SIGNED, SEALED, AND DELIVERED: Taxpayer Certification a Must

By: Jay Surdukowski, Esquire

In a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court decision, taxpayers, property tax consultants, and lawyers received a harsh wake up call. In a unanimous decision authored by Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, the Court ruled that a taxpayer who elects to use the Board of Tax and land Appeals (“BTLA”) form for a tax abatement appeal pursuant to RSA 76:16, I, must sign the form personally in order to attest that the information submitted is true, or lose the right to challenge the assessment.

In Appeal of Ned Wilson, et al, 161 N.H. 659 (2011), the Wilsons were represented by a non-attorney property tax consultant. The consultant used the BTLA form for the taxpayers’ tax abatement appeal. Rather than have the taxpayers sign the form, the consultant attached an “agent authorization form” which the taxpayers had signed. This form authorized the tax consultant to act on the taxpayers’ behalf and to sign both the municipality abatement and the BTLA appeal forms. Most practitioners would have agreed that, under these facts, the documents for appeal were properly executed. Unfortunately for these taxpayers, the BTLA and the Supreme Court disagreed.

The BTLA rejected the appeal noting that the taxpayers had not certified that the information presented on the BTLA’s abatement application form was true. The taxpayers appealed to the Supreme Court which held that the statute governing appeals strictly requires the taxpayer’s signature to certify the information contained in the appeal. The Supreme Court did not accept the taxpayers’ main argument that, since the BTLA’s form is not required to be used for an appeal, failure of a taxpayer to sign the same should not preclude consideration of the appeal. The Supreme Court disagreed and noted that even though the form was not required by the statute, certain information must be included in any appeal pursuant to the statute. Among that information is a place for the applicant’s signature “with a certification by the person applying that the application has a good faith basis and the facts in the application are true.” See RSA 76:16, III.

The lesson of this decision is that a taxpayer must sign an abatement application or likely face dismissal of the appeal upon jurisdictional grounds. Property tax consultants and attorneys, who typically sign a variety of documents on behalf of their clients, must be careful to obtain the taxpayer’s signature on this particular document.