Manlius Assessment case result video and review of inapproprate
Assessor Pat Duffy behavior
My public comment
to Town of Manlius Board
Vestal, NY SCAR case review
Vestal New York Assessor needs to understand equitable distribution
of tax burden and that taxpayers should be treated like customers.
Case review in Town of Lansing near Ithaca, NY Tompkins County
Case reviewTown of Spafford on Skaneateles Lake Onondaga County
Real world example
example of assessment challenge.
Below are cases handled by Michael R. Franklin
as a property owner advocate:
1) Establish if owners are fairly assessed:
I have had people come to me and inquire as to whether they should
challenge their assessment. I've run a preliminary valuation and
established it was too close to argue and not likely to be a cost
effective use of time. It takes time and effort to challenge a tax
assessment, and a calculation can be made to establish a probability
of success and what the savings might be vs. the costs involved
in achieving those results. It is wise to choose your battles. And
it is best for everyone not to waste time needlessly. And that includes
the time of the Assessor and all the people involved in the appeals
process. Sometimes winning is taking no action at all because it
is possible you can be under assessed.
2) Assessor Level Appeal:
Example 1: In one case I was able to help a client
reduce their assessment directly with the Assessor more than $500,000
because the Assessor realized the property was in a failed subdivision
and there was no way the property could possibly sell for assessed
value. There were a lot of negotiations. But in the end we were
able to come up with a reasonable figure without having to go thru
the grievance process or litigation. The Assessor was a reasonable
person and realized it was a unique situation and we just needed
to sit down and figure out what was reasonable under the circumstances.
Example 2: Multi-parcel land assessment: There
had been a reassessment for all properties in the area, and the
property owner's assessment went up about 25% total for all his
parcels. The property owner felt he was slightly over-assessed to
begin with. We made an appointment with the Assessor and went over
each parcel one by one and were able to achieve not only the removal
of the 25% over-all increase, but also an over-all decrease of the
assessment by about 10% over-all. It was a simple matter of sitting
down with the Assessor and reviewing everything item by item. Essentially
we helped the Assessor update his records so that they were accurate.
Example 3: I had another client with property
in the same assessment district. I told the client of what transpired
with Example 2, and he made his own appointment with the assessor.
I told him of the issues we addressed and he was able to resolve
the matter himself to his satisfaction without expense. I provided
a few key points for him to focus on and he was all set.
Example 4: A noteworthy property in Skaneateles
known as the Roger Scott property had been acquired by a new owner
after Roger Scott's house had been torn down as he had built a house
far too big and was in violation of code. The new owner built a
much smaller house. His assessment was raised from somewhere in
the $300,000 range to the low $900,000 range. Needless to say this
caused the property owner considerable stress. Michael DeRosa and
I made an appointment with the Assessor. We found the Assessor to
be cordial and he listened to our legitimate concerns. We pointed
out that 1/3 of the property waterfront had an easement that the
upland property owners in a subdivision across the street had access
to put their Kayaks and Canoes in the water. They also had rights
to store their equipment. We argued 1/3 of the waterfront value
should be attributed to the upland property owners not the property
owner. The Assessor was unaware of the easement and agreed. We also
argued comparables and made arguments for adjustments to get the
square footage of the home calculated properly. We were able to
negotiate a reduction to the low $500,000 level. The property owner
was happy with that. We think we received an appropriate adjustment
and we appreciate the Assessor working with us to generate an equitable
figure in a professional way that saved everybody time and aggravation.
Example 5: Use of an Appraisal. Last year the
property owner attempted to secure a home equity loan. The bank
hired an Appraiser and the home didn't appraise high enough to secure
the loan. The Assessor raised the assessment approximately $50,000
more than the bank Appraisal. The property owner attempted to negotiate
with the Assessor and cited the appraisal. The property owner indicated
the Assessor disagreed with the appraisal. This year the property
owner came to me. I wrote a letter supporting the appraisal. A Broker
valuation does not trump a licensed Appraisers appraisal. An Assessors
assessment does not trump a Licensed Appraisers appraisal. The seller
took my letter indicating I'm a licensed NYS Real Estate Broker
and a copy of the bank appraisal to the Assessor. This time the
Assessor agreed to reduce the assessment to the appraisal figure
as is appropriate.
Frankly, the property owner should have been able to secure the
reduction on his own the year before. I suppose the backing of a
licensed Broker substantiated what to me was an obvious position.
Assessors have to deal with hundreds of properties. Sometimes they
make mistakes...... as we all do.
Example 6: Use of a Survey. A property owner showed
me the property and within 30 seconds of seeing the property I knew
it was over assessed. I contacted the very uncooperative Assessor
and she indicated she had no intention of making any adjustments
and refused to discuss the details. I looked into the situation
and I discovered the water frontage was incorrectly calculated.
I learned that the property owner had been paying for 1/3 of the
neighbors waterfront taxes for 30 years. I addressed the matter
with the Assessor. She refused to cooperate. I contacted the County.
At first they were uncooperative. Then I told them I have a survey....
a legal document that supports my position. WHat do they have? Their
response? I needed to get an updated survey. My argument was nothing
had changed since the survey was done. They had no further argument
and agreed to make the necessary adjustments. Proper adjustments
were made dispute the unprofessional, uncooperative Assessor.
3) (BAR) Board of Assessment Review Appeal:
Example 1: I had a client with a pretty standard
property in a development. Their assessment had been raised and
the owners felt if anything, considering the market conditions,
the assessment should go down. We attempted to communicate with
the Assessor, but the Assessor refused to cooperate. Essentially
the assessor spoke with us long enough to see what data we could
provide, but offered none in return. We asked for the Assessor's
data and were refused. We didn't have enough time to FOIL request
(Freedom of Information Law) the data. We felt this was rather inappropriate
behavior for a public servant. So we took the matter to the BAR
(Board of Assessment Review). We relayed the same information to
the panel that we did to the Assessor and we won at this level.
The Assessor was using sales from other subdivisions in incomparable
areas and we were using comparables that were within a few hundred
yards. It was clear that the Assessor was manufacturing comparables
to suit her opinion, not comparables based on solid objective valuation
methods, in our opinion. In the end our data was more compelling
than that of the Assessor. Sometimes personalities get involved
and it can cause people to dig their heels in. I think that is what
happened in this case. I try to avoid that as much as possible moving
forward. This process should be about data. It should not get personal.
Example 2: I had a client who had already unsuccessfully
attempted to negotiate with the Assessor. He brought me in last
minute to help him argue his case with the BAR (Board of Assessment
Review). The property owner had bought a foreclosure on a half-built
house. It appears as though the Assessor got her hands on a construction
loan document that indicated what the previous owner was borrowing
to build the home. We made the argument that the document had nothing
to do with the reality of what transpired. The house was large for
the neighborhood and no properties had sold for the kind of money
the Assessor assessed it at. The owner finished building the house
himself on a Home Depot card. So we made arguments to that effect.
We also argued that square footage does not equal value as the more
square footage you have the more you have to heat and cool. So bigger
does not mean more value. In 2006 it may have, but not in the current
market. We also argued that the configuration of the lot was not
conducive to families with small children due to a cliff which limits
potential buyers and that this is particularly problematic as the
neighborhood consists mostly of families of that type. The BAR agreed
with us, and we were able to secure a reduction satisfactory to
the property owner.
4) (SCAR) Small Claims Assessment Review:
Example 1: I had a client who has a house that
had the appearance of being much more than it really is. The property
owner had built a very large and formal fence in front of the property
that made it look like Graceland. Sometimes it is not best to embellish.
The Assessor in good faith felt that property owner (my client)
should be paying more. However, the Assessor could not substantiate
that opinion. There were no comparable sales. The Appraiser tried
to shoehorn in three equestrian properties with barns, fences, pasture
and acreage. Basically the Assessor chose to use the three largest
sales in the school district as comparables to support the figure.
Well, this property only had 2.5 acres, and half of that was a cliff.
The use of equestrian facilities as comparables to a colonial is
ridiculous. The Assessor was stretching.
The Assessor's comparables were not comparable. We argued extenuating
circumstances that devalued the property. We argued there was a
natural gas pipeline running thru the property that would certainly
stigmatize the property to potential buyers. The house was also
built by the owner by himself with a Home Depot card, meaning it
was not a reputable builder. We also argued a lack of amenities
such as no public water or public sewer. And even though the property
owner had a natural gas pipeline running thru their property, ironically
they had no natural gas available to the house. We also demonstrated
yearly runoff issues. And we argued that the location was inferior.
We had to identify any and all shortcomings to meet our burden of
proof as the Assessor was convinced by the cosmetics that the house
was under-assessed. We felt that the Assessor had inappropriately
influenced the BAR and we lost at the panel level. This may or may
not have happened, but the appearance of impropriety was there in
our opinion. We took it to SCAR (Small Claims Assessment Review),
and it was myself and the property owner meeting with the hearing
officer and the Assessor. He aggressively demanded the Assessor
substantiate her figures. The Assessor was unable to do so. We very
thoroughly substantiated our position, and as a result we received
a reduction that was not all that we had asked for, but it was satisfactory
to the client.
Example 2: I had a client with a property in a
subdivision with many comparable properties. However, the properties
tended to be configured differently. Some had finished basements,
some didn't. Some had lofts, some didn't. Some had patios. Some
were located on ponds. Others not. The Assessor was comparing my
client's property to a model home that was located on a pond, had
a finished basement and a walk-out patio and had more amenities
such as granite counter tops. My client had none of those things.
The Assessor also was using properties from other subdivisions as
comparables. We had a sale of a connecting unit that was identical
to our property. The Assessor could not use that sale as it was
sold too recently to be included in the assessment window. But the
bottom line is what better comparable can you have than a very recent
connected identical unit? We argued our assessment should be that
The Assessor would not work with us. Not only would the Assessor
not work with us, but also stonewalled our attempts to obtain their
documentation that substantiates their figures. This Assessor was
somewhat cooperative. But not completely. The Assessor was in a
difficult situation. If they adjusted this property they'd have
to adjust the entire subdivision which would upset their mass appraisal.
We took the matter to the BAR. Our arguments were sound, but they
were rejected. I suspect the BAR knew the overall ramifications
and even though they knew we had a solid argument ruled against
us. So we took it to the county SCAR level. We felt the county hearing
officer was much more objective and we won a reduction. We didn't
get a reduction down to equal the sale of the neighboring property,
but it was close enough for the property owner.
Example 3: In SCAR Assessor used data and photos
from VRBO rental venue in violation of the VRBO user policy and
the property owners copyright. The property owner for health reasons
had transferred the property to his sister for later distribution
to a nephew. The Assessor disingenuously argued the property was
not owner occupied and therefore was not the jurisdiction of SCAR.
The SCAR hearing officer agreed. This required the property owner
to take an assessment challenge to Supreme Court which would require
an Attorney to challenge a $30,000 assessment dispute. This makes
no economic sense so the property owner decided not to pursue the
matter despite having a strong case. In other words the Assessor
is treating the property like it is a commercial structure utilizing
a technicality to deny the property owner their right to challenge
an inappropriate assessment. My opinion is that the Assessor in
question does not have the moral fiber to be representing our government
and should be removed from her position as Assessor. I will also
note the property owner did not respond in a timely manner to the
SCAR ruling. If you think the matter may end up in Supreme Court
you need to have a lawyer ready to respond to a failed SCAR petition
within 30 days.
Example 5: The wife/co-owner of an island property was
getting out of the shower when she noticed a boat at their dock.
Wearing only a towel she opened sliding door to see who it was.
She looked out only to see the Assessor peering in her window. Her
14 year old daughter was also at home. The wife got dressed and
went outside and discovered the Assessor in the barn peeking around.
She confronted the Assessor and told him to leave. He did. He then
proceeded to the next dock down also owned by same property owner.
Also, note previously the town had been informed in writing that
they needed an appointment to come on the property. Also, that day,
the Assessor walked right past a no trespassing sign at the dock.
We challenged the assessment and in the BAR hearing one of the BAR
members asked how they are supposed to do an assessment without
seeing the property. Our response was..... to do it legally. The
Assessor was trespassing and violated the tutelage of the property
and the property owners Constitutional right to privacy. The BAR
was 100% behind the Assessor and we lost unanimously. We took the
matter to SCAR. The hearing officer was a State Supreme Court law
clerk (A lawyer) who also happened to be an island property owner.
The Assessor was using mainland properties as comparables that were
not comparable. The Assessor used properties from far away islands
in other towns as comparables. We used a near-by island. We used
real comps. The Assessor tried to find anything that would support
his false position. Oddly, the BAR chair attended the SCAR hearing.
My understanding is BAR (Board of Assessment Review) is supposed
to be a separate level of appeal. Well, it obviously wasn't in this
case. We were able to secure a proper reduction. I've since heard
thru the grapevine that the BAR, the Assessor and the town code
enforcement officer who was also on the boat that day ...... are
out to get us.
Example 6: A tax payer had me look at his property. It was obvious
it was over assessed. I looked into the matter and it was clear
the water frontage was calculated incorrectly. After being treated
rudely, dismissivly and unprofessionally by the Assessor, I was
able to go to the county and get the calculation corrected. I still
felt the property was still over assessed. So we proceeded to the
Board of Assessment review. The waterfront property had a neighboring
commercial building that cut at an angle and obscured about 80 out
of 180 degree possible view. Comparable properties had 180 degrees
of view. And there were other issues. It was clear the assessor
had the BAR in her back pocket and they unanimously voted against
us. At this point we had the option of SCAR or an Article 7 in Supreme
Court. There wasn't that much money involved that an article 7 would
make economic sense so we proceeded to SCAR. The Assessor argued
that the property was not owner occupied. The property was in a
family members name but another family member was the primary user
of the property. The hearing officer (a lawyer) ruled that the property
was in fact not owner occupied so did not qualify to hear the case
in SCAR. To me this is utter nonsense. Non owner occupied implies
it is a commercial property. This was not. They wanted the ~$170,000
property assessment to be held in supreme court. Meaning the property
owner would have to spend thousands to secure a $1,000 reduction.
The property owner just could not spend more time and money on this.
They wore him out. He would have had 30 days to secure a lawyer
and file in Supreme Court. It was just too costly. So we did not
proceed. Justice was not served in this case and was a good demonstration
of the potential abuses of this system. The SCAR hearing officer
may or may not have been right on the law. It may be in this case
that the law is what is at fault not the SCAR hearing officer. But
either way the tax payer was abused. His choice? Spend thousands
to potentially save ~ $1,000 it was clear he was being over taxed