SteveK June 9th, 2013
In Burgundy Realty L.L.C. v. Township of Piscataway, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss for plaintiff’s failure to respond to income and expense information requests under N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, more commonly known as a “Chapter 91” request. Plaintiff opposed the motion claiming that receiptof the Chapter 91 request by the taxpayer’s managing member was never effectuated because the return receipt card had a signature that the Plaintiff did not recognize, thereby making service and delivery ineffective.
Under N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, a Chapter 91 request is a written request by a tax assessor by certified mail requiring an owner of income producing property to “render a full and true account” of income from such property. When making such a request, an assessor must also include a copy of the statute with the written request. Failure to provide a response, or provision of a false or fraudulent response, within 45 days of the Chapter 91 request, bars the property owner from challenging the property’s assessment. The purpose of a Chapter 91 request is to provide assessors with additional authority to secure as much informationas possible to aid in ascertaining the fair market value of income-producing property.
By letter, the Township’s assessor sought the income and expense information pursuant to Chapter 91, from the Plaintiff for the purposes of determining the assessment of the subject property for the 2013 year. The Chapter 91 request was addressed to the Plaintiff, the property owner’s address of record which happened to be the Managing Member of the Plaintiff. The mailing included a cover letter explaining the Chapter 91 request and consequences for failure to respond, a copy of N.J.S.A. 54:4-34, and a form entitled “Annual Statement of Income and Expenses for Income Producing Properties.” All parts of the mailing included an identical pre-printed label indicating the Subject’s location, block and lot number, and owner’s address of record. The certified mail return receipt displayed the delivery address as the same as the pre-printed label indicating the Plaintiff’s location.
The signature box of the certified mail card contained an illegible signature and the electronic delivery confirmation from the United States Postal Service showed that the mail was delivered. The Township’s assessor, however, did not receive a response within 45 days of the Chapter 91 request. Plaintiff stated that on the date of delivery he was not home and further stated that the signature on the certified mail card was not his. Plaintiff maintained that for thesereasons, it never received the Chapter 91 request, and therefore, the Township failed to comply with the fair notice requirements of Chapter 91 requests.
The court found that the Township’s Chapter 91 request strictly complied with N.J.S.A. 54:4-34. To support its decision, the court stated that the Legislature did not require the assessor to use the optimal service of a return receipt but only required that the Chapter 91 request be sent by certified mail. Instead, the court found that a return receipt is merely an additional piece of evidence to show proof of delivery. Furthermore the court noted that it would be too burdensome to require the Township to ensure the signature on the return receipt card is one that Plaintiff knows or recognizes.
The court found that the document trail irrefutably showed that the Chapter 91 request was properly addressed, mailed and delivered. Therefore, defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted.
DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, PC (www.dbnjlaw.com ) is a full service law firm in New Jersey which provides a broad range of legal services, including the representation of clients in real estate tax appeals. For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s real estate tax appeal group, please contact Martin Allen, Esq
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