Property Taxes in
Ulster County

by Andrew Peck

If you own a home which has an excessive assessment, cutting your annual tax bill is not the only reason it is important to seek relief. A property that is over taxed is far more difficult to sell for its fair market value; it is devalued by overassessment. The irony is that the higher the assessor sets the assessed value over the true market value, the lower is the market value of such a property.

For a Teran client who is selling a home, we will look at the assessment, and if it is too high, assist in correcting it, to improve the value of the property. Unfortunately, while a severe overassessment can almost always be corrected if one is willing to take the necessary steps, it often takes a good deal of time to achieve, which limits its value to one who is eager to sell.

For buyers, we will look at the taxes of prospective homes. If they are out of line, either high or low, we will advise them of possible future scenarios. Why would we be concerned if they are low? Because there is a good chance that after they buy, the tax assessor will notice the discrepancy and increase the taxes. If the taxes are high, we will advise them of the probable costs and outcomes of a petition to lower them.

Petitioning for a Fair Tax Assessment
First, the Bad News:

There are several steps in the process of securing a fair assessment. A reduction is possible at any point in the process. The first steps are free, but unfortunately, in my experience, usually futile.

A first step can be a meeting with your assessor to explain why your assessment is too high. Sometimes, it can be as simple as that. Most of the year, with the exception of a short period of time around "grievance day" (explained below) an assessor can simply adjust your assessment if s/he agrees with you. If you plan to meet with the assessor, you should understand the equalization rate, and know what it is for your town. Many of our clients have been given incorrect equalization rates by their assessor, which fooled them for a time into thinking their assessment was fair.

The first necessary step is to file a petition with the board of assessment review (the "grievance board") on grievance day, which is one designated day each year, usually in May. If you fail to file this petition on time, you loose your rights to lower your assessment for an entire year. The grievance board is composed of lay persons. Although its sole purpose is to grant relief from unfair assessments, in my experience it fails miserably. Expect little here.

After losing your grievance petition, there are two avenues possible. For one's primary residence only, going to small claims court for a $25. fee is an option. This has the advantage of being inexpensive and fast (you may get both a hearing and the decision within 2 months), but more often than not, it falls far short of justice. The hearing officers are often ignorant of real estate matters, biased toward the opinion of the assessor, whom they seem to look on as some kind of professional, and, worst of all, decisions of this kangaroo court are not appealable.

The Good news:

If this sounds hopeless, take heart! If you can afford justice, there is an excellent forum available: The Supreme Court of Ulster County. For a single homeowner, the expense of bringing such an action can be daunting; it can easily run $1,000. to $2,000. for legal and appraisal costs.

What I can do for clients is to gain both economy of scale and strength from numbers, representing several property owners in a suit together. When this is possible, I pay for all expenses; there is no risk whatever for my client. Since 1986, I have filed many lawsuits against intransigent assessors for hundreds of clients. Only when we win do I get compensation; then, my fee is a fraction of the tax reduction in the first year. This year I represent 86 homeowners in the town of Hurley in a Supreme Court lawsuit. With luck, my costs will stay under $15,000., but I expect to reduce their tax bills close to $100,000. in total, every year, for a number of years.

Please see the following for additional information:

I am available to answer your questions about property taxes. 

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Teran Realty · 74 Mill Hill Road · Woodstock, NY 12498
(845) 679-3333 · 1-800-57-TERAN