The Fears of Grieving Your Property Tax Assessment
By Warren Leisenring, Jr.
Property owners should not have fears when it comes to grieving their property assessments.
As a consultant for the Tax My Property Fairly website, I would like to give you some insight into my experiences and thoughts on what has happened in the relationship between assessors and property owners.
Becoming an assessor is almost always a thankless job. It takes hours of training with a system that everyone agrees is broken. I believe an assessor when in training and for a while thereafter has every intention of doing what is correct for both the system and the property owner. When a property owner comes in for an informal meeting to address questions on their property assessment, the assessor relies on their training. However, if a property owner has a question that may not be exactly in line with the assessor’s training, the assessor may say I will look into that but I do not believe you can do it. The property owner would then leave the meeting and wait for further answers from the assessor.
As years go by, some assessors may relax and get comfortable in their own ways. Each time the assessor may say "you cannot do it" the more they may believe it without researching the question or method. With no one over them to supervise or guide them, it can get easier to rely on habit, right or wrong.
Most assessments are done by a Mass Appraisal System (see this section in Resources) which groups large numbers of similar types of residences together. This has been proven to be inaccurate.
If you read Case Study #1 and Case Study #2 on this website, you will see where some assessors who have been in office for a number of years may have forgotten various requirements for grieving an assessment. Instead of reviewing the requirements for how a grievance is being made, they may rely on habit, most of which, may not correspond with Real Property Tax Laws or be in the best interest of the property owner. Some may take the requirements for the hardest type of grievance to prove and apply those requirements to all types of grievances. This is wrong.
This is concerning for those property owners who are afraid to grieve their property assessment for fear of retaliation with a higher assessment. Unfortunately, I have heard from property owners that this happens. This is unlawful and unethical, and a formal complaint should be made to the local Board that appointed them. The property owner has a right to grieve the assessment put on their property every single year without the fear of any retaliation.
Correct property assessments are done from current and accurate data, not from what assessors, Boards of Assessment Review or Hearing Officers believe they should be.
Your property assessment can only go up for these reasons:
- There is a revaluation in the village or town you live in.
- There is a change in the physical property from the previous tax calendar.
- There is an upward trend in similar properties on the same assessment roll.
- There was a change in an exemption.
There are offices above the assessors who are there to advise them and believe me this is all they will do. In my 20 years of experience going to the New York State Assessors Association, County Real Property Directors, the Office of Real Property Tax Services and Supervisors, not one assessor has ever been removed from office, reprimanded, or corrected for being wrong. Many have broken laws and still, nothing is done.
So what can you do?
This website is here for property owners. There is enough information on this website for property owners to prove their assessment may be incorrect. Do not ever assume the assessor, Board of Assessment Review, or Hearing Officer is automatically correct or knows the Real Property Tax Laws (although the Real Property System presumes so). Proper training is a major problem throughout the ranks. (As I have noted in the Case Studies.)
Prepare your defense with the information on this website and then go on the offense. An assessor is required to defend how an assessment was achieved if challenged. The Mass Appraisal System groups the assessment numbers together and provides an estimated assessment for that group. Individual adjustments are not given to assessors so they have no idea what the adjustment values were.
You, however, have the ability to show, provide and explain how your adjustments were made.
A property owner by Real Property Standards only needs to show convincing proof that the assessor’s assessment is incorrect. This is the amount of "burden of proof" required by law to prove a case in any court of law. You only need enough proof to convince a BAR or Hearing Officer. It is less proof than what is required by a "preponderance" or "overwhelming" proof.
If you were to go through the system, lose, and still disagree with the Hearing Officer's decision, you still have three options:
- File a Tax Certiorari (a writ or order by which a higher court reviews a decision of a lower court proceeding), which can be very expensive.
- Go through the same process the following year and make corrections to where you may have gone wrong.
- Write the Hearing Officer a respectful letter letting them know where and why you disagree with the decision. This can not hurt. It will not change the decision for the current year but if you go through the system again next year it may help if you have the same Hearing Officer.
February 14, 2022