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Volume 4 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 49

Opinions of Counsel index

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

Large advertising signs (billboards) erected upon or affixed to the land may constitute real property depending on the character of the signs and the intent of permanent installation.

Our opinion has been requested concerning the taxable status of large advertising signs (commonly called billboards).

Subdivision 12, section 102 of the Real Property Tax Law provides, in part, as follows:

§ 102. Definitions
* * *
12. “Real property”, “property” or “land” mean and include:
* * *
(b) Buildings and other articles and structures, substructures and superstructures erected upon, under or above the land, or affixed thereto, . . .

Signs which are erected upon or affixed to the land may constitute real property within the meaning of the above-quoted definition. Whether advertising signs are real property depends upon the character of the signs and the intent of permanent installation (see, People ex rel. 100 Park Ave. v. Boyland, 144 N.Y.S.2d 88, aff’d, 309 N.Y. 685, 128 N.E.2d 325; People ex rel. National Exhibition v. Miller, 263 App.Div. 799, 31 N.Y.S.2d 581, aff’d, 288 N.Y. 698, 43 N.E.2d 87). In order for an article affixed to real property to be real property, the party installing it must have intended a permanent installation. Whether this intent exists must usually be determined on the basis of objective criteria. The size of the sign and the manner of affixation to the land are some evidence of a permanent installation. As an example, a sign 16 to 18 feet high, mounted on square concrete pylons imbedded in the ground would, in our opinion, constitute an “article” or “structure” erected upon the land with an intent to install permanently and as such is real property as defined above.

Where structures, such as the advertising signs being discussed, are erected upon the land of another under an agreement whereby it is provided that title to the structures is to remain in the builder or lessor, the structures are real property and are assessable as such. In such case it is recommended by this office that assessors assess the structures with the land and as part of the assessed valuation thereof since it facilitates tax collection and avoids enforcement problems should the tax remain unpaid and become a lien on the property. In such case enforcement proceedings are taken against the land upon which the sign is located rather than against the sign itself.

November 27, 1974

Updated: