Grievance Time is Here Again

Remember how you felt, back in January, when you received your annual Town or City tax bill? Or last September, when the school tax bill arrived? If you looked closely at those bills, you may have noticed a statement along these lines: “The Assessor estimates the FULL MARKET VALUE of this property as of 07/01/2014 was $__________.” If you disagreed with that statement, you may well have concluded that you were being unfairly taxed. However, if you tried to “do something about it” back in September or January, you would have learned that it was too late. If you did not challenge your assessment on Grievance Day in May 2015, you cannot seek relief from the taxes—no matter how onerous—imposed by your school district in September or by your town or city (and county) in January.

Now, however, is the time to act with regard to your 2016 assessment.

In most towns and cities across New York State, tentative 2016 assessment rolls will be filed by May 1, 2016, and Grievance Day will be May 24, 2016. However, villages that have their own assessors, some upstate cities, Nassau County, and New York City have different assessment calendars and grievance dates. In addition, some towns delay Grievance Day to accommodate assessors who serve more than one assessing unit, so you should always double-check with your local assessor’s office. That being said, in most locales, if you are dissatisfied with your 2016 assessment, you must file a formal grievance on or before May 24. If you miss this deadline, you will be out of luck for another year.

The question is not whether you think your taxes are too high (they are…all of our taxes are too high), but whether you think the assessor has overestimated the full market value of your property. And do not be confused by the difference between your assessment and the Assessor’s estimate of your full market value. For example, if you live in the Town of Union, which has an equalization rate of 4.27%, and your assessment is $10,000, that means that Assessor thinks your property is worth $235,000. If your property is actually worth less than $235,000, you may have grounds for an assessment challenge. Also, if you just refinanced your mortgage and the bank appraisal came in at $180,000, or you just bought the property for $150,000, or you are about to list it for $170,000, then you may want to consider filing a grievance.

Even if you have been willing to concede that your property is properly assessed, keep an eye out in early May for any notices from the assessor. Assessors are required to notify property owners of any change in their assessment. While assessment changes may result from improvements to or detractions from your property, the Assessor is not required to and usually does not explain the changes in these notifications.

Finally, if you own multi-unit residential property in Tompkins County, or any property in the City of Oneonta, you should know by now that your assessment is going to change as the result of revaluation. Initial notices of such changes went out in March and included information on the informal review hearings which are part of the revaluation process. If you missed that opportunity, don’t worry, you can still challenge your new assessment on Grievance Day.

One final note—the grievance process, in theory, is supposed to be conducive to helping individual property owners contest their own assessments.  In reality, the process—including the contents on the required grievance forms—can be confusing and errors at the grievance stage may affect your right to file  a further challenge in Court.  It is always best to secure professional advice.

Article written by Paul T. Sheppard, Esq. For more information, contact
Mr. Sheppard at (607) 231-6729 or via email at


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