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Volume 8 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 29

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment review, small claims (land value) - RPTL, §§ 502, 730:

In a small claims assessment review proceeding, a petitioner may limit his claim and his evidence to the land value portion of a total assessment. However, the hearing officer must determine the L fairness of the assessment based upon the total assessed value.

We have been asked whether otherwise eligible petitioners in small claims assessment review proceedings (Real Property Tax Law [RPTL], Article 7, Title 1-A) may contest only the land portion of their assessments.

A petition for small claims assessment review may be filed by any owner of real property claiming to be aggrieved by an “assessment” of real property on the ground that the assessment is unequal or excessive (RPTL, § 730(1 )(a)). Section 502 provides that the assessment roll shall have an entry for both “land” and “total” assessment. Subdivision (3) of that section provides that only the total assessment is subject to judicial review pursuant to Article 7, which includes small claims. However, this latter provision should not be construed as precluding a taxpayer from contesting the value which the assessor has determined that the land contributes to the whole parcel (see, People ex rel. Strong v. Hart, 216 N.Y. 513, 111 N.E. 56 (1916)).

Where detailed property record cards are maintained (RPTL, § 500(1)), the value which the assessor has ascribed to each component of a parcel is readily apparent. After examining the appropriate property record card, a property owner may conclude that one or more components has been erroneously valued. In contesting the assessment, the owner will request a reduction in the total assessment based upon the value which he or she believes is properly attributable to each component.

For example, assume a residential dwelling and lot on which the total assessment is $50,000 and the land is valued at $7,500 (assume that there are no other improvements on the parcel). Although the owner has no objection to the value ascribed to the improvement ($42,500), he believes that the land is worth less than $7,500, based upon recent sales of unimproved residential lots in the locality which indicate that the value should be $6,000. Accordingly, in his assessment complaint, the homeowner requests a $1,500 reduction in the total assessment, while indicating that his objection is in regard to the assessed value of his land. In so doing, the property owner acts within the law. Because it is the total assessment which is subject to review, however, the assessor may concede the issue of the land value, but contend that he underassessed the dwelling by at least $1,500 and that the total assessment, thus, is entirely proper. Since it is the total assessment which is subject to review, the hearing officer must consider the assessor’s contentions. However, it is incumbent upon the assessor to come forward with this argument, and if he does not, then the hearing officer should base his decision on the evidence presented.

December 6, 1983