My blog post dated January 28, 2008, provides an overview of the New Jersey Correction of Errors Statute and explains when a property owner is entitled to go back in time and get a refund due to an error made by a tax assessor.  On June 22, 2010, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey once again confirmed the legal principal that an error alone is not enough for relief – the correction must also be self-evident. (See case here)

From 1996 through 1998, a property owner received a 20% credit on the value of her land since the land was encumbered with a conservation easement.  When the municipality completed its revaluation in 1999, it did not consider conservation easements in reducing land values (an obvious error).  In 2005, the municipality performed a reassessment and all land values were substantially increased.  In 2005, the subject property’s assessment went from $222,000 to $479,000, again with no deduction for the conservation easement (the error continues!).

In 2008, the property owner noticed that she was not receiving a reduction or any type of credit for the conservation easement encumbering her property.  On November 26, 2008, she filed a complaint with the Tax Court seeking a reduction for the tax years 2005 through 2008, arguing the error was the type of error subject to correction under the Correction of Error Statute.

The Tax Court and the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey disagreed. The Court acknowledged that the municipality’s failure to take the conservation easement into account when assessing the plaintiff’s property was an error in assessment.  However, the Tax Court continued that once the error was determined “it would have been necessary for the assessor to exercise her judgment as to how much that conservation easement would reduce [the land value of the property], that is clearly an error of judgment and not one of correctable error.”

This case underscores the requirement that not only must there be an error, but the correction itself must be “self-evident.”   The only true way to avoid this problem is to diligently review your tax assessments on an annual basis