Volume 4 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 102
Aged exemption (application) (public records) - General Municipal Law, § 51; Real Property Tax Law, § 467:
Applications for exemption pursuant to section 467 of the Real Property Tax Law are public records.
Our opinion has been requested as to whether applications for exemption filed pursuant to section 467 of the Real Property Tax Law (the so-called aged exemption) are public records as that term is used within the new Freedom of Information Law (Public Officers Law, Article 6) . There is some contention that to allow inspection of all or part of the application would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy. In our opinion, the Freedom of Information Law merely reinforces the notion of public accessibility to aged exemption forms; that is, such forms were always subject to public inspection and remain so today. Section 51 of the General Municipal Law provides in relevant part as follows:
. . . All books of minutes, entry or account, and the books, bills, vouchers, checks, contracts or other papers connected with or used or filed in the office of, or with any officer, board or commission acting for or on behalf of any county, town, village or municipal corporation in this state or any body corporate or other unit of local government in this state which possesses the power to levy taxes or benefit assessments upon real estate or to require the levy of such tax or assessments or for which taxes or benefit assessments upon real estate may be required pursuant to law to be levied, . . . are hereby declared to be public records, and shall be open during all regular business hours, subject to reasonable regulations to be adopted by the applicable local legislative body, to the inspection of any taxpayer or registered voter, who may copy, photograph or make photocopies thereof on the premises where such records are regularly kept . . .
Thus, while it may be contended that an applicant for the aged (or other exemptions) is entitled to some privacy, it is nevertheless true that other taxpayers, not enjoying such exemptions, will be forced to bear a greater tax burden, and have a right to inspect the applications of those claiming exemptions. It seems quite clear that to deny public access to such records could result in improper assessment procedures. While an argument for privacy exists, the equities of the situation would seem to favor disclosure. Consequently, it is our opinion that applications for aged exemptions (Form EA-356) are public records.
February 27, 1975
NOTE: Modified by Opinion 11-30.