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Hamptons Life

May 13, 2019 3:15 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Grievance Day Lets Homeowners Challenge Their Property Assessments

May 13, 2019 3:15 PM

Grievance Day is May 21 this year for East End towns, and in the wake of a 10 percent increase in the overall property tax assessment of Southampton Town properties—double the pace of the last two years—it could be much, much busier in Southampton than normal.

East Hampton Town has not conducted a townwide reassessment, and there is no reason to suspect that Grievance Day will be bustling—although a recent reassessment is not required for a property owner to grieve a property’s assessed value. So East Hampton Town residents still will be given the opportunity to make the case that their assessments are too high.

For Southampton Town residents, Grievance Day will take place at St. Rosalie’s Church in Hampton Bays, in the upper auditorium, with sessions from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m., and at the assessor’s office at Southampton Town Hall between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-283-6020.

East Hampton Town property owners can grieve on May 21 from 10 a.m. to noon, 2 to 4 p.m. or 6 to 8 p.m. Arrive at the assessor’s office at 300 Pantigo Place, Suite 108, East Hampton to get started. Call 631-324-4187 for more information.

Town assessors may increase an assessment when a residence is renovated or expanded, or when an accessory structure is added to the property. But reassessments also may be conducted based on sales trends and prices in neighborhoods—something Southampton Town now does virtually every year.

So, in Southampton Town, a home that hasn’t changed hands in 50 years still could be reassessed at a much higher value—because other comparable homes nearby recently have sold and fetched high prices.

To be technical: Grievance Day is not a day to grieve one’s tax bill, but a day to grieve one’s property assessment. Homeowners can’t simply state that they pay too much in taxes and want a reduction. They must prove inequity. They must prove that they are paying too much in property taxes relative to others with similar properties, because their property is assessed at a higher value than similar properties.

If they are successful, their assessment—and therefore, their property tax bill—will be reduced.

Successful grievance filings do not reduce the amount of money that a town or a village collects through property taxes; the total tax levy stays exactly the same. What changes is how big of a share each property owner must pay to meet that total.

So if assessments go up on average across a taxing district, while the tax levy stays flat, the tax rate will go down to balance it out. Individual tax bills may change based on the rate and that property’s assessed value.

While increasing property value is a goal for many homeowners who contemplate selling their homes one day, a higher assessed value generally is not desirable if the house isn’t on the market, because of the potential for a higher tax bill. So when assessments go up by a large amount in a short period of time, the number of grievance filers is also expected to rise sharply.

Homeowners may believe that their assessment does not reflect true market value—that is, how much they could get for their house if they put it on the market—and they may believe that they are being taxed excessively. Assessments may be set at 100 percent of full market value, as is the case in the Town of Southampton, or at a lower percentage of market value, as is the case in the Town of East Hampton.

The most popular grounds on which homeowners may grieve their assessment are that the property’s assessment exceeds the actual full market value, or that the assessment is a higher percentage of full market value than other properties of the same class.

Other reasons that arise are that a property is not located in the boundaries of a taxing district where it has been subject to taxes, or a property is misclassified compared to its actual use.

Throughout Suffolk County, each town’s board of assessment review—consisting of three to five members appointed by the town board—meets annually on the third Tuesday of May.

Those wishing to file a grievance must send a form RP-524 from the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance Office of Real Property Tax Services to their local assessor, and it must be received no later than Grievance Day. It may be mailed, emailed or dropped off in person.

Grievance filers are not required to appear in person to have their grievance heard by a board of assessment review. But when the day comes, filers or their representatives may make statements and present documentation to support their cases. The town assessor will be present and has the right to be heard on any complaint.

Grievance Day is May 21 in the towns, but for villages that have their own assessments, Grievance Day is typically the third Tuesday of February. This is true in Southampton Village, where the village has different assessments than Southampton Town. But East Hampton Village uses East Hampton Town’s assessments and therefore does not hold a separate Grievance Day.

There is no cost to file a grievance. While there are services available to authorize someone to argue a grievance on behalf of a property owner, the state notes that filers are not required to hire a lawyer. Many services advertise that they only charge a fee if they are successful at reducing a client’s assessment.

More To Know

• Residents of villages that conduct their own property assessments will have to file two grievance forms if they wish to grieve both their village assessment and their town assessment.

• It’s not just the current property owners who can grieve taxes. Purchasers can grieve while still in the process of buying a home, and tenants who must pay property taxes pursuant to their lease can also file a grievance.

• Only the current assessment can be grieved—not assessments from years past.

• In Southampton Town, this year’s assessment is based on a property’s value as of July 1, 2018.

• If the owners of a residential property—where they themselves live—are not satisfied with the assessment reduction by the board of assessment review, those owners may pay a $30 filing fee and have their grievance brought before a judge in a Small Claims Assessment Review. A more costly option—hiring a private attorney is recommended—is a tax certiorari proceeding in State Supreme Court.

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