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Volume 2 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 29

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessor (powers and duties); Complaints (duty of board of assessment review) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(3), 500 et seq., 1524:

The authority to assess real property for purposes of taxation is vested solely in the assessor, and a City Council has no authority to substitute its judgment for that of the assessor nor does a City Council have jurisdiction with respect to hearing and determining complaints of property owners.

Our opinion has been requested as to the jurisdiction of a City Council over the preparation of the City assessment roll and of making determinations with respect to complaints by property owners.

The city assessor has made a substantial number of increases and decreases in the prior assessed values of property which are reflected on the City assessment roll completed on June 1. After the completion of such roll, the City Council passed a resolution to set aside the assessment roll.

Section 2 of Article XVI of the Constitution of the State of New York provides, in part, that the Legislature shall provide for the supervision, review and equalization of assessments for purposes of taxation. The State Legislature has delegated the exclusive authority to assess real property for purposes of local real property taxation and to prepare assessment rolls for this purpose to local assessors (Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(3), 500 et seq.).

The statutory provisions relating to standards and procedure to be used by assessors in preparing assessment rolls are set forth in Articles 3 and 5 of the Real Property Tax Law. Thus, section 306 sets forth a standard providing that all real property shall be assessed at the full value thereof. The courts have held that this standard is met where all assessments are at a uniform rate or percentage of full value for all property in the assessing unit.

Several years ago a revaluation program was conducted in the City of Long Beach where the City Assessor raised the ratio of assessment from 35 percent of full value to 80 percent of full value. An action was brought to enjoin collection of city taxes levied on that roll (Drelich v. Kahn, 60 Misc.2d 227, 302 N.Y.S.2d 634). In that case a question was raised by the petitioner as to whether selecting the ratio at which real property is to be assessed is within the area of legislative activity to be exercised by the City Council. The court answered that question by stating (at page 639):

“The Court does not agree that fixing the ratio is a legislative function to the extent that the City Council must set the rate. The legislative mandate to the Assessor is to assess, and the Assessor meets that mandate when he assesses all similar property at a uniform ratio.”

Accordingly, the authority to assess real property for purposes of taxation, to prepare an assessment roll for this purpose, and to set the ratio of assessment is vested solely in the assessor by the State Legislature. Therefore, the City Council has no authority to set aside an assessment roll prepared by an assessor solely vested with the authority to prepare such roll.

The State Legislature has also provided exclusive remedies, administrative and judicial, for the review of assessments (Real Property Tax Law, Articles 5 and 7). Thus, a property owner who considers himself aggrieved by reason of any assessment made by an assessor may seek an administrative review of his assessment by filing a complaint with the board of assessment review. If dissatisfied with the determination of the board of assessment review, he may seek a judicial review under Article 7.

With respect to administrative review, section 1524, of Article 15-A of the Real Property Tax Law (commonly referred to as the Assessment Equality Law enacted by Chapter 957 of the Laws of 1970) requires cities and towns to establish independent boards of review. A majority of such board must consist of members who are not officers or employees of the local government. It should also be noted that section 1560 of Article 15-A provides that any special or local laws which are inconsistent with the provisions of Article 15-A are inapplicable. Thus, any provisions contained in a City Charter which are inconsistent with those contained in Article 15-A no longer apply.

The City Charter of the City in question authorizes the City Council upon petition of the assessor to correct the City assessment roll in certain limited instances relating to manifest clerical errors appearing thereon. However, setting aside a newly completed and filed assessment roll is a determination, judicial in nature, that the assessment roll was invalid and there is no authority for such action by a local legislative body (1962, Op.Atty.Gen. 145).

For the above reasons, the City Council has no authority to substitute its judgment for that of the assessor and the exclusive remedy for a taxpayer who considers himself aggrieved by any assessment is that which is provided in Articles 5 and 7 of the Real Property Tax Law. The number of complaints that have been filed may present a problem for the board of review, but each taxpayer has the right to be heard on his complaint. However, the board may sort out the complaints and hear similar ones together. The board may also permit groups of complainants to be represented by one person, still preserving its right to call upon particular complainants for additional facts and the submission of data in support of their complaint. The assessor is required to attend these hearings and be prepared to defend the assessment or answer any questions that the board of review may raise in regard to assessments generally or to particular assessments.

July 3, 1972

Updated: