which is worth an addition $5000 reduction in assessed value), the Senior Citizen Tax Assessment Freeze (which is available to households with a current annual income of $55,000 or less), and, potentially, a Tax Deferral through use of a State tax loan program.  Senior residents of the City of Chicago can also eliminate the sewer portion of their water and sewer bill through an exemption for those over 65.  Some additional exemptions may be available to those with disabilities. 

In late 2012, STOP received a grant from the Office of the Illinois Attorney General which enabled it to become a year round program.  The expanded STOP program consists of three components:  first, CDEL trains volunteer attorneys about the various property tax exemptions available to seniors and people with disabilities.  Because CDEL is a certified Continuing Legal Education provider, attorneys not only achieve the satisfaction of helping people with legal needs, but they also receive Continuing Education credit for their taking the course associated with their volunteer efforts. 

The next step consists of Outreach Presentations.  CDEL travels to Cook County senior centers, religious organizations, libraries and similar facilities to make these presentations.  In them, we educate seniors about the property tax process and the various exemptions, deferrals and assessment freezes that may be available. 

In the third step of the program, our staff attorneys and volunteer attorneys meet with seniors to review their property tax bills, identify the exemptions that may be available to the seniors and assist them in preparing the appropriate exemption requests.  In addition, volunteer attorneys assist seniors in drafting Certificate of Errors which when approved can entitle the taxpayer to retroactive tax reductions.  When requested, we will file these documents with the County.

Attorneys and law students interested in participating in the STOP workshops or who are interested in providing outreach assistance should contact Mark Hellner at mhellner@cdelaw.org, referencing “STOP” or call him at 312-376-1883.

In 2015, CDEL gave 27 presentations and community workshops and provided information and/or consultation regarding exemptions to over 750 senior home owners.