Opinion 88-61


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

REAL PROPERTY TAXES AND ASSESSMENTS -- Payments (use of certificate of mailing to prove timeliness of)

REAL PROPERTY TAX LAW, §925: A taxpayer may not satisfy the burden of proving timely payment by producing a certificate of mailing of the U.S. Postal Service which is dated by postmark with a date on or before the last day for the payment of taxes without penalty.

You ask whether a certificate of mailing of the U.S. Postal Service postmarked with the date of the last day for the payment of school taxes without interest may be accepted as proof of the timely payment of such taxes. You informed us that you received a school tax payment in an envelope postmarked with a date after the last day for the payment of taxes without interest and that you returned the payment to the taxpayer for the addition of the appropriate late payment interest charge. You state that thereafter the taxpayer tendered payment in the requested amount but paid the late payment interest charge under protest, claiming timely payment was proved by a photocopy of a certificate of mailing of the U.S. Postal Service postmarked with the date of the last day for the payment of taxes without interest. Thus, the dates of the postmarks on the envelope containing the original payment and on the certificate of mailing were not the same.

Real Property Tax Law, §925 governs the payment of taxes by mail and provides, in pertinent part, that taxes paid by mail shall, upon delivery, be deemed to have been made on the date of the United States postmark appearing on the envelope. This Office has construed the provisions of section 925 as placing the burden upon the taxpayer to prove timely payment in cases where, for example, no postmark date appears on the envelope (31 Opns St Comp, 1975, p 26), or where two different postmarks, one timely and one late, appear on the envelope (24 Opns St Comp, 1968, p 179).

In 1982 Opns St Comp No. 82-39, p 50, we considered similar circumstances to those at hand. In that instance, a village tax payment was received in an envelope postmarked with a date after the penalty-free period, but the taxpayer produced a receipt for certified mail stamped with the date which was the last day for the payment of taxes without interest. Our opinion quoted the following from 24 Opns St Comp, 1968, p 179:

"To avoid any question of timely mailing, we recommend to those taxpayers who wait until the last minute to pay their taxes to do so by registered or certified mail, and, whenso doing, to make sure that the date stamped on their receipt is correct and legible....The date of registration is deemed to be the postmark date and the registration is prima facie evidence that the document was delivered to the agency to which it was addressed. Certified mail is usually given similar recognition."

In light of the quoted discussion, we concluded that a taxpayer may satisfy the burden of proving timely payment by producing a receipt from a registered or certified mailing and that when such receipt is produced the village should not charge interest for late payment. The acceptance of such proof is, we believe, entirely consistent with the statutory purpose of section 925 which is to consider as timely tax payments which can be established, by a postmark of the United States Post Office, to have been mailed prior to the end of the penalty free period (see Sponsor's Memorandum In Support, L 1966, ch 861).

In the circumstances here, however, the taxpayer has submitted a photocopy of a certificate of mailing postmarked with the date of the last day for the payment of taxes without interest. A certificate of mailing is not the equivalent of a registered or certified mail receipt and is issued by the Post Office as proof of mailing only as of the date of the postmark appearing on the certificate (Domestic Mail Manual, Issue 23, §931.1).

The U.S. Tax Court in David A. Haaland and Joanne Haaland v Commissioner of Internal Revenue (T.C. Memo 1984-335), considered the difference between a certificate of mailing and registered and certified mail for purposes of determining whether a certificate of mailing is acceptable as proof of the date of mailing of a petition for redetermination under the Internal Revenue Code [IRC]. The IRC provides that if any document is required to be filed or payment required to be made on or before a prescribed date, the date of the U.S. postmark stamped on the cover in which the document or payment is mailed will be deemed to be the date of delivery or payment (IRC, §7502[a]). The IRC further provides that, in the case of registered mail, the date of registration shall be deemed as the postmark stamp date (IRC, §7502[c][1][B]). In the case of certified mail, the postmark stamp date on the sender's receipt shall be deemed as the postmark stamp date (IRC, §7502[c][2]; 26 CFR, §301.7502-1[c][2]). In declining to give the certificate of mailing equal dignity as the registered date or certified mail receipt, the Tax Court stated as follows:

"Unlike United States registered or certified mail, a Certificate of Mailing provides evidence of mailing only. The Certificate of Mailing is normally prepared by the sender and must show the name and address of both the sender and the addressee. However the Certificate of Mailing is not otherwise associated with the specific item mailed. Consequently, a Certificate of Mailing which shows only that an envelope or wrapper was sent to the stated addressee on the postmark stamp date appearing on the certificate is not sufficiently reliable to overcome the presumption that the correct postmark stamp date appears on the specific envelope or wrapper containing the petition." [Citations omitted]

Based on the foregoing, it is our opinion that, since a certificate of mailing is not associated with the specific item mailed, it is not sufficient to rebut the postmark date on the envelope for purposes of Real Property Tax Law, §925.

December 29, 1988
Jane Sullivan, Receiver of Taxes and Assessment
Town of La Grange