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Murphy v. Township of Green

A-3487-03T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

TAXATION; ASSESSMENTS — In evaluating local property tax appeals, a court must take into account that there is a presumption in favor of the tax assessment made by the local taxing authority.

A man entered into a contract to purchase vacant land. Before the closing, the municipality’s zoning office issued a zoning permit for the property which certified that the construction of a single-family residence was a permitted use. Shortly thereafter, the man acquired title to the property and received a permit from the municipality’s construction official to build a single-family home. Once the home was built, the man applied to the municipality’s zoning officer for a certificate of occupancy. The zoning officer rejected the application on the basis that the height of the man’s home exceeded the height limit in the local zoning ordinance. The zoning officer instructed the man to either decrease the height of the home or apply to the municipality’s zoning board of adjustment for a variance. The man refused to comply with the officer’s instructions and instead informed the zoning board that a variance was not required because the home was built in accordance with architectural plans that had been approved by the municipality’s construction official. The construction official then issued a temporary certificate of occupancy which did not permit the man to live in the home, but only allowed the storage of furniture in the home. The man occupied the home anyway. In the meantime, the municipality’s tax assessor assessed the property. The man appealed the assessment to the county board of taxation, which issued a judgment affirming the assessment. The man subsequently filed an action appealing the board’s ruling. The man asserted, among other things, that the assessment issued for the property was based on an amount that exceeded the value of the property. He contended that the property should have been assessed as vacant land because his home was uninhabitable as a result of the zoning violation. In response, the municipality argued that the man’s property was properly assessed based on all of its improvements, including the home. The lower court ruled in favor of the municipality and the man appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. It held that there is always a presumption in favor of the tax assessment made by the local taxing authority. In order to overcome this presumption, an appellant must present sufficient competent evidence regarding the value of the property, i.e., the tax assessment was not based upon the true value of the property. The Court held that in this case, the man did not present any evidence regarding the value of the property, and as a result failed to overcome the presumption in favor of the municipality’s tax assessor. The man should have presented evidence of the property’s value, not merely that the property should have been treated as an empty lot. Accordingly, it affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

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