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Volume 10 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 2

Opinions of Counsel index

Tax maps (preparation) (roles of assessor and county director of real property tax services) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 503, 1532; 9 NYCRR 189.1, 189.16:

It is the duty of the county director of real property tax services to maintain tax maps in accordance with the rules of the State Board of Real Property Services (9 NYCRR 189). Subject to those rules and applicable provisions of law, it is the duty of the assessor to determine what is a parcel for purposes of real property taxation.

We have been requested for an opinion concerning the duties and responsibilities of both the county director and the assessor in the preparation and maintenance of tax maps. In particular, we are asked whether either the director or the assessor has sole authority to consolidate individual properties into one parcel or to split one property into two or more parcels for assessment administration purposes.

The duty of the county director

Real Property Tax Law (RPTL), sections 503 and 1532, and the rules promulgated thereunder by the State Board of Real Property Services (9 NYCRR 189), require the county director of real property tax services:

1) to prepare and maintain a tax map, approved by the State Board, in current condition for each city and town therein;

2) to file the originals of the tax maps approved by the State Board in the office of the county director of real property tax services; and,

3) to annually supply a copy to each assessing jurisdiction for use in preparation of the assessment roll.

Section 503 also requires the assessor to use tax maps in preparing the assessment roll each year. Section 503 further provides that the county director thereafter is to make such changes from year to year as may be necessary to maintain the maps in current condition. This is to be done “with the cooperation and concurrence of the assessor” (RPTL, §503(2)). To facilitate and expedite this process, the county clerk is required to provide a separate and simultaneous report of real property transfers filed in that office to the county director and to the assessor of the affected municipality (RPTL, §574).

The duty of the assessor

The law directs the assessor to describe on the assessment roll each separately assessed parcel (RPTL, §502(2)). Where a tax map has been approved by the State Board, reference to the lot, block and section number or other identification numbers of any parcel on such map shall be deemed a sufficient description of such parcel (RPTL, §502(2)). However, sole authority is vested in the assessor:

1) to assess real property for the purpose of taxation (RPTL, §102(3));

2) to determine what is a parcel for assessment administration purposes (RPTL, §102(11)); {1} and

3) to prepare an assessment roll upon which all real property in the assessing jurisdiction is to be listed.

It should also be observed that when assessment roll parcel descriptions refer to tax map identification numbers, the tax map, of necessity, becomes part and parcel of the assessment roll, and together they form one integrated document (see RPTL, §503(2) and 9 NYCRR 189.16).

Consolidation of parcels

It is clear that the county director of real property tax services has the sole duty and responsibility to prepare, maintain and update tax maps for all cities and towns within the county. However, it is also clear the assessor has a definite role in this process. In recognition of this dual responsibility, and as noted above, the law expressly provides that tax map maintenance is to be done by the county director “with the cooperation and concurrence of the assessor,” because assessors are charged with the duty to use the tax maps in their assessment work and in making up the assessment rolls (RPTL, §503). In tax map maintenance, most changes will be routine and may be made on a unilateral basis. However, some changes will require consultation between the county director and assessor.

For tax map and assessment administration purposes, the term “lot,” which is synonymous with “land parcel,” means a contiguous land area under a single fee ownership as far as may be practicable, used or intended for use as a single piece (9 NYCRR 189.1(h),(i)). Generally, the determination of what constitutes a parcel is made on the basis of an individual deed description. In common parlance the expression “one deed, one parcel” usually prevails. However, on occasion it has been opined by some in the assessment community that multiple and separately deeded properties under the same ownership must be combined and described as a single property in a new deed to be considered one parcel for assessment administration purposes. Such action by a property owner would, of course, establish the basis for a single parcel determination, but it is not an essential prerequisite.

There is nothing in the law or rules to specifically require or prohibit separate assessment parcel determination in either situation. It is largely a matter of discretion to be determined by the assessor on a case-by-case basis (5 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 118). When several properties are in fact used in a single operation forming one economic unit, an adequate basis is provided for combining the properties into a single parcel for purposes of assessment administration. We also suggest to assessors and county directors that, in making such determination, an initial consideration should be whether the property so described could withstand a tax sale proceeding should the taxes levied thereon go unpaid.

In conclusion, it is the duty of the county director of real property tax services to maintain tax maps in accordance with the rules of the State Board (9 NYCRR 189). Subject to those rules and applicable provisions of law, it is the duty of the assessor to determine what is a parcel for purposes of real property taxation.

May 26, 1994
Reissued May 1995


{1}  3 Op.Counsel SBEA Nos. 34 and 119; 5 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 46; 7 Op.Counsel SBEA No.23. (There are specific exceptions dictated by statute or rule, see, e.g., Real Property Law, §339-y, with respect to condominiums; RPTL, §102(12)(b), with regard to mobile homes; RPTL, §504(4), with regard to subdivisions; and, 9 NYCRR 189.1(i) with regard to properties bisected by a municipal boundary.)

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