UPDATE: In January 2013 the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed in part the decision outlined below. You can read the updated version here.
It is getting to that time of the year where properties owners are thinking about appealing their property tax assessments for 2011. A recent Tax Court decision (Prime Accounting Dept. v. Township of Carney) which hopefully will be reversed on appeal, stresses the importance of making certain that the person appealing their tax assessment is either the property owner or someone responsible for paying the taxes.
In Prime Accounting, the tax bill identified the owner of the property as “Prime Accounting Dept.”, which was a department of a prior tenant, “Prime Management Company”. Most likely, the former tenant asked the tax assessor for their tax bills to be directed to the company’s accounting department. When the tax bill was changed naming the “owner” as Prime Management’s accounting department, no one thought there would be any problems. However, when an appeal of the property’s tax assessment was filed in 2009, Prime Management no longer was a tenant, yet it appears the tax bill for the property was never updated, which resulted in “Prime Accounting Dept.” being named as the plaintiff in the tax appeal. Standard practice for most tax appeal attorneys is to use the most recent tax bill as the source of the information to complete a County Tax Board Petition or Case Information Statement (for Tax Court cases).
When the issue was raised by the Tax Court, the plaintiff filed a motion seeking leave of court to amend the complaint to name the current tenant as the plaintiff (ie. change the plaintiff from Prime Accounting Dept. to Bocceli, LLC.). The Tax Court denied the motion and dismissed the tax appeal. The Tax Court held that it did not have jurisdiction since the original plaintiff was not a taxpayer and the amendment of the complaint could not correct this problem. The decision has been appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.
It is important to make certain that the person or entity filing the appeal meets the definition of an aggrieved taxpayer (ie. owner, tenant paying taxes under a lease, etc.) Although it may be more convenient and effective to have a tax bill sent to a particular person (ie. management company or department within a larger company), you need to make certain that the entity named in the petition or complaint is a “taxpayer”.