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Volume 2 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 114

Opinions of Counsel index

Correction of errors (erroneous acreage) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 554, 556, 1316:

The listing of acreage upon an assessment roll is mainly for purposes of identification. The mere fact that the acreage indicated on the assessment roll is erroneous does not constitute sufficient grounds for correcting the school tax roll. Neither the board of supervisors nor the school authorities may act to change assessments in areas which require the exercise of judgment as to the valuation of real property.

We have received an inquiry from a director of real property tax services who is concerned about our opinion to the effect that the listing of acreage upon an assessment roll is mainly for purposes of identification, and the mere fact that the acreage indicated on the assessment roll was erroneous would not, in itself, constitute sufficient grounds for correcting the school tax roll.

He states that it is his opinion that where the land assessment is based on the per acre value, and the assessment has been computed on the wrong number of acres, a manifest clerical error exists, and that such error may be corrected by the county board of supervisors or the school authorities.

A manifest clerical error is one which is obvious on the face of the assessment roll and is clear, apparent and manifest from an examination of the assessment roll itself and which requires no extrinsic evidence to make it clear (In re Wadhams’ Estate, 249 App. Div. 271, 292 N.Y.S. 102). It is the opinion of this office that the school authorities, in relation to such errors, may exercise no judgment but rather perform merely ministerial duties in reference thereto, as is the case with such corrections made by the board of supervisors (Matter of Schroder, 187 N.Y.S. 680).

The school authorities could not determine, merely by looking at the assessment roll, whether the lands in question were upland or swamplands.

Sections 554 and 556 of the Real Property Tax Law concerning corrections which may be made by the board of supervisors, and section 1316 concerning corrections, which may be made by the school authorities, must be strictly construed. Such bodies may not act to change assessments in areas which require the exercise of judgment as to the valuation of real property. To authorize such action would open the door to a variety of possible abuses which the statutory scheme set forth in the Real Property Tax Law is designed to prevent.

In the situation herein described, if the assessor made an error in transcribing from his property record card to the assessment roll, he may petition the board of supervisors to correct the assessment pursuant to section 554. Likewise, he may petition the school authorities, pursuant to section 1316, to correct such error. However, neither the board of supervisors nor the school authorities may, on their own initiative, make such corrections.

If this situation exists, and if the assessor does not so petition the board of supervisors or the school authorities, the resulting inequity to the taxpayer may seem harsh, but it should also be noted that the taxpayer was afforded the opportunity to examine the tentative assessment roll and to file any complaint which he might have had concerning the assessment of his property. The only other recourse which the taxpayer might possibly have would be a proceeding pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules to compel the assessor to take the necessary steps to obtain a correction of the assessment. We have not been able to locate any case in which such a proceeding was commenced, and we are unable to provide a precedent as to the likelihood of success in such a proceeding, but it is our opinion that upon a proper showing of the factual situation as set forth above (i.e., that the assessor made an error in transcription), that relief would be afforded the taxpayer.

December 12, 1972

NOTE:  Construes law prior to L.1974, c.177.

Updated: