Frequently Asked Questions

If my next door neighbor's yard looks like a junkyard with garbage and junk all over, can you get your assessment lowered? I am not going to be able to sell my house, because of the mess!

Actually, yes you can. You use that property as a comparison. Take photos. If your assessment is based on Market Value (which it is) it definitely hurts the value. If that does not work, check with your local zoning officer about having it cleaned up.

My town is no longer taking appointments for informal hearings. What can I do?

You should be able to have an informal meeting with your assessor any time of the year. We have a list on the website under Resources - Find your town assessor. The Board of Review must accommodate anyone who has an appointment. It may require extra days to do so. 

Where Can I Go With Questions? 

The assessor is continually communicating with the public, answering questions, and dealing with concerns raised by taxpayers. Anyone can examine the assessment roll and property records at any time. However, between Taxable Status Day and the filing of the tentative roll (generally, March through May), it should be done by appointment.

It is up to individual property owners to monitor your own assessments. Taxpayers who feel they are not being fairly assessed should meet with their assessor before the tentative assessment roll is established. In an informal setting, the assessor can explain how the assessment was determined and the rationale behind it.

Assessors are interested only in fairly assessing property in their assessing unit. If your assessment is correct and your tax bill still seems too high, the assessor cannot change that. Complaints to the assessor must be about how property is assessed.

Taxpayers unhappy with rising property tax bills should be concerned not only with assessments. but should also examine the budgets and expenditures in their counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts, etc. that are creating the need for higher taxes, and address those issues in appropriate and available public forums.

Informal meetings with assessors to resolve assessment questions about the next assessment roll can take place throughout the year. If, after speaking with your assessor, you still feel you are unfairly assessed, the booklet, “Contesting Your Assessment in New York State” describes how to prepare and file a complaint with the Board of Assessment Review for an assessment reduction, and indicates the time of year it can be done. 

See tips on our web site on how to challenge your assessmemt

.

We are considering installing a geothermal unit. Would this be considered an improvement and raise our assessed value and therefore our property taxes (or more of a repair /replacement like if you were to replace a furnace)

We asked this question of assessors and here is a reply we received: "The question of adding value for this is determined by each assessor. I would select geo-thermal as the heat source in the property inventory, but not add additional value for it."

Each county, city, town, village and school district (except the city school districts of New York, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers) may choose whether to disallow the exemption with respect to solar, wind, or farm waste energy systems which began construction after January 1, 1991 and before January 1, 2025, and to micro-hydroelectric energy systems, fuel cell electric generating systems, micro-combined heat and power generating equipment systems, or electric energy storage equipment and electric energy storage systems constructed after January 1, 2018 or the effective date of the local law or resolution, whichever is later.

The option must be exercised by counties, cities, towns, and villages through adoption of a local law and by school districts by adoption of a resolution.

You must first check with your local assessor to see if the municipality allows such exemptions. The assessor can then let you know the procedure for that particular jurisdiction. There may be no additional assessment to the property and added as an additional heat source.  They may also be asked to enter into a contract of payment in lieu of taxes. This isexplained in RPTL 487.

Exemption application forms

Form RP-487, Exemption Application

A booklet on solar, farm waste and wind systems definitions and guidelines for purposes of this exemption is available at the Renewables Documents Library of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. 

How do I find comparables for a house that is unfinished?

A new house is assessed by the percentage of whatever is completed by the evaluation date. The best way to find comparables for an unfinished home is to find properties that would be the same type and size of what your property would be when finished. Once found, figure the percentage of what the property is finished and then take that percentage of the comparison properties. (If your property is 50% completed at the time of evaluation, see what the comparable property would be at 50%). The land value is another issue. We are hearing that people are being assessed for what land "could be" and not for what "it is". In most areas you would need a minimum of 10 acres and show an income of about $20,000 for land to get an Agricultural Exemption. If the mountain side can not be used for anything, you can argue that it should be "wasteland or woodland" depending on what the land is. 

What is Market Value?

Market value is the most probable price that a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller, each acting prudently, knowledgeably and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus. International Valuation Standards defines market value as "the estimated amount for which a property should exchange on the date of valuation between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an "arm's-length" transaction after proper marketing wherein the parties had each acted knowledgeably, prudently, and without compulsion."

Why are we penalized for taking care of our property?

The property tax system as it stands now penalizes, through a higher assessment, property owners who maintain and improve their properties and rewards those who do not with lower assessments. Homeowner "A" who paints the exterior of his/her house, mows the yard, keeps the bushes trimmed and makes it looks nice. Homeowner "B" who lives next door doesn't mow the yard very often, leaves garbage laying around, doesn't paint the exterior or do obvious needed maintenance. Although the properties are similar, Homeowner "A" is going to pay more in property taxes than Homeowner "B.”

How does the Tax Cap work?

According to NYS,the tax cap law establishes a limit on the annual growth of property taxes levied by local governments and school districts to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The tax cap does not apply to computations of assessments and did not do anything to reduce already high NYS property taxes.  It is directed more towards limiting or keeping in check the amounts that schools and local governments levy for their budgets.

Do the changes in the STAR program made in 2016 impact me?

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance alerted new homeowners—and those who recently purchased their homes—to a change in the School Tax Relief (STAR) program. These homeowners—including all who purchased their primary residence after August 1, 2015—must register for STAR with New York State instead of applying with their assessor. Property owners who bought their home before May 1, 2014, will continue to receive the STAR exemption and don’t need to take any action.

See details here

See Q&A

Should I use an appraisal when challenging my assessment?

Appraisals are more an art than a science. They are one appraiser’s opinion. Anyone may become an appraiser in NYS.

Supplying an appraisal is something you will commonly hear when questioning your assessment. Most of the time it is good to use an appraisal, but not always. If you are using the argument of unequal assessment, your appraisal in certain instances can hurt more than help because a realtor could value or price your house at the highest possible amount for sale purposes. With all the inequities in the current system you may find comparable houses that will allow you to argue a case that is lower than your appraisal. If you find this to be the case, simply do not offer the appraisal to the Board of Assessment Review as evidence because the Board will have a hard time lowering your assessment below that appraisal. The reasoning for this is the Board is trying to weigh the evidence. They have the assessor’s information (who is always assumed to be correct) at a higher assessment, your appraisal, which may be lower than the assessor’s but also higher than what you are asking. In this scenario, the evidence works against you.

I live in a HOA community and our dues pay for Street lights, Paving the street, Plowing, The town of Greece does not do anything so why are our taxes so high.

Real property tax is not a user fee.  It’s an ad valorem tax, which is based on the market value of the property.  There’s no mechanism in the statute for a municipality to adjust that value or the tax rate based on services provided. Municipalities do have the option to create special benefit districts that tax only the parcels receiving the benefit.  Examples might include lighting, sewer, or water districts.   These these districts are specifically defined either in General Municipal Law or Town Law; however, we are not aware of the existence of special benefit districts for things like paving, plowing, or other maintenance.  That’s sometingto ask your town attorney.

How do I make a successful case that maintenance should not be assessed?

Maintenance and depreciation are areas that many assessors do not take into account. You can make a great case when challenging your assessment if you use these two factors in your comparisons.

Depreciation. Often overlooked and not taken into consideration by assessors. Every day what we have depreciates in value. We buy a car, it loses value as soon as we drive it off the parking lot. It is the same with our homes. Are your roof or windows as good as they were fifteen years ago? Not a chance! So why are you paying a premium price on them with your assessments? Your assessment doesn't go down from year to year as your home gets older. Yet when you replace your roof or windows the first thing you see are higher assessments.

Maintenance. Very often when you need to re-shingle your roof or replace a rotted window your assessment goes up. Repairing items such as replacing a roof, changing out old windows for the same size new windows or replacing a rotten deck with new boards should not be assessable. It should be considered maintenance. You are not adding on or improving your property. You are only taking care of that which you are already being assessed.

What is an "arm's-length transaction and why is this important?

Simply put, an "Arm's-length Transaction" is when a property is put up for sale on the open market through a realtor and all prospective buyers have an equal chance to buy the property. A "Non Arms-length Transaction" would be one that may be sold from family member to family member or other person where the property is not put on the open market and may be sold at a lower or even higher price.

For more information see: Assessors' Manual, Data Collection - RFV - Department of Taxation ...  See Section 5.4 RFV Sales Information

What is an Equalization Rate?

Once a property value is determined, its total assessment is calculated by multiplying the market value by the uniform percentage for the municipality, also known as the Equalization Rate. An equalization rate is New York State's measure of a municipality's level of assessment (LOA). The Equalization Rate is derived from the percentage of the Assessed Value of a town to the Market Value of a town.

For example, if a town had an Assessed Value of $105 million dollars and a Market Value of $91 million dollars, the Equalization Rate would be 87%.

If a town had a Level of Assessment (LOA) or Equalization Rate (ER) of 90% it would indicate that assessments are at only 90% of the current market value; whereas a Level of Assessment or Equalization Rate of 100% represents a community that is assessing at full value.

Equalization Rates can differ from town to town, village to village or city to city. Equalization rates are necessary in New York State because each municipality determines its own LOA (level of assessment). When school districts or counties do not share the same taxing boundaries as cities or towns that are responsible for assessing properties the LOA of each municipality must be equalized to the full market value. When the full market value for each municipality has be determined, schools and counties can figure how much taxes should be collected.

For more information on the equalization rates see:

Understanding the Equalization Rate - A Guide for Homeowners- Department of Taxation and ...

Equalization Rates for each County

Who determines the Total Market Value of a Town?

In most cases it is the assessor. The first step in assessing the total market value of a town is to determine (or estimate) a  market value for each property. To estimate market values, the assessor must be familiar with the local real estate market.  

Why do towns keep updating the assessments?

Updates are needed to maintain the Equalization Rates at 100%. Equalization rates are the state’s measure of each municipality’s Level of Assessment (LOA). Each local assessor is required to state the municipal's LOA on each year’s assessment roll. The state then determines the equalization rate by analyzing the locally stated LOA. In accordance with national standards, the Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) will review the work of the assessor and determine whether the stated LOA is within adequate tolerances to be used as the equalization rate. If certain criteria are met, the LOA will then become the rate. In municipalities where ORPTS cannot accept or confirm the LOA, ORPTS will use its own independent estimate of total market value to compare to the total assessed value. A falling equalization rate means that market values are rising faster than assessed values. Keeping assessments up-to-date annually can result in consistent equalization rates each year.

If I get my assessment lowered will the resale value of my house go down?

No. This is a huge misconception. Market or Resale Value is based on how much someone wants to pay to purchase your property. Some houses actually sell for more than the assessed value. A lower assessment can actually attract prospective buyers. Sale price is usually determined with a realtor and appraisal. See sample of properties that have sold for less than their assessment.

If I vote against higher school taxes will my home value go down?

No. Higher school taxes and home values have nothing in common. The 2% tax cap was implemented to help curb school spending. It is interesting to note that while school budgets continue to go up, enrollments have gone down in many districts.

What is driving school and property tax increases?

Several things including the unwillingness of towns and school districts to tighten budgets. The exemptions for the Real Property. People leaving because of high taxes. With more people leaving the state fewer remain to pay taxes to support municipal and school budgets. In a tax system with so many regulations and flaws, someone has to make up the difference. For example the Agricultural Exemption was originally intended to help farmers by keeping costs of farming low. This is great for farmers who farm their own land. However the beneficiaries of this exemption are the homeowners who do not farm but rent their farmland to other farmers. The homeowner still reaps the huge deduction of taxes from the Agricultural Exemption (usually between 40-50% of assessed value) and then charges the farmer between $50.00 and $100.00 per acre to farm it. Just think how this makes apartment owners or the rest of us feel when we get charged for income property and these homeowners get pure profit. We all have to make up for this loss.

How do I know if I qualify for exemptions? How many exemptions are there?

For most people  they will only qualify for only a few exemptions such as STAR, Enhanced STAR, Veterans, Cold War Veterans, Disabled and Agricultural exemptions. However, there are more than 527 ways that exemptions for homeowners, villages or towns. Always ask your assessor if you qualify for any exemptions or review the complete list here.

If I use my neighbor’s home for a comparison property will their assessment go up?

No. Assessments can only go up if you add onto, remodel or improve something on your property. Most property assessments do not change unless there is an update in their town or village assessment.

Can I get better results challenging my assessment if I use a consultant and or lawyer?

One of the reasons we created this web site was to help people find information to understand their taxes and learn how to challenge an unfair assessment without having to incur the expense of hiring a consultant or lawyer. If they are correctly informed a consultant or lawyer can be helpful. The most common time when a consultant or lawyer is used is for businesses. If you do have a lawyer or consultant represent you, if possible, always go before the Board of Assessment Review with them. You may be able to answer questions they cannot.

What is the Agricultural Exemption? And how does it impact upstate NY?

The Agricultural Exemption was originally intended to help the farmers by keeping costs on farmland low so the price of produce and crops could be contained. Farmers who farmed their own land could take advantage of this benefit or exemption. However some of the beneficiaries of this exemption today are the homeowners who do not farm but rent their farmland to other farmers. The homeowner reaps the benefit of a tax deduction from the Agricultural Exemption (usually between 40-50% of assessed value) while charging between $50- $100 per acre to farm it. In this scenario, other homeowners make up this loss by an increase in property taxes.

If my house is destroyed or significantly damaged after I pay my taxes, will I get a refund?

The answer is no. Basically, anything that happens to your home after March 1st won’t be recorded assessment wise until the next year’s assessment roll. So if on August 2nd your house burned down, since the assessment roll was already filed, whatever your assessment was on that roll is what you will pay taxes on until the NEW assessment roll is filed. Assessments are one half of the equation and they happen to be the half that involves the houses themselves. So once the assessment roll is filed all taxes are based on that roll and there is no changing them. The only time a taxpayer would get a refund is if the assessor made a mistake on an exemption or had some sort of court ordered/legal change.

Are new homes assessed differently?

New homes are assessed the same way other residential property is assessed. When a new home is built it can be compared to others of similar size and location or by recent sales. When no comparable sales or residences are available, an assessment can be made according to the determined value indicated on the building permit, or by the estimated value that the assessor determines is fair and equitable.

If the construction of a residence or building begins before the "Taxable Status Date" (March 1st)* only the percentage of the residence or building completed by this date is assessed. The percentage that is completed after the "Taxable Status Date" will be assessed on the next taxable year.

* The "Taxable Status Date" can be different from community to community. Always check with your local assessor for the date in your community.

Note: Although the assessment of a new home may be accurate in terms of the cost of construction it can still have an inequitable assessment compared to existing homes. A homeowner should not always accept their assessed value without looking at other comparison homes on the tax roles. There are documented cases of new homes being assessed close to the value of construction (by no fault of the assessor) and then an appraisal comes in at several thousands of dollars lower. There are also documented cases when such homes are compared with other similar homes by using an "unequal assessment" comparison. The assessment could drop even lower than the appraisal if an appraisal was not used as evidence for the reduction. (When an appraisal is used in evidence to reduce an assessment it may carry more weight in the decision of a Board of Assessment Review than a homeowner’s evidence since the appraisal would be considered as a legal document.)

Why do Condominiums owners pay lower real estate taxes with same market values as residential home?

New York State Tax Law requires that condominiums be assessed only by using a capitalization of income or cost approach rather than a comparable sales or Market Value approach.

Although not intended, this has created yet another means of unequal assessment within the world of assessments. By mandating how a condominium is assessed, some condominium owners pay only a fraction of property taxes compared to residential owners for the same size living space.

Condominiums are considered a form of ownership like that of an apartment building. When an assessor is forced to use the "income approach," the property’s market value is not calculated. Instead it is calculated by other factors such as "Capitalization Rate" or the return on an investment and "Net Operating Income."

A "Capitalization Rate" is the rate of return on income that a property is expected to generate.

The "Net Operating Income" is the final income that is generated after all expenses such as maintenance, operating costs and insurances are deducted.

Here’s how it works.

  • Establish the total income of the property including income obtained from rent, utilities provided such as coin operated laundry machines and vending machines, parking and storage fees etc.
  • Deduct any expenses such as maintenance, operating costs, insurances and vacancies.
  • This gives you the property’s yearly Net Operating Income. To get a proper assessment on a condominium or apartment building an assessor would need to take comparable buildings and estimate the gross income based on the market rents and number of units.
  • Next the assessed value or the price you paid for the property is divided by the yearly Net Operating Income. This will give you the Capitalization Rate.

Example

Suppose you had both a residential property and a condominium unit each valued at $200,000.

  • The residential property, which would be assessed based on Market Value (Market Approach), would be assessed at $200,000.
  • The condominium, which by law must be assessed by the Income Approach, not by Market Value, would be assessed at $93,300. The annual income of the condominium property (all 10 units) is $933,000, divided by 10 units, produces an assessable amount for each unit of $93,300.

The condo’s $93,300 assessable value is just 47% of the unit’s $200,000 market value. If all 10 units in the condominium complex were assessed by Market Value and not Income Approach it would be worth $2,000,000.

This example clearly shows how single home property owners are at a disadvantage when it comes to how much they pay in property taxes compared to condominium owners.

For more information:

New York Consolidated Laws, Real Property Law - RPP § 339-y ...

New York Consolidated Laws, Real Property Tax Law - RPT § 581 ...

Restriction on Assessments for Condominiums ... - Stop the Tax Shift!

Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 124

Opinions - Department of Taxation and Finance

My primary residence is out of state. Can I vote in my town on my property taxes?

This is possible in many states, but currently not in New York State. It is not fair that you have to pay property taxes on land you own in a state and not have a say. You should be able to vote on the local school, town or village budgets that are in the jurisdiction that you pay taxes. Only a change of law will correct this major flaw in the Real Property Tax System. This article published in the NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) that tries to answer this question.