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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 21

Opinions of Counsel index

Taxes (enforcement) (sufficiency of description - tax map numbers) -- Real Property Tax Law, §§ 1122, 1534:

Unless the tax map is filed in the county clerk’s office, description of a parcel by means of a section, block and lot number, on that map in inadequate for “in rem” tax foreclosure purposes.

We have been asked whether a city may describe tax delinquent properties, which are to be foreclosed by action in rem (Real Property Tax Law, Art. 11, title 3), using section, block and lot numbers on a tax map not filed in the county clerk’s office. A tax map was prepared for a city by a county real property tax service agency and was approved by the State Board of Equalization and Assessment in 1976. The tax map has not yet been filed in the office of the county clerk (§ 1534(4)), pending completion of tax mapping for the entire county.

In assessing units for which tax maps have been prepared, assessors must use those maps in their assessment work and in preparing their assessment rolls (Real Property Tax Law, § 568(5); 9 NYCRR 190.2(b)(2)). When a tax map has been approved by the State Board, reference to the section, block and lot number of any parcel on such map is deemed in a sufficient description of such parcel for purposes of an assessment roll (§ 502(2)).

Subdivision 4 of section 1534 (substantially restated in the administrative rules promulgated by the State Board as set forth in 9 NYCRR 189.16) requires the original of an approved tax map to be filed in the office of the county director of real property tax services. The county director is then required to file an additional copy of any such map in the office of the county clerk.

Therefore, once a tax map was prepared for the city in question and was approved by the State Board, it was incumbent upon the city assessor to use tax map identifiers in describing parcels on assessment rolls prepared subsequent to such approval. Moreover, the county director should have filed a copy of that map with the county clerk.

When a tax district elects to enforce the payment of taxes by foreclosure actions “in rem”, the enforcing officer of that jurisdiction must file in the office of the county clerk a list of all parcels which are to be the subject of a foreclosure proceeding (§ 1122(1)). This list must include “a brief description sufficient to identify each parcel affected by such tax lien” (§ 1122(3)(a)). The statutory language continues with the following: “A description . . . of any parcel upon a tax map, or a lot number or other identification number of any tract, the map of which is filed in the county clerk’s or register’s office, shall be a sufficient description” (emphasis added).

In permitting description by means of identifiers on a tax map filed in the office of the county clerk, the Legislature was apparently attempting to make it possible for a person examining the list of delinquent parcels to contemporaneously examine a referenced tax map number on a map filed in the same office. This is in keeping with judicial interpretations of what would constitute an adequate description of tax delinquent property such that a person may lawfully be deprived of title to his property. As discussed in 5 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 31, description must be sufficient to permit identification of property by “a diligent taxpayer, anxious, in good faith to identify his land” or at least be of such a nature as to inform an interested party of some place or manner of obtaining a more complete description upon inquiry (see also, Hayes v. Blachly, 40 A.D.2d 518, 333 N.Y.S.2d 917 (2d Dept. 1972)).

Although the city may have properly used tax map identifiers for parcel descriptions in the preparation of assessment rolls (since a tax map had been approved), the fact that the tax map has not been filed with the county clerk would prevent the use of such descriptions for the purpose of identifying the delinquent parcels under section 1122. Use of the tax map identifiers under these circumstances would be in direct contravention of the statutory limitation on their use, thereby jeopardizing the validity of the foreclosure since the courts have consistently held that “scrupulous” or “strict” compliance with all statutory requirements is a requisite to divesting a person of title to his real property due to unpaid taxes (see, Helterline v. People, 295 N.Y. 245, 66 N.E.2d 345 (1946); Saranac land & Timber Co. v. Roberts, 208 N.Y. 288, 101 N.E. 898 (1913)).

July 2, 1980