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Volume 9 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 63

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment review, board of; Assessment review, small claims (representation by non-attorney) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 524, 730:

A non-attorney may represent a taxpayer in administrative proceedings before the board of assessment review and in small claims assessment review proceedings.

We have been asked whether an individual, who is not an attorney, may represent another taxpayer before the board of assessment review or in a small claims assessment review hearing.

Section 524(3) of the RPTL provides that an administrative complaint with respect to an assessment

must be made by the person whose property is assessed, or by some person authorized in writing by the complainant or his officer or agent to make such statement who has knowledge of the facts therein. Such written authorization must be made part of such statement and bear a date within the same calendar year during which the complaint is filed.

There is nothing in the statute which suggests that one who is not an attorney is precluded from acting as a designated representative of another taxpayer, and we are not aware that the statute has ever been given such meaning. The EA-524 assessment complaint form prescribed by the State Board (RPTL, §524(3)) makes provision for the designation of a representative (EA-524-Part 4).

With respect to small claims assessment review, subdivision (6) of section 730 of the RPTL, provides:

The petition may be made by a person who has knowledge of the facts stated therein and who is authorized in writing by the property owner to file such petition. Such written authorization must be made a part of the petition and bear a date within the same calendar year during which the complaint is filed.

Subdivision (1) of section 732 provides that a small claims petitioner “need not present expert witnesses nor be represented by an attorney....”

In construing this provision, the Appellate Division, Second Department, held that representation by non-attorneys in small claims assessment review proceedings (RPTL, Article 7, Title 1-A) is permitted (Cippolone v. City of White Plains, 181 A.D.2d 887, 581 N.Y.S.2d 421 (2d Dept., 1992)). The Court noted that the statute clearly permits such representation and that the specialized nature of the expertise required justifies an exception to the normal rule regarding unauthorized practice of law. The Court specifically declined to follow dicta in Property Valuation Analysts, Inc. v. Williams, 164 A.D.2d 131, 563 N.Y.S.2d 543 (3d Dept., 1990), where the Third Department stated that, while a non-attorney may be designated as a representative of another taxpayer for proceedings before the board of assessment review, such non-attorney may not enter into a retainer agreement with the taxpayer in which it promises to pursue judicial relief in contesting the assessment. The Third Department found that the use of this type of agreement constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. However, the Court did not specifically state that it is impermissible for a non-attorney to represent another in a small claims proceeding. We believe that the Third Department intended only to rule on the issue of retainer agreements and that its decision does not directly contradict Cippolone.

January 16, 1991
Revised August 1992

Updated: