Ruling takes air of Assessment appeal

When a window unit is assessed as central air

Posted 11/8/23

In the most recent round of home reevaluations, a Cranston resident found his home’s value increased due to having a central air system that doesn’t exist.

Fourth Ward resident Alex …

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Ruling takes air of Assessment appeal

When a window unit is assessed as central air


In the most recent round of home reevaluations, a Cranston resident found his home’s value increased due to having a central air system that doesn’t exist.

Fourth Ward resident Alex Caserta found his home had been listed as having central air after the city’s tax assessor noticed the condenser unit for his mini-split air conditioning system outside of Caserta’s home while going home to home to assess value.

“I got the reevaluation this year, and it had me listed as having central air,” Caserta explained. “So, I called up the city, and I said I don’t have central air. They said to just mark it on the thing, and that’s when they told me they tax central air at the same price as having a split.”

A split, or mini-split, is an air conditioning system that works by separating the traditional components of a classic air conditioner. A traditional air conditioner is one piece, with both the condenser and compressor components together in one unit with the filter and distribution components. The split breaks this into two by placing the condenser and compressor outside of the house and linking them to the distribution and filtration system in the home through a permanent year-round unit that has been installed by making a hole in the wall.

“When I called up Kenneth Mallette (Tax Assessor for the city of Cranston) and asked him about it he said, ‘well that’s the way we evaluate it,’” Caserta recalled. “I said ‘well there’s a difference.’ He said, ‘well there’s a difference if you have an air conditioner in your window.’”

Agreeing that a window unit is different from central air, Caserta said that he argued with Mallette that a difference should be considered between central air and mini-splits as well. According to Caserta, he and Mallette disagreed on the value of the split even though Caserta reiterated that it cooled only one room of his home. The area cooled by the unit is a point Caserta has been adamant about, since he is sure a unit that cools only one room has far less effect on raising his home’s value than a central air unit would. After realizing he and Mallette wouldn’t be seeing eye-to-eye, Caserta began the process of appealing the decision.

How much can be cooled?

The area cooled by the mini-split is central to the entire issue. The specifications for an air conditioner’s ability to cool an area of the home are based on its Btu (British thermal units) rating.

In order to cool a room, an air conditioner must have a capacity  of 20 Btu per square foot, according to and

The Btu of Caserta’s mini-split is listed on the installation paperwork he provided with his appeal to the Assessment board of review.

The split, with a Btu rating of 24,000, should be capable of cooling 1,200 square feet reliably. The average size of a home in this state is 1,572 square feet according to a story written by the Associated Press in August of 2023.

Ready to defend his position, Caserta contacted his local 4th Ward councilman, Richard Campopiano.

Campopiano offered to take a look at the unit to confirm it cooled only one room, but Caserta insisted that no one would be allowed in his home. When asked by the Herald, Campopiano  said that while he understood that Caserta disagreed with the decision to evaluate his home as having central air, he could do nothing if Caserta wouldn’t allow anyone onto the property to verify what he was claiming.

Depending on the size of Caserta’s home, and the amount of space that would actually need to be cooled, a 24,000 Btu unit could be enough to cool the majority, or entirety, of the property.

The average window unit, which Caserta has repeatedly related the mini-split to, are between 5,000 and 8,000 Btu and designed to cool about 250 square feet to 400 square feet.

“It’s not about the money,” Caserta. “It’s about the principle. I’m listed as having central air. It’s not central air. It is a split.”

What it means to the city

Mallette said that the current tax system adds a minimal amount to units such as Mr. Caserta’s, and that it never covers the actual cost of construction. The real issue, Mallette said, is what the unit adds in value to the home.

Without the information regarding when the unit was installed, how it was installed, or a building permit to track the construction, the only information the assessor had to go by in deciding how to reevaluate the home at the time it was noticed was by the visual condenser unit outside of the residence.

“In Mr. Caserta’s case, he installed the system sometime around 2014,” Mallette explained. “We at the assessor’s office never received the building permit. We discovered this when we were doing the review for the 2020 revaluation, so we added it to his property.”

“It increased his value by about $3,000,” Mallette said. “Which translates to less than about $50 a year. He demonstrated in his appeal that it cost him in 2014 over $4,000 to install the system. So, in my estimation a $3,000 increase is not bad by today’s standard.”  “Each one can be different, and he claims that it only cools part of his house,” Mallette said. “But, whether it is part of it or the whole thing it adds a certain amount of value. If he sold the house tomorrow he’d certainly be listing that it has the mini-split. If nothing else, it does add value to the property.”

Caserta still has the paperwork from when the unit was installed which shows that the overall price of the installation was $4,738 when the unit was installed. This bill was issued on June 14, 2012.

Mallette explained that whether you have central air or a mini-split air conditioning in your house, it’s not a temporary air conditioning like one would put in a window.

“These are more permanent structures,” he said. “They have condenser units set up outside. You have to drill holes through people’s walls and whatnot to put these in. So, there is an added cost to them.”

The appeal

Bringing his case to the Assessment Board of Review on October 30, Caserta presented his argument as to why his home should not be listed as having central air.

“I just told them I’m here because you’re telling me that I have central air, and I don’t,” he said. “I have a split unit that takes care of one room. I had a picture of the front of the house and the room that the unit cools. The lady then said to me ‘Is this the room?’ and I said yes that’s the only room that it air conditions.”

Caserta said he told the board that the unit fails to air condition the area down to his bathroom or his bedroom and that it doesn’t cool the rooms upstairs. After telling them the situation, he said the board asked what other evidence he had available to show that the unit only cools one room. Caserta said he supplied the invoice from the company that installed it, CARJON, that shows the power of the unit and the cost of its installation.

“Ken Mallette interrupts and said that he already explained to me that a split unit is considered the same as central air in terms of the valuation of a home,” Caserta said. “He said that he has no intention of changing it. So this was like, even before it was debated, he already made a statement that he had no intention of changing this.”

Caserta, said that he turned his attention back to the board and told them that if he was to put his house on the market next week he wouldn't be able to list it as having central air. He questioned how it was that they could even consider a house with a split to be of the same value as one with central air.

The board, he said, asked if he had a statement from a realtor or other proof that would back up his claim that the value of his home was affected less with the split than it would be with central air.

“I said ‘proof?,’ I think we’re all old enough in this room to notice the difference between real estate and what real estate is worth and what it would cost for a house with central air compared to one without it,” he laughed incredulously. “Especially considering that central air costs about $30,000 more to put in.”

Caserta said that Mallette mentioned he had had the unit for about a decade without it being reflected in his home’s value, only for Caserta to reiterate that “it’s not central air.” It isn’t about the money for Caserta, rather it is about the principle.

“What gives them the right to charge people for something they don’t have,” he asked?

Caserta said that after making his argument the board offered to give him their verdict in writing and if he wasn’t happy with it he could appeal it to the supreme court .

“That’s when I just got up and left,” he explained. “I already knew the answer. They already gave me the answer, because God [Mallette], who was sitting on my right hand side, said at the beginning of the meeting that he had no intention of changing it. They all know that in order to go to supreme court you need a lawyer, and that costs a tremendous amount of money and would probably take a number of years to even get on the docket if they would even hear a case like this.”

Despite the failure to gain a resolution Caserta finds satisfying, Mallette said that the assessor’s office will be working to create a separate label for splits in order to deal with issues like this in the future, even though the tax rate itself will remain the same as central air.

“There is no difference,” Mallete explained. “There will be an eventual change due to the pricing concerns, but it will basically just be a separate line item. His house will have a designation next year saying it is mini-splits. Valuations are going to change anyway as we’re working on that process across the city.”


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