Legal Use of Property – Don’t Trust Assessment Records!

Even though it’s handy to check the assessor’s database instead of going to the town hall, don’t rely on assessment records for the legal use of a property. The assessor’s office will tax features or use that it sees to raise revenue for the town or city – even if that use is illegal.  Assessment records may show that a property has four bedrooms, an addition or three units, but that doesn’t mean that the owner ever obtained and closed a building permit or is using the property legally. So, if you need to know the legal use of a property, don’t rely on assessment records. Check with the local building inspector or zoning department. Beware of multifamilies, in-law apartments, sellers who did their own remodeling or repairs, building code violations and septic system restrictions that restrict the number of bedrooms.

Why does it matter? A buyer can terminate a transaction and/or file a lawsuit against the seller and you if the use of a property was misrepresented. The property may not appraise once the appraiser realizes that the use is not legal. You could also risk a DBR complaint for misrepresentation. If you’re a designated client representative for a buyer, you could be pursued for breach of your fiduciary duty to your client.

Misrepresentation of the number of bedrooms has become such a problem in Glocester, that the town plans to add a disclaimer to its assessment database to warn REALTORS® and other members of the public that the number of bedrooms shown may not be accurate. Also, Glocester reviews real estate advertisements to make sure that the legal use is accurate.

Questions? Please contact the RIAR Legal Department at 401-432-6945 or email