Volume 3 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 25
Assessment roll (designation of owner) - Real Property Law, § 291; Real Property Tax Law, §§ 500, 574:
Under Real Property Law, section 291, recording of title is not mandatory. Therefore, ownership of property as indicated on the assessment roll need not be consistent with the last recorded deed, but it should be consistent with information made available to the assessor.
Our opinion has been requested as to whether ownership data appearing on real property assessment records prepared for purposes of taxation must reflect the ownership indicated on the last recorded deed.
The Real Property Law, section 291 provides that a conveyance of real property may be recorded in the office of the county clerk where such property is situated. This section was designed to protect persons dealing with certain conveyances and instruments and to prevent deceit or fraud. Pursuant to Real Property Tax Law, section 574, a county clerk is required to furnish assessors monthly reports of all transfers of real property filed in his office. The purpose of this provision is to assist assessors to improve city, town and village assessments, and therefore most changes relating to ownership made on assessment records are based on recorded instruments.
Under Real Property Law, section 291, recording is permissive and not mandatory. Some persons who acquire real property, for certain reasons, may not elect to record the instrument of conveyance.
Section 500 of the Real Property Tax Law provides that each year on or before taxable status date the assessor in each city and town shall ascertain by diligent inquiry all the real property located therein and the names of the owners thereof. The owners of real property referred to in this section are the present owners and they need not necessarily be the persons who have last recorded a deed to their property.
As a general rule we recommend that an assessment roll should list the name of the owner of record title and the description of the property as contained in the recorded instrument. However, if the assessor is in possession of information which satisfies him that the ownership or property description varies from that on record, such information should properly be reflected in the assessment records. In such case an assessor should endeavor to obtain copies of any documents such as an unrecorded deed, a decree of a surrogate, etc. evidencing such changes for his files.
April 30, 1973