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Volume 12 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 19

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessments, generally (moratorium on increases); Assessment roll (tentative roll) (negating roll) - Real Property Tax Law §§ 305, 506:

An assessing unit may not enact a moratorium on assessment increases.

Negating a properly filed tentative assessment roll requires an order from a court of competent jurisdiction or State legislation.

We have been asked if an assessing unit may institute a moratorium on assessment increases for residential property and if State legislation is required. As a corollary, we’re asked if we know of any municipalities which have done so.

The law provides that all real property is subject to taxation, unless entitled to an exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 300), and that all real property be assessed on an assessment roll at a uniform percentage of value (RPTL, § 305(2)). The suggested moratorium would appear to conflict with both provisions. By ignoring merited increases in the assessments of residential property, the assessing unit would be enacting a de facto tax exemption, a power reserved to the State Legislature (NY Const., Article 16, § 1). {1}  By the same token, of course, ignoring merited increases in the assessed values of a particular class of property undermines the uniformity of the assessments on the roll. {2}  A legal exception on a particular assessing unit’s behalf to these provisions would necessitate State legislation.

While we are aware of no assessing unit which overtly refrains from increasing assessments on residential property, unfortunately there are still some assessing units that do not comply with the statutory assessment standard. Some of these, no doubt, “favor” their residential properties at the expense of their commercial and other property classes. The ramifications are obvious and include a distressed business climate and an increased cost of defending litigation challenging the assessments of the “disfavored” properties.

The next question is if an assessing unit may restart the annual assessment process after the tentative assessment roll has been filed (RPTL, § 506). Once the tentative roll has been properly filed, changes thereto may be made only as authorized by law (12 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 1). {3}

In our opinion, an order from a court of competent jurisdiction or State legislation is necessary if a properly filed tentative assessment roll is to be negated. We are aware of no reported judicial decision so holding, but there have been a few instances where the State Legislature has authorized assessing units to rescind their tentative assessment rolls and restart their annual assessment procedures (L.2002, c.128, 129 (City of Cohoes); L.2005, c.177 (Fulton Co. towns); L.2006, c.418 (Town of Milton)). We do not favor such legislation; the RPTL offers sufficient remedies to address individual errors. Taxpayers who are dissatisfied with their tentative assessments may take advantage of their administrative and judicial remedies to challenge those assessments (per RPTL, Articles 5 and 7, respectively). Should local officials wish to pursue future assessment relief for residential (or any other class of) property, that remedy should be sought through State legislative enactment.

December 22, 2008

{1}  Of course, the law does offer a myriad of local option exemptions for various classes (or owners) of property, including certain residential property.

{2}  The suggested action could also jeopardize any State aid for improved assessment administration which the assessing unit may currently receive (RPTL, § 1573).

{3}   We concluded therein that: “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.”