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Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 25

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment roll (level of assessment) (change) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 502, 504:

An assessor must state the applicable level of assessment on the tentative assessment roll. An assessor may proceed in the manner provided in section 504(5) of the Real Property Tax Law to change the indicated level of assessment between the electronic data processing tentative roll “deadline” and the actual filing of that tentative roll. Once the tentative roll is filed, however, the level of assessment cannot be changed.

Several town assessors have inquired as to changing their published levels of assessment [LOA]. Section 502(3) of the Real Property Tax Law provides that “[t]he assessment roll shall set forth the uniform percentage of value applicable to the assessing unit . . . pursuant to section [305 of the RPTL]. . . .” The statute is silent as to whether the published percentage may be changed and, if so, how it may be done.

While section 502(3) refers to the LOA appearing on “the” assessment roll, taken in context with other provisions of title one of Article five of the RPTL [of which § 502 is part], it seems clear that the reference is to the tentative roll. That is, pursuant to section 305 of the RPTL, the assessor is obligated to assess at a uniform percentage of value (thereby explaining the cross-reference in § 502(3)). The verification, which the assessor must place on the tentative assessment roll, states that the assessments on such roll are “in accordance” with the provisions of section 305 (RPTL, § 505(1)). Contrast the verification language of the final assessment roll (RPTL, § 514) which clearly recognizes that the assessor may disagree with some, most, or even all of the changes ordered by the board of assessment review. Clearly, if that board directs significant changes to be made, the final roll may be at a very different LOA than the tentative roll. Yet, there is no provision either authorizing or permitting a different LOA to appear on the final roll.

The LOA publication requirement was added by chapter 611 of the Laws of 1999 at the behest of the State Board. It was intended as a follow-up to the so-called Property Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (L.1997, c.389 Part B, §§ 4 and 5) enacted in conjunction with the school tax relief [STAR] program. Its obvious purpose was to provide more meaningful information for the taxpayer who inspects the assessment roll. Having (presumably) knowledge of only his or her property’s full market value, the property owner needs to know both the property’s assessed value and the LOA to determine if the assessment is fair. Since administrative review before the board of assessment review is a prerequisite to later judicial review, the property owner needs reliable information to appear on the tentative roll.

Again, while the statute is silent as to changing the LOA on the tentative roll, it does contain a procedure for changing that roll after it is prepared but before it is verified and filed. Section 504(5) of the RPTL permits an assessor to correct erroneous entries before the tentative roll is filed by making such changes to the roll and by preparing a verified list of changes for filing with the tentative roll and the county director of real property tax services. It seems consistent to conclude that an assessor who enters an LOA onto the roll may follow a similar procedure for changing that LOA just as he or she may do for the assessments contained on that roll. This allows for a change in the LOA between the electronic data processing tentative roll “deadline” and the actual filing of that tentative roll. Once the tentative roll is filed, however, the LOA cannot be changed. Any further allowable change would undermine the very purpose of the LOA: timely taxpayer knowledge.

May 7, 2002