Brief Summary of Research Sources and One Method for Grieving Residential Assessments

A. Official Assessment Information published by NYS is available at:

Columbia County Office of Real Property Services
Tel: (518) 828-7334; address: 560 Warren Street, 2nd floor, Hudson NY 12534
https://sites.google.com/a/columbiacountyny.com/columbia-county-real-property-tax/assessments

Office of Real Property Tax Services of the State of NY (ORPTS) Website:
https://www.tax.ny.gov/about/orpts/albany.htm


B. An Approach to Grieving Residential Property Taxes Using Comparables:

1. Caveats:

A. The following suggestions are applicable principally to grieving residential (1-3 family)

Properties (designated with the Property Classes 210, 220, and 230) . Commercial properties (designated in the 400 series) require more research, and not all Boards of Assessment Review ("BAR") accept comparables as a basis for grieving such properties.  If yours is a commercial property, ask the Assessor or a member of your BAR what it looks for in grieving these properties – it may want to see income and expense documentation, in the form of what’s called an income capitalization grievance (See this link for help.)

B. Please also note that the following suggestions simply outline one way to argue a residential grievance.  They are not to be construed as legal advice, or as encompassing all situations and/or properties; there are simply too many potential variables, so each grievance by definition must be custom tailored to the specific property.


2. Understanding The Components of Your Assessment, and Formulating a Challenge to Your Assessment Using Comparables
:

Preliminaries:

A. Know What You Own (and what your municipality THINKS you own)

Nobody knows your property better than you do. So it’s up to you to check the data on your property on the ImageMate database available in 2019 in Hudson at the website where the City and GAR Associates, its contractor that valued all the properties in the City of Hudson, have uploaded assessment information, at this link. The ImageMate database is accessible by clicking on the “Public Access” button on the left, where you can search properties by street address, Tax ID#, last name of owner, etc.  Once you access the entry for the property you’re seeking, click on the “Report” button on the upper left for a concise presentation of the data on file for that property at the City Assessor’s office.  Make sure the land dimensions, Property Classification Code (one, two or three family) SFLA (square feet of livable area), # of beds and baths, outbuildings, etc., on the municipality’s records are correct.  

If you have a survey, it can be invaluable in proving to the assessor what you actually own.  Sometimes lots may have been subdivided, but the subdivision isn’t noted by an assessor. A building on your property may have been demolished years ago, but the assessor may not know it; in that case, you’re still paying property tax on it.  Check everything.  You can print out the ImageMate Reports.


B. If you don’t know your own SFLA, measure it, as an assessor does.  This involves measuring the exterior of a house’s livable area, for each floor.  Refer to the Office of Real Property Tax Services (“ORPTS”) website, published by the State of NY, which has instructions for assessors to measure properties.  Don’t include garages and basements unless they contain legally habitable space; SFLA means “square feet of LIVABLE area.”  Some attic spaces may be included; check the ORPTS website to see if yours meets the definition. Most appraisers advise that unheated residential space should not be included in SFLA, as it’s not habitable year-round.  It’s not uncommon for a municipality to have a higher SFLA recorded for a structure than it actually includes; in these cases, the owner is being assessed for SFLA she doesn’t own, and the City’s data should be corrected, reducing the SFLA – which can reduce your assessment. If you need to produce documentation to get it corrected, your survey should at least show the footprint of your house; you can do overlays to show upper floors.  Photos help. Corrections can be made either by your assessor if there’s time for a meeting prior to the BAR, or during the complaint process, included in your paperwork submitted to the BAR. (The BAR in Hudson has historically defaulted to surveys if it’s asked to correct land and structure dimensions.) If you find data that should be corrected, your grievance should be made based on the corrected information. Presuming that the BAR accepts your evidence of errors in  the City’s data, it will direct the Assessor to correct the municipality’s records, and will accept your grievance based on the correct stats.


3. Once You’re Satisfied that either (a) the Municipality’s Data on your Property is Correct or (b) You Are In Possession of Appropriate Documentation to Get it Corrected (which you can supply to either the Assessor (if there’s enough time before the BAR, or to the BAR itself):


A) Using the numbers on the Tentative Assessment Roll (which is issued May 1), figure out (a) the assessed price per square foot (or acre) of your property’s land parcel. and (b) the assessed price per SFLA of the house on your property. To get the assessed valuation of the house, subtract the Land Assessed Value from the Total Assessed Value (think of the Land AV as the assessment of the property if the land were vacant).


B) Look for Properties That Are Comparable to Your Own
(“Comps”). That means same Property Classification Code (one, two or three families (designated respectively 210, 220 and 230)), as close as possible to the same SFLA, # of beds and baths, condition, etc.  In its 2019 Reval, GAR Associates (the company hired by the City of Hudson to conduct that reval) has instructed that the only available Recent Sales Comparables (which are the most persuasive comparables for the BAR) are those provided in the pdf files in its right hand nav bar on the website.  Bear in mind that these pdf files were uploaded by GAR before the Tentative Roll was issued, and some numbers may have changed on the Tentative Roll.  So when you find a property that you think is a good comparable for yours, double check it on the newly-published Tentative Roll here to make sure its assessment has not changed as of May 1.  The Tentative Roll numbers are what you should use for your grievance.  Once you locate appropriate comps in those pdf files, you can search those properties on the ImageMate database by street address or Tax ID# to find the details on each, and see which are the best matches for your property.  (Also bear I mind that the information on the ImageMate area of the GAR website has NOT been updated with the Tentative Roll numbers; you will see that it says “Preliminary,” rather than “Tentative.” So again, as set forth above, always check assessment numbers on the Tentative Roll, here, because it is the Tentative Assessments that are being grieved at the BAR.  

A house may look much like yours, but if turns out to be a legal three family while yours is a one family, or its “inventory” is very different, it’s best not to use it - it’s not really a comp.  The object is to compare apples and apples, with price per square foot as a lowest common denominator. In 2019, GAR I requiring four comparables. Try to locate s many potential recent sales comps as possible; further research on the ImageMate database will reduce the useable number quickly.  It may also prompt you to look for more comps to research. GAR is also permitting the use of assessment comparables, meaning houses that have not sold recently, but are good comps for yours. However, as mentioned above, the recent sales comps are the most persuasive.


C) Once you have a number of comps that are promisingly similar to your property, calculate the assessed valuations per square foot (or acre) of the land and the SFLA for each.  


D) Note
: If your land assessment looks particularly high and it makes sense to grieve it separately, you don’t necessarily need to compare your land with the same property or properties you’ll be using as comps for your house.  But for land comparables, it’s good to find land that has about the same gradation and other characteristics as yours, including size of lot. Differences of $5 per square foot in land assessments for no apparent reason can add up fast – and showing that large a difference can be useful in reducing your land assessment by requesting parity with the assessment on the comparable lot.

Once you have a fair idea of your comparables, you can start making up a word processed chart or Excel spreadsheet showing their comparison with your own (“subject”) property (see sample residential complaint on this site).  When you’re sure you’ve got the best argument completed and supported, you’re ready to fill in the complaint form (RP-524), which forms a required part of your grievance. Instructions for filling out the RP-524 form, and the form itself, are available on the NYS website at these links:


Note: when this instruction sheet says you can’t grieve the land assessment, that doesn’t mean you can’t request an adjustment in the land assessment as a part of the overall grievance.  You just need to separate the land valuation temporarily from the total, produce your justification for asking for a reduction in the land valuation, and then add it back to the remainder of the valuation after the fact, as shown in the sample residential grievance.  So you wind up requesting a reduction in the total valuation, but a reduction in the land valuation as a component thereof can be requested. If the BAR or the Assessor disagree, you can show them the relevant ORPTS legal opinion on the subject: https://www.tax.ny.gov/pubs_and_bulls/orpts/legal_opinions/v10/81.htm


E) Fill in the RP-524 form (you MUST fill it in correctly and submit it with your grievance to pass through the Board of Assessment Review process and be entitled to proceed to either Small Claims Review (SCAR) or file an Article 7 in State Court

Fill in Page 1.  On the last line of Page 1, you’ll be putting what you believe is your FMV (Fair Market Value).

Fill in Page 2 of the RP-524 Form (if you choose; you can also just check the line at the bottom of the page indicating that other supporting documents are attached, such as your chart and photos, and move on to Page 3.  However, the BAR members may ask questions about the blanks left on Page 2.

Fill in Page 3 of the RP-524 Form: Most complainants will be filling in B (Excessive Assessment), and 1 thereof.  

Fill in Page 4 of the RP-524 Form: If you plan on having a representative make the oral argument at the Board of Assessment Review, you can authorize them to do so by filling in the first box at the top of the page; be sure to sign and date. If you plan to make the oral argument yourself, or just drop off or mail in the grievance without doing an oral argument (which is not compulsory), then fill I Part Five: “Certification.”  

The Assessor may hold office hours prior to the first meeting of the Board of Assessment Review, in which complainants can attempt to reach an agreement for  reduction. Just bear in mind that unless the offer is really good, you might want to pursue the additional opportunities you’ll have in future (at the BAR, SCAR, and potentially an Article 7 proceeding in State Court) to get a larger reduction.  

PLEASE NOTE: YOU MUST FILL IN AND SUBMIT THE RP-524 FORM WITH YOUR GRIEVANCE, IN ORDER FOR THE GRIEVANCE TO BE ACCEPTED BY THE BAR, AND ALSO TO BE ABLE TO PROCEED TO EITHER SMALL CLAIM ASSESSMENT REVIEW OR AN ARTICLE 7 PROCEEDING IN STATE COURT.


F) If possible, it’s good to include color photos of your property and its comparables.  No BAR member has the entire property inventory of a municipality committed to memory, and the easier you make it for them to follow your argument, the better.

G)When you’ve word processed your argument and attached the filled out RP-524 form thereto, along with the photos (or Reports from the ImageMate database) that you choose to include, it’s a good idea to create a cover sheet providing the street address and Tax ID, and package your grievance in a report cover with a rigid spine on which you can write in magic marker.  Make several copies, keeping at least one for yourself, and use the same spine color for each. Note the address of the property, and its Tax ID number, on the spine. This makes it easier for an assessor or BAR to locate your grievance in a large stack of grievances.

H) Be sure to file your grievance on time, and get a receipt for it.  If it’s lost after the submission deadline and there’s no record you submitted it, you’ve lost your opportunity to grieve.  Deadlines for filing, and instructions for how to file, will be published by the City Assessor’s office. Here’s the calendar information currently available on the State’s website: https://www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/learn/proptaxcal.htm

Grievance Day in Hudson, in 2019, is May 28th.  

I) You don’t have to present your complaint in person to the BAR; some people just drop it off, get a receipt, leave and wait for the response in the mail. But it often helps to do the oral argument, in case there are any questions about the methodology or the paperwork you’ve submitted.  The assessor will be there to represent the municipality and defend the assessment of your property – that’s their job.


J) Finally, in the event that you do a fully developed grievance and oral argument at the BAR and aren’t satisfied with the result, you can proceed to Small Claims Review (for owner occupied residential properties), or to State Court (with an Article 7, which will require you to get an attorney to represent you) for both residential and commercial properties.

If you opt for SCAR, there will be no further avenue for appeal to State Court after the SCAR hearing.  If you choose to go to State Court with an Article 7 instead, as noted above, the resolution will take longer, and involve legal fees.  But unless your property is residential, your only option to appeal the judgment of the BAR is an Article 7 in State Court.