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Volume 5 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 18

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment, State-owned land (standard of assessment) (percentage of full value) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 306, 542:

State owned lands should be assessed at the same percentage of full value as privately owned lands on a town-wide average, rather than at the same percentage of full value as privately owned lands of the same type.

Our opinion has been requested concerning a suggestion that section 542 of the Real Property Tax Law requires the State Board to assess taxable state lands at the same percentage of full value as privately owned lands of the same type. In other words, if real property in general (i.e., residential, commercial, vacant, etc.) is assessed at 20% of full value, and vacant land, as a class, is assessed at 30% of full value, should state owned vacant lands be assessed at 30% of full value rather than the town-wide average of 20% of full value?

The appraisal of real property is not an exact science and competent appraisers often disagree as to the value of any particular parcel of real property. However, the proposed interpretation of section 542 as to the percentage of full value at which taxable state owned lands are required to be assessed is entirely without foundation.

Section 306 of the Real Property Tax Law requires that all real property be assessed at full value, and there is no authorization for assessing different classes of real property at various percentages of full value. Indeed, the Court of Appeals recently held in the case of Hellerstein v. Assessor of the Town of Islip, 37 N.Y.2d 1, 332 N.E.2d 279, 371 N.Y.S.2d 388, that the assessment of all real property at a uniform percentage of full value was not incompliance with section 306. Nevertheless, the Court recognized (citing the United States Supreme Court decision in Sioux City Bridge Co. v. Dakota County, 240 U.S. 441, 43 S.Ct. 190, 67 L.Ed. 340), that the State and Federal constitutions require that relief be available to aggrieved property owners in assessing units which violate the statutory standard in order to ensure the uniformity and equality required by law.

The proposed interpretation of section 542 would do violence to this requirement of uniformity and equality, in that state owned lands would be required to be inequitably assessed merely because the local officials have decided to inequitably assess similar privately owned lands.

Pursuant to Article 7 of the Real Property Tax Law, any property owner, upon proving that his property is assessed in excess of the percentage of full value at which other taxable real property is being assessed, is entitled to a reduction in his assessment in order to ensure that he bear no more than his fair share of the tax burden. It would be as unconscionable to require the assessment of state owned lands at a higher percentage of full value than other taxable real property merely because other similar privately owned property is so assessed, as it would be to limit the owners of such privately owned property to proving the ratio for that type of property rather than proving the average ratio at which all taxable real property is being assessed.

July 2, 1975

NOTE:  Construes law prior to L.1985, c.280.

Updated: