Volume 5 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 13
Taxes (delinquent) (separate assessments) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 502, 1018:
While it is possible to separately assess improvements apart from the land, such procedure is not recommended because of potential problems in enforcing the collection of real property taxes thereon. Where an improvement is separately assessed, unpaid taxes thereon may be enforced as long as the property being separately assessed is sufficiently described on the assessment roll so that it is clear what is being sold for unpaid taxes.
We have received an inquiry concerning the enforcement of unpaid real property taxes on a separately assessed improvement which a county may be required to bid in at a tax sale.
While it is possible to separately assess improvements apart from the land, such procedure is not to be recommended since problems in enforcing the collection of real property taxes may arise. It should be noted that with certain exceptions (see, e.g., Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(12)(g); 564), an assessor in assessing property for taxation purposes is not required to recognize the various ways in which title to a particular tract or item of real property may be divided. In this regard it has been held that an assessor cannot be forced to assess improvements which are owned by one other than the landowner separate from the land on which they are located (Doughty v. Loomis, 9 App.Div.2d 574, 189 N.Y.S.2d 413, aff’d, 8 N.Y.2d 722, 167 N.E.2d 643, 201 N.Y.S.2d 100). Where such property is assessed as one parcel, it is up to the owner of the land on which such buildings are located to make sure that his internal arrangements with the separate owners of any improvements located thereon are such that he is able to make the payments of taxes thereon. Accordingly, on subsequent assessment rolls it would be our recommendation that the assessor include the assessment of the building in the assessment of the land.
Assessments are against the real property itself, and should taxes levied thereon remain unpaid, enforcement proceedings are to be taken against the real property (Real Property Tax Law, § 304). Where improvements are separately assessed, the unpaid taxes on such real property may be enforced as long as the item which is separately assessed is sufficiently described on the assessment roll so that it is identifiable and it is clear exactly what is being sold for unpaid taxes.
Pursuant to Real Property Tax Law, section 1018, if any parcel sold for taxes is not redeemed within the appropriate time, upon application in writing, the county treasurer is to execute to the purchaser a conveyance of the real property sold (subd. 1). If no application is made within five years from the last date of the sale, the certificate of sale becomes void, except where held by the State, the county, or a purchaser who is the owner of record of the lands sold (subd. 3). While the county may hold such certificate of sale, there is no requirement that the county make application for such conveyance, and should the county elect not to do so, the property will remain on the tax rolls.
Where, however, the period of redemption has passed and the county actually acquired title pursuant to subdivisions 1 and 4 of section 1018, then the county becomes the record owner. If the county cannot subsequently dispose of the property to another party pursuant to statute (§ 1018(4)), then the property is the responsibility of the county.
June 4, 1975