What is a Tax Grievance?

First, let’s define “assessment.” Many people confuse their assessment with their tax bill, but they are quite different terms. Assessment is the basis of your real estate tax bill: Generally, real estate tax is your assessment multiplied by the tax rate. The assessment assigned to your home (by the local assessment department) is supposed to be a certain percentage (may change annually) of the fair market value of your home. Pegging assessment to value means higher value homes have higher real estate taxes than lower value homes.


Problems arise because the basis of your tax is fair market value, but it is often difficult to determine fair market value. (Estimates can often be easily disputed). Problems also arise because assessors sometimes lag behind real estate market moves and assessments get stale. To their credit, New York State lawmakers recognized that determining fair assessments is an inherently problematic job, and they put a system in place specifically and uniquely designed to facilitate homeowners’ access to a fair assessment.


The system consists of two parts:


The first level: a complaint is filed at the local assessment department seeking
an “administrative review” of the assessment. The homeowner is effectively complaining that the assessment is a higher percentage of market value than allowed by law (this percentage can change each year, and is sometimes hotly debated). The assessor examines the evidence provided on the complaint and may schedule
face to face negotiations before making a decision.

The second level: if the assessor’s decision is unsatisfactory, the homeowner may file a petition with the court for a “Small Claims Assessment Review.” This is, in effect, a lawsuit against the assessment department and requires a small court fee. Both sides (homeowner vs. assessor) will provide the court with data defending their respective assessment claims, and the court will determine the outcome.