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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 67

Opinions of Counsel index

Board of Assessment Review (powers and duties) (assessor’s methodology) - Real Property Tax Law, § 1524:

The primary responsibility of a board of assessment review is to determine whether the assessment of each complainant is illegal or erroneous by reason of inequality or overvaluation, without regard to the methods employed by the assessor in making his own determinations.

An assessor doubled the assessment of almost one third of the parcels within his town, without comparable adjustments to the remaining parcels in the town. A question has been raised concerning what action the board of assessment review should take, as not all persons whose assessments were raised have complained.

It is the function of the board of assessment review to “determine the final assessment of the real property of each complainant” (Real Property Tax Law, § 1524(2)(c)). In doing this, a board performs a quasi-judicial activity, judging what assessment is proper for a particular parcel (700 Shore Road Associates v. Board of Assessment Review, 70 Misc.2d 822, 335 N.Y.S.2d 114 (S.Ct., Nassau Co., 1972). The value entered on the tentative assessment roll is presumed to be correct (People ex ret. Wallington Apartments, Inc. v. Miller, 288 N.Y. 31, 41 N.E.2d 445 (1942)); however, once a complainant introduces substantial contrary information, the presumption disappears (Richardson on Evidence, § 72 (10th ed. 1973)).

Generally, neither the courts nor the State Legislature have mandated particular valuation methods; rather any method which results in an equitable distribution of the tax burden will be upheld if applied in a nondiscriminatory manner (Merrick Holding Corp. v. Board of Assessors, 45 N.Y.2d 538, 382 N.E.2d 1341, 410 N.Y.S.2d 565 (1978)). Where an improper method has been used, the question for a board of assessment review remains the correct assessment for the particular parcel (Bertholf v. Cisco, 72 Misc.2d 901, 339 N.Y.S.2d 798 (S.Ct., Sullivan Co., 1973), aff’d, 45 A.D.2d 787, 357 N.Y.S.2d 1023 (3d Dept., 1974)). The agreement or disagreement of a board of assessment review with the assessor’s methodology should not determine a complainant’s final assessment. However, arbitrary or uniform mathematical changes to particular types of property create additional problems.

In those jurisdictions not assessing real property at full value, the State and Federal Constitutions require that all assessments be at a uniform ratio of full value (Sioux City Bridge Co. v. Dakota County, 260 U.S. 441 (1923); Wolf v. Assessors, Town of Hanover, 308 N.Y. 416, 126 N.E.2d 537 (1955)). Moreover, subdivision 2 of section 305 of the Real Property Tax Law now provides, in part, “All real property in each assessing unit shall be assessed at a uniform percentage of value . . .”. Rote application of a factor to only certain properties without comparable adjustments to other types may violate this uniformity principle (see, Windsor Manor, Inc. v. Malaussena, n.o.r., index #80-14840, Cromarty, J. (S.Ct., Suffolk Co., 11/24/80); 4 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 55). Indeed, a rote application of a multiplier to an inequitable assessment roll will necessarily produce an inequitable assessment roll (6 id. No. 84).

The proper course of action by the board of assessment review is to determine the final assessment for each complaint before it. The failure of similarly treated taxpayers to complain is irrelevant to the determination of a particular assessment. Similarly, speculation as to the outcome of litigation against the assessor’s methods should not be engaged in by the board.

December 2, 1980
Revised December 10, 1981