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Volume 3 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 11

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessments, generally (correction of errors) (time limitations) – Civil Practice Law and Rules, § 213; Real Property Tax Law, Article 5, Title 3:

Correction of erroneous assessments are limited to the current year or to mistakes entered on the assessment roll of the preceding year. However, a refund on a tax illegally levied or assessed may go back six years.

Our opinion has been requested as to the extent of the authority of the county to authorize corrections of erroneous assessments. Specifically, we have been asked whether it is possible to go back more than one year in filing an erroneous assessment.

The basic authority for the correction of errors is contained in Title 3 of Article 5 of the Real Property Tax Law. Section 550 authorizes the entry of omitted property on the current assessment roll. Such entries may include omissions from either the current or preceding years’ assessment rolls. The limitation of one prior year is clear and unequivocal, and, it should be noted, the assessor may take this action upon his own motion.

Section 554 permits the county legislative body to authorize certain corrections to assessment rolls prior to the levy of taxes. Included among these correctable errors are omitted property and assessments which, because of mistakes in transcription, are entered at less than the amount which appears on the assessor’s property record cards or field book. In both cases (i.e., omitted property and incorrect assessments) the county legislative body may authorize a correction to be entered on the current assessment roll. However, in both cases the law clearly limits such corrections to the current year or to mistakes entered on the assessment roll of the preceding year.

Section 556 permits the county legislative body to refund amounts collected from a taxpayer because of an illegally levied tax or a tax which was levied upon an illegal assessment. The authorization contained in this section (subdivision 3) does not include a specific time limit, and we believe, therefore, that the six-year statute of limitations contained in section 213 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules is applicable. This section would control in a legal action brought by a taxpayer to recover moneys paid to the town and county on the basis of an illegal tax or assessment, and we believe that it is appropriate to apply the same time limitation to the county. Thus, in granting a refund, pursuant to section 556(3), from a tax which was based upon an illegal assessment or levy, we believe that the county cannot go back beyond six years from the date of its actions in granting the refund.

July 12, 1973

NOTE: Chapter 177 of the Laws of 1974 repealed sections 550, 554, and 556, and added new correction of errors provisions contained in Title 3, sections 550-559.