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Volume 3 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 84

Opinions of Counsel index

Real property, definition of (docks) - Real Property Tax Law, § 102(12)(b):

Docks are real property for taxation purposes when they are erected upon or affixed to land. Improvements placed on land by one not the owner of the land may be assessed to the owner of the improvements.

Our opinion has been requested as to whether or not certain docks being constructed in a town are real property subject to assessment and taxation.

The docks in question extend into a river. A road runs along the shoreline of the river with houses located on the side of the road away from the river. Some owners of these houses are erecting the docks in question. A small amount of above-water land on which the docks are erected is located between the river and the road. Apparently ownership of this shoreline land has always been in question as well as whether or not the owners of property on the other side of the road have any riparian rights.

Paragraph (b) of subdivision 12 of section 102 of the Real Property Tax Law expressly makes “buildings and other articles and structures, substructures and superstructures erected upon, under or above the land, or affixed thereto, including bridges, wharfs and piers together with the value of the right to collect, wharfage, cranage or dockage” real property for taxation purposes. A “dock” is a “pier or wharf” (American Heritage Dictionary, 1969 Ed., p. 387); thus “docks” clearly are real property for taxation purposes where erected upon or affixed to land.

          The owners of the docks probably do not have any interest in the land on which the docks are being erected nor riparian rights which would give them the right to build the docks. These facts are immaterial. A long line of cases holds that improvements placed on land by one not the owner of the land may nonetheless be assessed in the name of the owner of the improvements (People v. Cassidy, 46 N.Y. 46; Smith v. Mayor, 68 N.Y.552; People ex. rel. Van Nest v. Commissioners of Taxation, 80 N.Y.573; and Matter of Fort Hamilton Manor v. Boyland, 4 N.Y.2d 192, 149 N.E.2d 866, 173 N.Y.S.2d 574).

In Smith v. Mayor, supra, the court held that a pier constructed on tax exempt land belonging to New York City was taxable in the name of the owner of the pier.

Thus, even though the assessor is not assessing the land on which the docks are located because he considers the land to be tax exempt, the docks which are owned by persons not entitled to a tax exemption are taxable.

February 22, 1974

Updated: