The recent Appellate Division decision Bida v. Township of Wayne, underscores the critical importance of following the strict filing deadlines for tax appeals and further emphasizes the very limited applicability of New Jersey’s Correction of Errors Statute.
Under New Jersey’s tax court statutes, a property owner must adhere to strict filing deadlines in order to file a tax appeal. For general tax appeals, complaints generally must be filed by April 1st (May 1st when a taxing district conducts a municipal-wide revaluation or municipal-wide reassessment). In the event that the taxing district imposes an added assessment during a tax year, the filing deadline to appeal the added assessment is generally December 1st .
One exception to the aforesaid filing deadlines is New Jersey’s Correction of Errors statute, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-7. Under the correction of errors statute, a property owner may file of a complaint at any time during the tax year or within the next 3 years thereafter. However, judgments under the statute may only correct typographical errors, errors in transposing, and mistakes in tax assessments. Such mistakes must be indisputable and not subject to debate about whether the assessment to be corrected resulted from an assessor’s exercise of discretion. Therefore, the statute only applies to clerical, administrative or ministerial errors. Alleged mistakes pertaining to valuation do not qualify under the Correction of Errors statute and must be brought within the aforesaid filing deadlines.
In Bida v. Township of Wayne, the plaintiff owned a vacant parcel of land that had received building permits and certain “c” variance approvals in 2008. However, the plaintiff did not make any of the approved improvements on the property. In 2009, the property’s assessment increased from $3,400 to $40,200 due to the assessor’s undisputed mistake that the property had been improved pursuant to its prior approvals. After recognizing the error, the assessor subsequently reduced the assessment to $10,100 in 2010.
Plaintiff failed to file a timely appeal of its 2009 and 2010 tax assessments prior to April 1st. Instead, Plaintiff attempted to rely on the Correction of Errors statute, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-7. Prior case law had held that an increase in assessment when the property remained vacant qualified as an acceptable appeal under the Correction of Errors statute. See Hovbilt, Inc. v. Twp. Of Howell, 138 N.J. 598 (1994). Plaintiff alleged that the property should have remained at its prior assessed value of $3,400 for both 2009 and 2010 pursuant to the Hovbilt decision. Although the trial court and Appellate Division acknowledged that the assessor had made a clear mistake in the 2009 assessment, both courts concluded that the Correction of Errors did not apply to the appeal. Rather, the court concluded that as a result of the variance approvals obtained in 2008, the subject property experienced an unknown increase in value in 2009 and 2010. Accordingly, the correct assessment could not readily be inferable or subject to ready calculation. As a result, the Correction of Errors statute did not apply in this case and the plaintiff’s appeals pertaining to her 2009 and 2010 assessments were dismissed.