If you are anything like me, you miss the ORPTS Reporter and the days when you’d see lengthy decisions from Hons. Thomas A. Dickerson and John R. LaCava that methodically and meticulously reviewed various portions of the Real Property Tax Law (“RPTL”). So, I get a little excited when the Appellate Division hands down a 9-page decision that thoroughly investigates the “nitty gritty” of specific statutory provisions or the regulations found at 22 NYCRR 202.59 like it did on February 1, 2013 in the French Oaks Condos v. Town of Amherst case.
In French Oaks, the Fourth Department upheld Judge John A. Michalek‘s decision that an appraisal submitted by Petitioner (the Condos) was legally sufficient despite Respondents’ (Town of Amherst) arguments that it was not worth the paper upon which it was written. The Town made numerous specific objections to the form and substance of Petitioner’s appraisal, which it argued warranted reversing Judge Michalek’s decision to reduce the assessment, including: (1) the appraiser was not qualified to testify; (2) the appraiser took a fee for his/her services; (3) the appraiser failed to inspect the interior of all the condos at issue; (4) the appraiser failed to include a clear and concise statement of every fact he/she relied upon. The Town’s substantive complaints included: (1) the appraiser provided no rational basis for his/her cap rate analysis; and (2) the appraiser failed to establish a FMV for each of the individual condo units (did not provide a final reconciled allocated value).
The Appellate Division, in its majority opinion, held that each of the alleged deficiencies go to the weight, not the sufficiency, of the appraisal report. This means that, in general, a ruling on a case will not be overturned where the report is sufficient in a general legal sense (i.e., it allows the adversary to prepare for cross examination) and basically meets the broad requirements of 22 NYCRR 202.59, even if the report is not wholly persuasive in the end.
But wait, there’s more! Reading only the majority opinion would lead one to conclude that the Town was just bitter about Judge Michalek’s assessment reduction, and that its only way out from under the reduction was to launch an elaborate attack on the appraiser’s body of work rather than sticking to the basic valuation issue. But reading the dissenting opinion, it appears that there were (potentially) so many “glaring” errors with the report both in the facts presented and in the ultimate valuation conclusions that, perhaps, some (or in this case many) deficiencies should go to the sufficiency rather than the weight of the appraisal.
It could be that the goal to be accomplished by the majority’s decision was that tougher standards on appraisers in assessment cases may chill access to assessment reviews. While I can certainly understand the Court’s policy position, most practicing attorneys in this field would likely find more comfort in holdings that tighten, not expand, what is necessary for a legally sufficient trial-ready appraisal.