Cook County treasurer, ABC7 Chicago team up to connect taxpayers with unclaimed property tax refunds

The treasurer's office is sitting on more than $100 million in refunds that are just waiting to be claimed

Samantha Chatman Image
Monday, September 20, 2021
Phone bank aims to connect taxpayers with overpaid, unclaimed Cook County property tax refunds
If you own property in Cook County, you could be owed hundreds or even thousands of dollars in tax refunds.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- If you own property in Cook County, you could be owed hundreds or even thousands of dollars in tax refunds.

In an effort to help those who may not know if they are owed these funds, the Cook County Treasurer's Office is hosting its 4th phone bank Tuesday to connect taxpayers with their cash.

However, this time, the focusing is on Latino homeowners during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Any Cook County homeowner can call in. However, for Tuesday's phone bank, there's a special emphasis on reaching Latino homeowners during Hispanic Heritage Month.

The last three phone banks helped homeowners get back more than $16 million.

Juan Moreno and his wife Debbie have lived in Lansing, Illinois for two decades. They've seen firsthand just how expensive owning a home in Cook County can be.

"We've been able to manage being here for 20 years, even though the property taxes don't stop going up," Juan said.

This year has been more challenging than ever for the couple after Juan was laid off from his job due to the pandemic. Debbie also had to pick up a second job to help make up the difference.

They are among the many who didn't know a lifeline was right at their fingertips.

"I got the phone call and it was my friend. She says, 'Hey Debbie, I got this number -- it's ABC7 news. You should call it because you can get the money back from your taxes,'" Debbie sad.

Debbie's friend was talking about the Black and Latino Houses Matter Phone Bank, where Cook County homeowners called in to find out if the county owes them money.

ABC7 and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas helped more people get money back, during the Black and Latino Houses Matter phone bank.

The idea came from treasurer Maria Pappas last year after her data revealed that more than 36,000 properties in Cook County were at risk of being sold due to unpaid property taxes.

"So, once a year when taxes have not been paid, they get sold at a tax sale. That date is November 5," Pappas said. "They're in huge jeopardy, because of the 36,000 parcels on the list, 75% are in Latino and African American neighborhoods...there's something seriously wrong here."

If you're one of the people in the county with unpaid property taxes, Pappas said it's possible that her office- could owe you money.

For instance, if you haven't applied for your senior exemptions, you could be due thousands of dollars; or if you and your mortgage company paid taxes at the same time, that's a double payment and you could be due some cash back.

The treasurer's office is sitting on more than $100 million in refunds that are just waiting to be claimed.

She said, for some homeowners in the Latino community, there's an underlying fear she hopes to address with this phone bank.

'The fear is coming into any government building," Pappas said. "There's a fear of coming in any -- any government building -- and being undocumented. There's a fear. We've taken it out. We've gotten rid of it."

Pappas has also been going door-to-door to homes and businesses educating people in Black and Latino communities about their exemptions.

In Pilsen, Alfredo Del Toro, the owner of Gallery Hair Design, was extremely worried about his high property tax bill of $5,700, but he never applied for his homeowner exemption, senior exemption or his senior freeze.

After applying and filling out the paperwork, he learned the county actually owed him $4,700, bringing his big property tax bill down to just $1,000.

"Good, good! Very, very good. [I'm] happy for my father too," said Del Toro's son.

Down the street at Wagner Bakery, the owner Ezequiel Flores thought he owed $2,400 in property taxes, but after applying for his senior exemptions, he learned Cook County owed him $4,00

Back in Lansing, the Morenos took their friend's advice and called the phone bank to see if they were owed any money and found out they missed their homeowner exemptions going back four years and had a huge refund coming their way.

They received four checks totaling $8,000.

We said, 'Alright! It was at the right time because he wasn't working,'" Debbie said, "and when we received that, we were like, this is for real."

The Morenos said they'll be using that money to pay off other bills and treat themselves to a date night this weekend.

The following are the phone bank details:

Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Time: 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Location: Cook County Treasurer's Office

Phone Number: 312. 603. 5105

Samantha Chatman, consumer investigative reporter with ABC 7's I-Team, will report on the phone bank throughout out the day. A team from the Treasurer's Office, fluent in Spanish, Polish, Chinese and English, will:

  • Search $72 million in available property tax refunds
  • Check if you are eligible for $43 million in missing tax exemptions
  • Verify if your property is on the Tax Sale list with delinquent taxes