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Volume 10 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 37

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment review (stipulation) (role of board of assessment review); Board of assessment review (powers and duties) (stipulation of assessment) (correction of errors) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 525, 552, 553:

Boards of assessment review are expected to ratify assessment stipulations entered into by assessors and taxpayers. Where a board rejects what it considers to be an improper stipulation, the board’s decision is subject to judicial review as provided in Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. In determining correction of errors petitions, boards of assessment review are expected to apply the same degree of judgment they do to assessment complaints brought before them for which no stipulations are entered into.

Our opinion has been requested concerning a board of assessment review’s experiences with the new assessor/taxpayer stipulation procedure (added L.1996, c.541). A particular board reluctantly approved five such stipulations only after being advised by the county director of real property tax services that the board should do so unless it determined that the stipulation was blatantly unlawful. The board has suggested that the law should be reexamined and its procedures revised, perhaps in a manner akin to that followed in the correction of errors provisions of sections 552 and 553 of the Real Property Tax Law.

The assessor/taxpayer stipulation procedure was long sought by assessors (and the State Assessor’s Association) who argued that, on occasion, boards of assessment review would fail to grant a reduced assessment, even when the assessor, in agreement with the taxpayer, concluded that a reduction was warranted. To assist the Assessor’s Association, staff members of this agency drafted the bill later enacted as chapter 541, but, in doing so, there was concern with maintaining the relative roles of both assessors and boards of assessment review.

As amended, section 524(3) of the RPTL, which requires that assessment complaints be made on forms prescribed by the State Board, now concludes as follows:

Such statement shall also include a statement, which, if signed by both the assessor and the complainant or his or her authorized representative shall constitute a stipulation to the assessed value to be applied to the subject parcel. Where such stipulated assessed value is entered on the final assessment roll, no review of the assessment shall be allowed pursuant to article seven of this chapter.

Similarly, as amended, section 525(3)(a), which previously required boards of assessment review to determine final assessments (as well as transition assessments and class designations, where appropriate), now also provides that such boards “shall ratify assessment stipulations entered into by the assessor and the complainant.” In other words, the law clearly assumes that boards of assessment review will ratify assessment stipulations.

In our opinion, the county director was correct in advising that, in the presumably rare case, a board of assessment review may reject a blatantly improper stipulation. If it is sued in a mandamus proceeding for rejecting a stipulation, {1} the board will then have an opportunity to explain its rationale to the judge. Note that the issue in such proceeding would not be whether the stipulated value is appropriate; the issue would be whether the board of assessment review “failed to perform a duty enjoined upon it by law” (Civil Practice Law and Rules, § 7803(1)).

Any reluctance by a board of assessment review to ratify assessment stipulations may be mitigated somewhat by a fuller appreciation of the relative roles of the assessor and the board of assessment review. To begin, it is important to note that assessors have full jurisdiction over the assessment roll and values to be placed thereon until the tentative roll is filed (see, RPTL, § 505). After that, the assessor may only make changes thereto as are directed by the board of assessment review or (as to special franchise assessments) the State Office of Real Property Services (RPTL, § 514). At the same time, it is also important to note that boards of assessment review have jurisdiction over the assessments of only those parcels brought before them for review. For board of assessment review members who are uncomfortable with the new law, it may help them to distinguish between the grievances brought before them for their considered adjudication of value and the stipulations which they may (but need not) closely examine. While diligent board members should be lauded for a feeling of responsibility for the equity of their grievance determinations, they need feel no greater responsibility for stipulated assessments than they do for assessments not brought before them for review.

In essence, the assessor/taxpayer stipulation procedure merely gives the assessor additional time in which to do what he or she previously could do only before the tentative assessment roll was filed: determine an equitable assessment agreeable to the taxpayer. {2}  This additional time period is deemed necessary because, in general, most taxpayers do not examine assessment records until after the tentative roll is filed.

Finally, it seems appropriate to note that the role of the board of assessment review in the correction of errors process differs from its role in the assessment stipulation procedure. In the correction of errors process, the board should not merely ratify the assessor’s petitions. Instead, when the board is asked to review an assessor’s petitions to correct the tentative assessment roll (RPTL, § 552) or the final assessment roll (RPTL, § 553), the board must determine if the non-judgmental, clerical type mistakes alleged to have occurred, have indeed occurred. That is, in determining correction of errors petitions, boards of assessment review are expected to apply the same degree of judgment they do to the grievances they determine for which no stipulations are entered into. {3}

June 24, 1997

{1}  Both the complainant-taxpayer and the assessor would assumably have standing to commence such a proceeding.

{2}  Note, too, that the assessor/taxpayer stipulation procedure creates a record of the assessor’s agreement with the taxpayer, a record which is reviewable, unlike an assessment agreed to before the tentative roll is filed.

{3}  Note that the judicial remedy for review of correction of errors determinations is Article 7 of the RPTL (i.e., the same as for grievance determinations), not Article 78 of the CPLR (RPTL, § 553(4)(c)).