In New York state, property owners have the right to grieve their property assessment annually in front of their local Board of Assessment Review (BAR). “Grievance Day”, as its commonly known, is Tuesday, May 24 this year for towns in Sullivan County. I chair my town’s BAR (the town of Delaware) so am pretty familiar with the process. Here are some thoughts if you’re thinking of grieving your assessment this year.
First, if you think your assessment is excessive (above the full market value of your property) or unequal (not assessed at a similar percentage of full market value relative to other similar properties in your town), go in and talk with your town’s assessor before grievance day. In many cases, the assessor and property owner can come to a mutually agreeable number and avoid the formal grievance process altogether. In my experience, most people who appear before the BAR have not previously sat down with the assessor.
If you’re going to file a grievance, familiarize yourself with the process. There’s a lot of information about grieving your assessment on the NY State Taxation website. One key concept to keep in mind is that the assessor’s valuation of your property is presumed to be correct, and its the job of the plaintiff (you) to present evidence that the valuation is incorrect (i.e. unequal or excessive.) This is where a lot of claimants drop the ball. You need to support your case with examples of sales of comparable houses that sold for less than your full market value assessment or examples of houses that are similar to yours that are assessed in your town at a lower percentage of full market value (depending on which reason you’re using for the grievance.) If you recently bought the house and paid less than the assessor’s full market value, that data point on its own is not necessarily sufficient to get a reduction. Its certainly a strong data point, but including other sales that also support a lower value strengthens your case.
Comparable sales don’t necessarily have to be from your town. Some of the smaller towns may have an expanded ‘market area’ that spans multiple towns, and plaintiffs can use comparable sales from those towns to support their grievance. Your town’s assessor can give you information about whether you’re in an expanded market area. Find sales that are as comparable as possible. For example, if you’re grieving in Tusten and use comps from Fallsburg, the BAR may not consider it a strong case because the market areas are very different. Likewise, if you have a house on a back country road (which tends to be higher value) and only use supporting comps for sales on main roads (like 17B or 55), the BAR will likely take that info consideration when deliberating. If you find comps that are particularly low, check whether they were foreclosures, which are not considered market value sales. Remember, the burden of proof is on you, the claimant, to support your case. You may want to consider hiring an appraiser or attorney to assist you.
You do not have to personally appear at the grievance hearing. Even if you do plan to appear, you may want to submit your grievance ahead of time. That way, in case something comes up and you can’t make the hearing, its filed and will be acted on by the BAR. It also allows the assessor to review your grievance and be prepared to offer testimony at the BAR hearing. If a grievance is submitted less than 3 days prior to the BAR hearing (or on grievance day itself), the assessor can request an adjournment to another date to have sufficient time to prepare a response. In my opinion, its good to submit the grievance ahead of time. (Note: the grievance must be received on or before grievance day, not just postmarked on or before that date.)
If you submit a grievance ahead of time, should you appear at the hearing or not? In my opinion, its helpful. It gives the BAR the opportunity to ask you questions about your claim. The assessor may also give testimony to support his/her valuation, and the BAR can ask you to respond to that. The assessor may offer a ‘stipulation’, agreeing to some or all of the reduction requested, but the plaintiff has to be present to accept that. If your claim isn’t well supported, the BAR may offer you the opportunity to submit additional documentation before they deliberate.
(A housekeeping note: if you plan to use photos to support your claim, print them out. The BAR cannot accept evidence that will not be physically left with them. So if you have photos on your phone, they can’t look at them because you can’t leave your phone with the BAR.)
The BAR will not rule on your claim at the hearing. The BAR deliberates in closed session (without the assessor present), and that usually takes place within a few days or a week of grievance day. You’ll be notified of the determination by mail. If you’re not satisfied with the decision, and you’re grieving the assessment for a 1 to 3 family home that you live in (not an investment property), you can take the next step and file for a Small Claims Assessment Review. (Appeals for other properties are handled through supreme court proceedings.) In either case, to file an appeal you must first go through the grievance process and get a judgement that is not acceptable to you
The process may seem daunting, especially if its your first time. When I talk with clients or friends who are thinking about filing a grievance, I always say “Tell me in one sentence the basis for your claim.” For example, “My house is over assessed because these three houses that are very similar to mine sold for $X, $Y and $Z which is below below the full market value the assessor has for my house,” or “Other houses that are very similar to mine in the town have a lower assessment than mine (technically, they’re assessed at a lower percentage of full market value) and here are five examples.”