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Volume 12 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 1

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment roll (tentative roll) (assessor’s authority to amend); (final roll) (conformity to tentative roll); Assessor (powers and duties) (changes to tentative assessment roll) - Real Property Tax Law §§ 506, 516: {1}

The final assessment roll must conform in all respects with the tentative assessment roll except for changes ordered by the board of assessment review or changes made by the State Board of Real Property Services. Once the assessor files the tentative assessment roll, the assessor may not make unilateral changes to that roll.

We have received an inquiry requesting confirmation that, once an assessor files the tentative assessment roll, he or she may make changes to that roll only as ordered by the board of assessment review. With the exception discussed below, in our opinion, this is correct.

In cities and towns following the assessment calendar prescribed in the Real Property Tax Law, it is the assessor’s duty to file the tentative assessment roll on or before the first day of May and to publish notice of such filing (RPTL, § 506(1)). {2}  That tentative assessment roll is to include the verification prescribed in section 505 of the RPTL which essentially provides that the assessor has listed all real property on the roll and, with the exception of assessments made by the State Board of Real Property Services (i.e., special franchise assessments), the assessor has assessed such property in accordance with the statutory standard of assessment: uniform percentage of assessed value (RPTL, § 305(2)).

Section 505 was added to the law at our suggestion by chapter 620 of the Laws of 1982, but even before it was enacted, in 6 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 53, we opined:

Assessments entered on the tentative assessment roll indicate the assessor's judgment as to the value for each parcel (Real Property Tax Law, § 506). Thereafter, the assessor has no jurisdiction to change those entries (2 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 62) unless either:

(1) a written complaint is filed with the board of assessment review on or before “grievance day,” and the board directs a change to be made with respect to the complainant’s parcel (Real Property Tax Law, § 1524(2)(c) (now RPTL 525(4)); or

(2) there is an error as defined in section 550 of the Real Property Tax Law and the appropriate review body (i.e., either the board of assessment review pursuant to § 552 or § 553, or the tax levying body by the authority of §§ 554, 556 or 556-a  {3} directs that a change be made.

A long history of case law makes it clear that, with the exceptions noted, an assessor has no authority to change entries on the tentative assessment roll (see, e.g., People ex rel. Chamberlain v. Forrest, 96 N.Y. 544; Henderson v. Silco, 36 A.D.2d 439, 321 N.Y.S.2d 313). {4}

In our memorandum in support of the bill enacted as chapter 620 of the Laws of 1982, as our justification for then new section 505 and amendment of section 514 (i.e., the final assessment roll verification), we wrote:

Once the assessor has filed the tentative assessment roll, he has no authority to make any changes thereto unless they are directed by the board of assessment review or are assessments of property assessed by the State Board of Equalization and Assessment which are submitted to the assessor for addition to the roll after the roll has been tentatively filed. But for these changes, the tentative assessment roll should be identical to the final assessment roll. . . . The verification requirement of section 514 should be amended to refer to the tentative assessment roll and the changes made to it (Memorandum of State Board of Equalization and Assessment reprinted at McKinney’s 1982 Session Laws of NY, at 2533-34). {5}

We note that several exemption statutes include provisions authorizing and directing local officials to make changes to the final assessment roll when the exemption is subject to an equalization adjustment and the State Board issues a special equalization rate (e.g., alternative veterans exemption (RPTL, § 458-a(1)(f)); business investment exemption (RPTL, § 485-b(2)(a)(ii)). These changes do not involve the exercise of discretion by the assessor or other official having custody of the roll when the special rate is issued. In addition, it goes without saying that a court order directing entry on an assessment roll (e.g., RPTL, §§ 720(1), 733(2)) must be followed.

Finally, that the assessor is without jurisdiction to make unilateral changes to the tentative assessment roll is further evinced by the procedure for assessor-taxpayer stipulations as to assessments. Once the tentative assessment roll is filed, the assessor may not change the roll on his or her own motion, even when the assessor concurs with a taxpayer that an assessment reduction is warranted. Instead, proposed stipulations must be presented to the board of assessment review for ratification by that board (RPTL, § 525(4); 10 Op. Counsel SBRPS No. 37).

May 20, 2008

{1}  Beginning with this opinion, to the extent possible, Opinions of Counsel will utilize the New York Official Reports Style Manual in citing authorities. Quotations from judicial decisions and prior administrative opinions will use the citation formats used therein.

{2}  In towns, posting of such filing is also required on the town clerk’s signboard maintained for the posting of legal notices.

{3}  Section 556-a was later repealed (L.1986, c.317) and its provisions included elsewhere within Title 3 of Article 5 of the RPTL.

{4}  Accord Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. v. Onondaga, 63 NY2d 786, 471 NE2d 138, 481 NYS2d 325 (1984), per dissent of Boomer, J. at 96 AD2d 1138, 467 NYS2d 443 (4th Dept 1983).

{5}  Indeed, in the final roll verification, the assessor attests that the final roll “conforms in all respects to the tentative assessment roll with the exception of changes made by the board of assessment review and the assessments made by the state board of real property services” (RPTL, § 514). As we stated in 11 Op. Counsel SBRPS No. 25, the difference in the verification language of sections 505 and 514 “clearly recognizes that the assessor may disagree with some, most, or even all of the changes ordered by the board of assessment review.”