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Bleimaier v. Hopewell Township

A-3382-06T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2007) (Unpublished)

TAXATION; ASSESSMENTS —When assessing property for real property tax purposes, the appraisal used by a municipality has a presumption of correctness and the property owner has the burden of overcoming that presumption.

A municipality undertook a tax revaluation of all of the properties located within it. A landowner who lived in a two-bedroom house on a two-acre lot challenged his property’s assessment. The assessment, which more than tripled the value of the property from the time the landowner bought it, was made after a physical inspection of the property and based on a report prepared by a certified appraiser. In the owner’s challenge of the assessment before the county tax board, the owner never presented any expert testimony, but argued that according to his comparisons to other two-bedroom homes and his calculations, the assessment should have been less than double the price he paid for the property. The county tax board lowered the assessment by twenty thousand dollars.

The owner appealed the county board’s decision to the Tax Court. There, he argued that the structure on his property should not have been valued at all because any potential buyer would have demolished it. The expert who prepared the municipality’s report testified that the home should have been valued because there was no way of knowing whether a buyer would have demolished or kept the home and that a valuation on a land-only basis was inappropriate. The Tax Court pointed out that the municipality’s expert’s method of measuring the square footage of the home along its outside perimeter was the industry standard for such measurements as opposed to the owner’s measurements along the inside walls. The Tax Court affirmed the county tax board’s decision.

On a further appeal brought by the owner, the Appellate Division acknowledged its respect for the Tax Court’s expertise and made clear that it would not disturb its rulings unless a decision was arbitrary or not supported by the facts. The Court also noted that there was a presumption that assessments made by taxing authorities were correct and that the burden of proof rested with a taxpayer who challenges the assessment. The taxpayer has the burden to overcome the presumption with substantial evidence that proves otherwise. Here, the Court agreed with the Tax Court that the probative value of the owner’s comparisons to other two-bedroom homes in the municipality was diminished by the fact that the two-bedroom homes used by the property owner to compare to his home were much smaller in size. The Court additionally noted that just because no other two-bedroom houses in the municipality were valued as high as that of the owner’s, it did not necessarily mean that his home could not have been valued at that level. Thus, the Court affirmed the Tax Court’s finding that the homeowner failed to overcome the presumption of correctness on the part of the municipality.

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