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Volume 2 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 78

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessor (powers and duties) (inspection of interior of private residence) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(3), 306:

An assessor may not enter a private residence, for the purpose of inspection, without the permission of the taxpayer. In the event an assessor is unable to accurately appraise a parcel without an inspection of the property, and access to it is denied by the taxpayer, the assessor may use any reasonable method to aid him in arriving at an appraised value.

We have review[ed] an inquiry concerning the inspection of real property by assessors.

There is no specific source of reference on the right of an assessor in seeking entrance to the real property of a taxpayer or on his rights and obligations once on the property of a taxpayer. It would seem that an assessor, while on the property of a taxpayer, should be guided by a standard of “reasonableness”.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches. Except in certain carefully defined classes of cases, not relevant here, a search of private property without proper consent is “unreasonable” unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant. Stoner v. State of California, 376 U.S. 483, 84 S.Ct. 889, 11 L.Ed.2d. 856; United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, 72 S.Ct. 93, 96 L.Ed. 59.

In applying this Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless searches to administrative inspections, the Supreme Court of the United States has, absent consent, required a warrant for a “routine inspection of the physical condition of private property.” Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 530, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 1731, 18 L.Ed.2d 930.

Based on the foregoing cases, it is the opinion of this office that an assessor may not enter a private residence, for the purpose of inspection, without the permission of the taxpayer.

In the event an assessor is unable to accurately appraise a parcel of real property without an inspection of the property, and access to the property is denied by the taxpayer, the assessor would nevertheless have to arrive at an appraised value which most nearly reflects the probable value of the property. Such an appraisal of residential real property could be based on the improvements found in similar homes, an estimate of the interior of a home by third persons who have been there, or any other reasonable method calculated to aid the assessor under these circumstances.

November 15, 1972

Updated: