Reminder: Taxpayers Bear a Heavy Burden in Overcoming the Presumption of Correctness Afforded to Assessments

by: Michael Realbuto
10 Sep 2021

The New Jersey Tax Court has, once again, reiterated that taxpayers must produce sufficient evidence of true property value to overcome the presumption of validity that attaches to a county board of taxation’s assessment determination.

In Faber v. Toms River Township, a self-represented taxpayer filed a complaint with the Tax Court contesting a judgment issued by the Ocean County Board of Taxation (the “Board”) for the 2020 tax year. During the trial, the taxpayer elicited testimony from the township assessor that sought to question the methodology used in assessing her property, which contained a single-family residence. While the assessor was familiar with the methodology used, he was unable to provide any specific information because (1) he did not specifically assess the property during the tax year in question and (2) he had not been made aware that the taxpayer intended to call him as a witness at trial. Indeed, the assessor’s trial testimony was essentially a recitation of the information contained on the property record card. In addition to the assessor’s testimony, the taxpayer submitted evidence relating to three separate property sales that were purportedly “comparable” to her property.

In an unpublished opinion written by the Honorable Kathi F. Fiamingo, J.T.C., the Court found that the taxpayer failed to overcome the presumption of validity that attached to the Board’s determination. The Court placed heavy weight on the fact that the testifying witness was not the assessor during the tax year in question and had no independent knowledge regarding how the subject property was assessed. Moreover, since the taxpayer failed to (1) subpoena the assessor, or (2) provide him with any advanced notice indicating that testimony would be solicited, the Court opined that the assessor was unprepared to provide credible information to challenge the assessment at trial. Thus, merely reciting the information contained on the property record card was insufficient to prove that the assessment was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Lastly, the Court rejected the taxpayer’s proofs regarding the comparability of the three separate property sales because each property was distinct in design or location when compared to the subject property.

Judge Fiamingo’s decision sheds light on several procedural and strategic maneuvers that taxpayers can use to strengthen their case before the Tax Court. Notably, to overcome the presumption of validity that attaches to a tax assessment determination, a litigant must submit sufficient evidence of the subject property’s “true value” that calls into question the validity of the underlying assessment. (Emphasis added). Property tax appeals in New Jersey are subject to special procedures which must be followed and can often benefit by having property owners consult with experienced counsel.  If you believe your property was incorrectly assessed, contact McKirdy, Riskin, Olson & DellaPelle, P.C. to speak with an experienced property tax appeal attorney. To view the full Faber v. Toms River Township decision, click here.