Volume 2 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 75
Assessment roll (verification) (assessor’s oath) - Real Property Tax Law, § 514:
In signing the statutory verification of the assessment roll, assessors are not swearing that they have assessed the real property appearing thereon at full value, but rather that to the best of their knowledge all real property within their jurisdiction is listed, and that in arriving at the assessed valuation of such property, they have estimated the full value thereof.
It has been suggested to us that the form of the verification of the assessment roll be changed since it presently states:
“(W)e (the assessors) have estimated the value of such real property at the sums which we have decided to be the full value thereof.” (emphasis supplied)
Some assessors believe that they cannot in good conscience execute a verification containing such language since they do not assess real property at full value. They believe that to ask anyone, under oath, to sign this statement as presently written is in effect requesting an act of swearing that something is true which one knows to be false.
The form of the verification of the assessment roll is prescribed by statute (Real Property Tax Law, § 514) and the complete verification reads as follows:
“‘We, the undersigned, do severally depose and swear that, to the best of our knowledge and belief, we have set forth in the foregoing assessment roll all the real property situated in the assessing unit in which we are assessors and, with the exception of changes made by a board of review and special franchises assessed by the State Board, we have estimated the value of such real property at the sums which we have decided to be the full value thereof’”.
A similar question was raised as long ago as 1874 in the case of People ex rel. Westchester County v. Fowler, 55 N.Y. 252. At that time, the statutory verification stated that the assessors estimated the value of real property “at the sums which a majority of the assessors have decided to be the true and full value thereof, and at which they would appraise the same in payment of a just debt due from a solvent debtor”. The assessors made and subscribed an oath, annexed to the roll, in which they stated that, in making the assessment roll, they had estimated the value of the real estate therein at the sums which a majority of assessors had decided was its true and full value, but they omitted to state that the valuations were those “at which they would appraise the same in payment of a just debt due to a solvent debtor.” The Board of Supervisors commenced a proceeding to compel the assessors to make the oath in the form prescribed by the statute. The assessors defended the proceeding on the ground that they did not enter real property on the assessment roll at its full value or at the true or full value at which they would appraise it in payment of a just debt due from a solvent debtor, but rather entered such property at a percentage of full and true value and a percentage of the sum at which they would appraise it in payment of a just debt from a solvent debtor.
The Court of Appeals, in affirming an order of the General Term of the Supreme Court reversing an order of Special Term directing that a peremptory mandamus issue commanding the assessors to make the oath in the form prescribed by statute, stated:
“Upon the facts now shown it is clear that they did not decide that the valuation of the real estate, as found in the assessment roll, was its true or full value. In making the assessment, they intentionally inserted a valuation much less. If they decided at all what the real value was, it was merely to enable them to insert in the roll the proportion of that value which they had agreed upon as the proper basis of assessment. The entry of a sum in the roll as the value, although the assessors agreed to regard it, for the purpose of assessment, as the true value, was not in any proper or legitimate sense, under the circumstances, a decision by them that the sum inserted was the true or full value.” (emphasis supplied)
It is our opinion, in accordance with the Fowler decision, that the statutory verification does not state that the assessors have “assessed” the real property appearing thereon at full value, but rather states that to the best of their knowledge the assessors have listed all real property within their jurisdiction and “in arriving at the assessed valuation of such property” they have estimated the full value thereof. In other words, regardless of the percentage of full value at which the assessors determine to assess real property, they must first estimate the full value of the property in order to determine the assessment.
November 29, 1972