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Volume 5 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 73

Opinions of Counsel index

Correction of errors (error in essential fact) (refund) (documentation) - Real Property Tax Law, § 556-a:

Documentation must be submitted in order to correct an error in essential fact, pursuant to section 556-a of the Real Property Tax Law. At the least, a copy of the assessor’s original work product should be submitted. Since there is a one year statute of limitations in which to correct an error in essential fact, a short enough time to guarantee adequate administrative control of such corrections, the county real property tax services agency may not prescribe a shorter period for the receipt of the documentation relating to the error.

Our opinion has been requested concerning the administration of the “Correction of Errors” Law (Real Property Tax Law, Article 5, Title 3).

The first inquiry concerns the submission of rather meager evidence to document an “error in essential fact.” Section 556-a which contains the procedure for correction of errors in essential fact states in subdivision 4(b), as follows:

Such application for correction pursuant to this subdivision shall include documentation of the error in essential fact. Such documentation shall include a copy of the property record card, field book, or other final work product upon which the incorrect assessment was based and a copy of any existing municipal record which substantiates the occurrence of the error in fact.

The documentation in this case consists of two single “office reports” which state simply that buildings (improvements) were entered on the wrong parcel. This, of course, conforms to the definition of error in essential fact contained in section 550 (3)(b) of the Real Property Tax Law:

an incorrect entry on the taxable portion of the assessment roll, or the tax roll, or both, of the assessed valuation of an improvement to real property which was not in existence or which was present on a different parcel . . .

At the least, section 556-a would require a copy of the assessor’s original work product. We assume there is some type of original record card, field book or other type of documentation which would show the erroneous assessment of the improvements for which a refund is sought. The law requires a copy of existing municipal records only where such records are, in fact, available to prove an occurrence of an error in essential fact. In the situation where an improvement is placed on the wrong parcel, there would be no other municipal record than the original work product of the assessor showing the erroneous assessment of the improvement to the wrong parcel. We therefore conclude that along with the submitted “office report,” the assessor should be required to submit a copy of his original erroneous entries concerning these improvements.

The second related question concerns the setting by the County Real Property Tax Services Agency of an administrative time limit for the receipt of documentation for correction of an error. Documentation beyond the actual entries on assessment and tax rolls is only required for an “error in essential fact.” Section 556-a of the Real Property Tax Law sets out a strict one-year time limitation within which to correct an error in essential fact (5 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 57). This would seem to be a short enough time limitation to guarantee adequate administrative control of the correction of these errors. As the statute specifically sets out a statute of limitations which the taxpayer may rely on for seeking correction of an error in essential fact, the Agency would not be justified in imposing an administrative time limit which is shorter than the one-year time limitation.

April 22, 1976

NOTE:  Cites former RPTL, section 556-a.

Updated: