February 27, 2001


The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The
ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.


I have received your letter in which you inquired with respect to records reflective of payment
or nonpayment of real property taxes to entities of local government.

In this regard, first, as a general matter, it has been held that records accessible under the
Freedom of Information Law should be made equally available to any person, not withstanding one's
status or interest [Farbman v. New York City, 62 NY 2d 75 (1984); Burke v. Yudelson, 368 NYS
2d 779, aff'd 51 AD 2d 673, 378 NYS 2d 165 (1976)].

Second, in brief, the Freedom of Information Law is based upon a presumption of access.
Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions
thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law. In
my view, one of the grounds for denial is relevant to an analysis of rights of access. Specifically,
§87(2)(b) states that an agency may withhold records to the extent that disclosure would result in "an
unwarranted invasion of personal privacy". In addition, §89(2)(b) includes a series of examples of
unwarranted invasions of privacy.

Records relating to the assessment and collection of real property taxes have long been a
matter of public record not only under the Freedom of Information Law, but also pursuant to laws
preceding the enactment of that statute. For instance, the contents of assessment rolls, which identify
the owners of real property, the assessed value of the property, and the amount of tax owed or paid,
are accessible to the public {see e.g., Szikszay v. Buelow, 436 NYS 2d 558 (1981)]. Therefore,
insofar as records identify those owners of real property that have not paid their taxes on time or that
have been penalized due to late payment or non-payment are, in my opinion, clearly accessible to
the public. Similarly, the imposition of a penalty indicates that a final agency determination has been
made, and a record so indicating would be available [see Freedom of Information Law,
§87(2)(g)(iii)]. In short, I believe that records identifying the owners of those parcels of real property
againstt whom penalties have been imposed, including their addresses, must ordinarily be disclosed.

Lastly, one of the examples of an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy appearing in
§89(2)(b) involves the ability to withhold a list of names and addresses if the list would be used for
"commercial or fund-raising purposes". Consequently, if the names and addresses of the property
owners would be used for a commercial or fund-raising purpose, I believe that an agency could
justifiably deny access. However, if that is not your intent, the names and addresses must in my
opinion be disclosed.

I hope that I have been of assistance.



Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director