In previous blogs, I discussed the scope of Chapter 91, whether an owner-occupied property is subject to a Chapter 91 request, and the problems associated with requesting a reasonableness hearing when a Chapter 91 motion is granted. Now we move to what happens when the property owner mails its response to the Chapter 91 request, but the municipality denies receipt of the response?
 

The New Jersey Tax Court recently answered this question in a case where the court sided with the property owner and denied the municipality’s motion to dismiss a tax appeal.  See Cam Gar v. Verona Township, Docket No. 004838-2011, NJ Tax Court, Nov. 9, 2011 [link]. 
 

Verona Township sought to dismiss a tax appeal alleging the property owner failed to respond to a Chapter 91 request.  The property owner admitted it received the request, but argued it responded to the request in a timely manner by mailing the completed response to the assessor.  To support its position, the property owner offered the testimony of its bookkeeper, a 16-year employee whose job responsibilities include responding to Chapter 91 requests sent for the numerous properties managed by her employer. The bookkeeper went through in detail the procedures she implemented to handle Chapter 91 requests and produced a copy of the Chapter 91 response which had her hand written note “mailed w/rent roll 9/24/10.”  Although she admitted that she did not have a specific recollection of completing or mailing the form, “she testified that she would have followed all of the above procedures as to the handling of the Chapter 91 request.”
 

The municipality argued that without a specific recollection of completing and mailing the Chapter 91 response, the property owner cannot take advantage of the “presumption of receipt” arising under New Jersey case law. In addition, the municipality argued that vague testimony would lower the standard for other property owners who could merely argue “the check is in the mail” and avoid having its complaint dismissed. The court disagreed with the municipality and denied the motion.
 

It is important to note that the court’s decision turned on the credibility of the witness and the corroborating evidence produced at the hearing. It is not enough for a property owner to allege “I believed I mailed it”, or “since I responded every  year, I believe I responded this year”, without providing a thorough description of the procedures implemented to handle Chapter 91 requests and producing documentation that supports the testimony. Prudent property owners should adopt specific procedures for responding to Chapter 91 requests, including:

  1. stamping the request with the date it is received;
  2. having the information assembled immediately for a timely response;
  3. mailing the response by certified mail; and
  4. keeping a copy of the response with some record of when it was mailed