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Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 7

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment disclosure (notice) (questionnaire) - Real Property Tax Law, § 511; 9 NYCRR 190-2.1:

A taxpayer’s submission of a valuation questionnaire cannot be a prerequisite to attending a meeting (as prescribed in section 511 of the Real Property Tax Law) with the assessor or assessor’s representative to discuss a revaluation program.

We have been asked to comment concerning the assessment disclosure procedure apparently being followed in several towns which are updating their assessments this year. The assessment disclosure notice (Real Property Tax Law, § 511) has been accompanied by a four-page questionnaire referring to the owner’s right to an “informal hearing” as well as the right to submit information tending to disprove the preliminary assessment appearing on the notice. Among other things, the questionnaire requests the submission of recent appraisals of the property as well as comparable properties which are either assessed for less than the subject property or which have been sold within the past three years. For commercial property, income and expense statements, leases, etc., are sought. Some taxpayers have expressed concern regarding the form and ask whether they can meet with the assessor (or his or her representative) if the form is incomplete or not submitted at all.

In 10 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 80, we discussed late, defective and insufficient complaints filed with boards of assessment review. We counseled against such boards sending demands for additional information having a “forbidding” or “legalistic” tone (e.g., a failure to submit all required information will result in dismissal of the complaint). Instead, we concluded that a board of assessment review may “demand certain documents and then...dismiss the complaint if the documents are not produced, provided the demands are reasonable.”

The information being sought in the questionnaires in issue is certainly relevant to property assessments but, in our opinion, their content and tenor introduce a procedural formality which is not intended at the assessment disclosure phase of a revaluation or update (RPTL, § 102(12-a)).

First, the material uses the unfortunate phrase “informal hearing.” Within administrative law, Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed.) defines a “hearing” as: “Any setting in which an affected person presents arguments to an agency decision-maker.” Neither the statute nor the State Board’s rules use such phrase, because the assessment disclosure meeting is not a hearing nor was it ever intended to be a hearing.

Since its enactment (L.1979, c.483), section 511(3) of the RPTL has provided:

Subsequent to the mailing of the notice required by subdivision one of this section, the assessor and representatives of any independent contractors employed in the revaluation program, shall be available to provide explanations of the program, including consideration of objections or complaints of owners of real property within said assessing unit.

Consistent therewith, the State Board’s rules refer to “assessment disclosure meetings” at which “the data compiled during the revaluation will be available for inspection” (9 NYCRR 190-2.1(a)(3), (5)). Section 511 was drafted by this agency, and in our memorandum recommending its enactment, we said:

Coincident with the need for a statement to each individual [taxpayer] is the need for the ready availability to all of information regarding the purpose and methodology of the program. Assessors, independent contractors associated with the program, and public officials generally must also be available to explain this information in further detail. Thus, this bill requires meetings to be held for the purpose of describing the program and giving all concerned the opportunity to present their views and correct errors in data or judgment (1979 NYS Legislative Annual, p.294, 295).

Therefore, the purpose of the assessment disclosure meeting is to give the taxpayer the opportunity to examine the data upon which the preliminary assessment has been based. A related purpose was to reduce the number of formal assessment complaints being filed by taxpayers who failed to apprehend that a large increase in assessed value during a revaluation does not necessarily translate into a large increase in taxes. {1}  As we concluded in our memorandum of support:  “The assessment disclosure notice has worked to assuage the fears and concerns of many such property owners, and the meetings held with public officials to discuss the notice and other information relative to the program have often resulted in a decrease in the number of persons who feel the need to file complaints” (ibid.).  Certainly, taxpayers may submit evidence of valuation of their property at the assessment disclosure meeting, but, equally certainly, taxpayers may simply attend, review the assessment data, and leave to decide thereafter if further assessment review is warranted on their part.

Completion of a questionnaire such as the one in issue, while relevant to valuation, cannot be a prerequisite to the assessment disclosure meeting. This is true even if such data might justifiably be sought by an assessor or a board of assessment review at a different stage of the assessment process.

March 22, 2001

{1}  Section 511 was enacted long before the assessment stipulation procedure (L.1996, c.541) which now provides an additional opportunity to resolve assessment disagreements without need for a formal hearing before the board of assessment review.