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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 37

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessments, generally (conflicting ownership claim) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 502, 504:

A denial of title by a person whose name is listed on an assessment roll as an owner of certain real property does not affect the validity of the assessment or of taxes levied thereon.

We have been asked whether there is an enforceable lien when a tax has been levied on real property the ownership of which is in dispute. Several gasoline storage tanks have been assessed to a Corporation which claims it transferred title to the tanks to other parties. As proof, the Corporation submitted an unexecuted copy of a bill of sale dated 1973. The two alleged grantees named therein, however, deny having acquired title to the tanks. The Corporation has requested that the municipality “cancel” the assessment.

Subdivision 2 of section 502 of the Real Property Tax Law requires the assessor to separately assess each parcel of real property and to include “the name of the owner, last known owner or reputed owner” (see also, 9 NYCRR 192-1.3). Subdivision 4 of section 504 makes it clear that an error in the name of the owner will not affect the validity of the taxes levied on the real property. That subdivision reads as follows:

If in the preparation of the roll, an error or omission is made . . . in entering or failing to enter the name of the owner, last known owner or reputed owner, such error . . . shall not prevent the levy, collection and enforcement of the payment of the taxes thereon if the parcel can be identified and located with reasonable certainty.

This means that if the description is otherwise sufficient to identify the property, an error in the name of the owner will not invalidate an assessment (see, e.g., Crockford v. Zecher, 74 Misc.2d 1067, 347 N.Y.S.2d 105 (S.Ct., Wayne Co., 1973), aff’d, 45 A.D.2d 914, 358 N.Y.S.2d 978 (4th Dept., 1974)).

Although the best evidence of ownership may be a recorded deed, it is not necessary that such evidence be presented before an assessor may change the name of the owner of real property on an assessment roll (see, 5 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 48). If the assessor is satisfied on the basis of other evidence presented that title to a parcel has been transferred to new owners, he may enter the names of those owners on the next prepared assessment roll. In our opinion, however, an unexecuted copy of a bill of sale would not ordinarily constitute satisfactory evidence of a transfer of title, particularly where the alleged grantees deny acquiring ownership.

In conclusion, the assessment of these gasoline storage tanks in the name of the Corporation satisfies the requirements of the Real Property Tax Law assuming, of course, that the tanks are real property as defined in section 102(12) of the Real Property Tax Law. This assumption being correct, the assessment would be valid and the municipality would have no authority, therefore, to cancel the lien of the tax levied thereon (cf., e.g., Real Property Tax Law, § 558).

September 18, 1979