Tag Archives: Department of Finance

Co-op, condo owners have one month before city can take away tax abatement


| mchan@queenscourier.com


Some co-op and condo owners have one month to prove their residency before the city takes away their tax abatement benefits.

According to co-op leaders, a large number of residents have received a notice in the mail from the city’s Department of Finance (DOF) stating they have until April 1 to verify their apartment unit is their primary residence in order to quality for their full abatement.

“Our records show that this unit is not your primary residence, so your abatement will be phased out,” the notice reads.
But co-op presidents said residents who received the letter have been predominantly living in their apartments for decades. The notice, leaders said, stems from the department’s poor record keeping.

“In true fashion, this is the Department of Finance’s inability to get their act together,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners. “It doesn’t surprise me that the [DOF] shows themselves to be an agency that is shockingly out of touch with the average taxpayer.”

The abatement loss could cost residents from $300 to $1,000, co-op presidents said.

According to Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, a DOF system glitch allows abatement credits to be transferred to new co-op owners when a previous owner moves out. Many times, the new owner is not eligible for those abatements but still benefits from them.

DOF spokesperson Owen Stone said that happens because there are no deeds involved. The transfer of credits is not reversed until co-op boards report the discrepancies to the department.

In regards to the abatement notice, Stone said the DOF is “working to ensure that those who qualify for the benefit receive it.”

Residents have four weeks from when the form was mailed to complete and return it, he said.

Friedrich said he fears residents who are away for the winter will miss the deadline and lose their abatements.

 

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Co-op tax relief bill passed by Legislature


| mchan@queenscourier.com


The State Legislature has passed a long-awaited tax relief bill for city co-op and condo owners, despite a cluster of lawmakers who voted against it.

The bill, approved by the State Senate and Assembly, includes raising a partial tax abatement from 17.5 percent to 25 percent and extending the J-51 program to June 30, 2015. The abatement reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one, two and three family homes in Class 1, and the J-51 gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements.

“This is a major victory for the vast majority of co-op owners in northeast Queens, including thousands of senior citizens on fixed incomes,” said Assemblymember Ed Braunstein.

But seven Democratic state senators and seven Democratic assemblymembers opposed the omnibus bill, which included a measure that gives tax abatements to 15 plots in midtown and downtown Manhattan being developed as luxury condominiums and office buildings.

“This bill only benefits the rich,” said State Senator Ruben Diaz of the Bronx. “It is a multimillion [dollar] program of rent exemptions and abatement for landlords who renovate their buildings.”

Diaz said he feared capital improvements under the J-51 program would lead to landlords raising rents on their tenants.

“To vote for this bill, we might be sending the message, an impure message, that we are only working for the landlords and against the tenants,” Diaz said.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said she voted in favor of the bill because of the vital abatements to city co-op and condo owners but believed the abatements to luxury developments were a “giveaway of city money.”

“The developers would be building this anyway. They don’t need the tax abatement,” she said. “We unfortunately can’t pick and choose the parts of the bill we want to vote for.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan said he was “outraged” the abatement extensions were put into a packaged bill and “rushed through the Rules Committee onto the Senate floor with only 30 minutes’ notice.”

“The bill subverted the normal committee process and required an ‘up or down’ vote, which was difficult as the bill contained some provisions that gave me and my Democratic colleagues pause,” he said.

The bill requires another Senate vote before Governor Andrew Cuomo can sign it into law.

Its assurances come after panic spread throughout co-op and condo communities at the end of June, when the Legislature adjourned session without extending the J-51 program and the expired abatement.

A pair of audits released last year by the city’s comptroller office found the Department of Finance at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in fiscal year 2011-12.

 

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Legislature leaves co-op, condo owners in the lurch


| mchan@queenscourier.com


City co-op and condo owners may have to ante up more in taxes after lawmakers said the state Legislature may not reconvene this year to pass promised relief.

“We had hoped the Legislature would meet and pass the annual abatement. It looks like we’re not going back,” said State Senator Tony Avella. “It’s going to be a huge cost to co-op and condo owners and a retreat from everything that we’ve worked on thus far.”

Co-op and condo community leaders said the state Legislature left them high and dry at the end of June, when lawmakers adjourned the session without extending the city’s J-51 program and its tax abatement program, which expired June 30. A bill that would put a halt to skyrocketing property tax valuations was also not addressed by the end of the session, they said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the Assembly, Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo had reached an agreement in July on “landmark” tax relief legislation that would be signed into law later this year when legislators return to Albany.

But lawmakers now say the Legislature may not meet before the year is out, meaning co-op and condo owners may have to brace for bigger tax bills in January.

“I’m very disappointed. They all agreed that a special session would be called, and it’s obviously not happening,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc. “This just goes to show that actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to politics.”

Friedrich said his community could lose out on about $1 million, which he said would eventually come out of shareholders’ wallets.

“In an economic environment like this, people can’t afford these massive increases,” he said. “It would be crushing.”

The J-51 program gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements, and the abatement reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one, two and three family homes in Class 1 — which are assessed at a lower percentage of market value.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said residents would pay up to an additional $1,200 a year in maintenance costs without the abatement.

“If the state of New York wants to drive affordable housing out of the city, it’s very easy,” he said. “Don’t renew the tax abatements. But if you want us to stay, do it, and it’s not that difficult. All it takes is going back to Albany and having a vote.”

The governor’s office did not respond to calls for comment.

According to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF) this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

A pair of audits also released this year by the city comptroller’s office found the DOF at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in fiscal year 2011-12.

City boot program hits south Queens


| Phertling@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Phil Hertling

The Smart Boot program, which locks up the cars of ticket scofflaws, hit southern Queens last Monday after being launched in Brooklyn six weeks ago.

Paylock, a parking enforcement company, has city authorization to place a yellow wheel lock on the cars of parking/traffic violators with more than $350 in unpaid fines. The no-bid pilot program, selected by the Bloomberg administration, is an attempt by the city to collect owed money more efficiently.

Aside from collecting at a more efficient rate, the Department of Finance (DOF) and other backers of the program believe the new system will benefit motorists.

“Paylock is open 24/7 for calls while tow companies close at nights and on weekends,” said Owen Stone, a DOF spokesperson. “[Paylock] can send someone to go get the boot off and return it for you.”

Violators are forced to pay a $180 boot fee, $70 sheriff’s fee and a five percent surcharge on top of any unpaid fines. However, the DOF believes this average cost is less than the average cost of the current towing system throughout the city.

“The boot charge is a little bit less, there are no taxes or storage fees,” Stone said. “On average it’s cheaper by seven to 10 percent.”

While it could potentially hurt tow companies financially, some towers say the program could be practical for scofflaws.

“It’s actually better for the vehicle owner,” said Kimberly Tanami, who owns Kimberly Towing in Astoria. “It’s much easier for the vehicle owner to release his car where it was booted than driving to the boondocks to some lot.”

The DOF believes the change is necessary for the city.

“Our goal is to collect from scofflaws and people who owe the city money,” he said. “Our goal is to do it as efficiently as possible.”

The wheel lock system will be under constant evaluation as the pilot-program gets ready to spread across Queens.

“[After Queens] it will move on to Staten Island,” Stone said. “And then, hopefully it will go citywide.”

Altruistic author helps Queens woman in need


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Philip Hertling

An 89-year-old Fresh Meadows woman who lost hope in the city regained an ounce of optimism when a big-hearted benefactor — and a total stranger — mailed her a check for $1,000.

“It feels unbelievable. It feels like a dream come true,” said Anna Gallotta.

Gallotta is currently seeking remediation from the city after she was billed more than $2,000 for sidewalk repairs she was told she would not have to pay for.

The 198th Street corner homeowner was told in November 2005 to fix 350-square-feet of sidewalk, according to a notice of violation by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Four slabs were marked defective as trip hazards, the notice showed, and eight were considered broken.

But Gallotta, who pointed to a nearby city tree as the root of the problem, said she had previously filed a report to 3-1-1 and was told the city would pay for the correction. Otherwise, the senior said, she would have called on friends to repair only what needed to be fixed and not the rest of the sidewalk, which she said was in good condition.

Instead, the now-retired city school crossing guard said she came home from work to find her entire sidewalk under construction.

According to records, Gallotta was only charged for 265.02 square feet of the total 966.49 the DOT replaced. Still, it came to $2,266.96, which she paid to the Department of Finance in March 2010.

Gallotta, who is diabetic and relies on Social Security funds, said the colossal costs have been a huge financial burden on her and her family.

The DOT said the homeowner could contact the city comptroller’s office to have her request reviewed further, but a spokesperson for the city comptroller said Gallotta had 90 days back in 2009 to file a claim against the city, which she did not do.

A Courier cover story detailed a similar case in March of another Fresh Meadows homeowner who said he was bilked by the city in 2009 for over $2,000. He was reimbursed more than half the cost last month.

Gallotta did not get a dime back from the city. Instead, she received a $1,000 check in the mail from 91-year-old Leonard Weintraub, an altruistic and avid Channel 11 viewer who said he was touched by Gallotta’s story when he saw it on the news a week after The Courier made her story public.

“I can’t believe I got $1,000 from somebody that I don’t even know. I thought something from the city would have happened. Instead a total stranger did something,” Gallotta said.

Weintraub, an author and successful lawyer in Manhattan — who is legally blind — said he was raised by a charitable father who always taught him to help others in need.

“God was so good to me. If I can’t help a person that’s down on their luck, then I don’t [deserve] it,” he said. “I have compassion because people have compassion for me.”

The generous giver has donated to research and to other people he hears of in the news in need.

Weintraub said he felt he was not deserving of praise, since the check was not for “an astronomical amount of money.” He was going to donate $2,200 but thought other people would also help Gallotta out. Nobody did.

“If you need more money, just call me. We can’t let a woman of 89 down while the government is eating good steaks,” he said.  “We do what we can to help people out. People help people, and that’s the way I am.”

Fresh Meadows woman wants repairs remediated


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Melissa Chan

An 89-year-old Fresh Meadows woman is seeking remediation from the city after she was billed more than $2,000 for sidewalk repairs she was told she would not have to pay for.

“I save penny by penny. That was money that I was saving all year long,” said Anna Gallotta, who has lived in her 198th Street corner home for six decades. “My bills come before my food.”

Gallotta was told in November 2005 to fix 350 square feet of sidewalk, according to a notice of violation by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Four slabs were marked defective as trip hazards, the notice showed, and eight were considered broken.

But Gallotta, who pointed to a nearby city tree as the root of the problem, said she had previously filed a report to 3-1-1 and was told the city would pay for the correction. Otherwise, the senior said, she would have called on friends to repair only what needed to be fixed and not the rest of the sidewalk, which she said was in good condition.

Instead, the now-retired city school crossing guard said she came home from work to find her entire sidewalk under construction.

“They didn’t tell me. I came out and saw. I didn’t know what was going on,” she said.

According to records, Gallotta was only charged for 265.02 square feet of the total 966.49 the DOT replaced. Still, it came to $2,266.96, which she paid to the Department of Finance in March 2010.

Gallotta, who is diabetic and relies on Social Security funds, said the colossal costs have been a huge financial burden on her and her family.

“I get too upset every time I touch these papers,” Gallotta said, while scouring through piles of saved paperwork. “I was always told not to fight the city. You never win.”

The DOT and the city comptroller’s office did not return calls for comment in time for press.

“In New York City now, if you sneeze, you get a ticket,” Gallotta said. “I tried my best.”

A Courier cover story detailed a similar case in March of another Fresh Meadows homeowner who said he was bilked by the city in 2009 for over $2,000. He was reimbursed more than half the cost this month.

Delinquent property owners exploiting lien loopholes


| mchan@queenscourier.com


A local legislator lambasted the city’s Department of Finance (DOF) for letting delinquent property owners exploit lien loopholes and flout payments, cheating the city out of thousands of dollars.

According to State Senator Tony Avella, indebted property owners can be removed from the annual tax lien sale — the city’s list of properties with unpaid taxes — if they submit a check or enter into a payment plan, even if the check later bounces. He said those that submit bad checks leave only with a slap on the wrist — a $20 penalty.

“This makes a mockery of the property tax system and the tax lien system in the city of New York,” Avella said. “Meanwhile, all these properties are surrounded by good, honest homeowners who pay their property taxes on time. This is an insult to them.”

Three homes in Whitestone alone, Avella said, owe the city between $17,000 and $25,000 in unpaid property taxes. The owner of one site on 24-19 Francis Lewis Boulevard stopped paying taxes in 2009, the senator claimed, and was removed from the tax liens sale when the DOF received a check that later bounced. Another owner of a home on 149-35 12th Avenue, Avella said, had submitted bad checks to the DOF for three years straight and still has not been added to the list.

“It is mind-boggling then that Finance would keep trusting these owners who have shown no regard to the rule of law or the community,” said Avella, who introduced legislation that would mandate that the city only accept payments from repeat offenders made by certified check or money order. The bill would also require a 20 percent down payment for any proposed installment plan.

Debra Feinberg, the DOF’s director of government relations, said the agency has controls in place this year to check for bounced checks. Once found, if a property owner submits a faulty check, she said they are put back into the lien sale.

 

Audit finds co-op, condo property values inflated


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/PHOTOS

A series of missteps by the Department of Finance (DOF) caused drastic upward swings in co-op and condo property taxes, according to two audits released by the city’s comptroller office.

“The department failed to adequately explain significant changes it was making in the calculation of market values. What’s more, in numerous cases, they assigned arbitrary values to co-ops and condos, and in other cases made flat out errors,” said Comptroller John Liu.
According to a summary report released by the DOF this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city, while owners of single-family homes will see an increase of 2.8 percent. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

The pair of audits, Liu said, found the agency at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in Fiscal Year 2011-12. He also said the agency operated “in the dark” without warning the public of the consequences.

According to Liu, the DOF compounded the increases in market value by sticking many co-ops and condos with questionable values instead of comparing them to equivalent, nearby rental properties. The agency’s faulty computer system, Liu said, also led to flaws in assessments, in which a Brooklyn co-op was wrongfully compared to a parking lot, a Staten Island co-op to an adult care facility and a Flushing condo to a rental property in Far Rockaway.

At least 10 percent of all 859 co-op buildings in Queens received much higher property values than the DOF’s formula should have allowed, the comptroller said, including one co-op in Forest Hills that received a market value 227 percent higher than expected.

The DOF did not return The Courier’s calls for comment. However, according to Liu, the DOF said it ensures properties are valued properly and does not agree that properties were over-assessed or under-assessed. The agency, Liu said, agreed that “continual improvement of the modeling criteria for selection of comparable properties is appropriate.”

Breakdown of affected units by neighborhood:

BAYSIDE

14

BEECHHURST

3

BELLE HARBOR

1

CORONA

1

DOUGLASTON

6

FLUSHING-NORTH

11

FLUSHING-SOUTH

8

FOREST HILLS

3

GLEN OAKS

20

HOLLIS

2

HOLLIS HILLS

2

JACKSON HEIGHTS

2

JAMAICA

1

LITTLE NECK

3

OAKLAND GARDENS

5

QUEENS VILLAGE

1

REGO PARK

1

SOUTH JAMAICA

1

WHITESTONE

7

Relief proposed for co-op owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com


New legislation may lighten the load on co-op owners, while leaving their wallets heavy.

According to Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblymember Ed Braunstein, property owners can currently fight city tax assessments through a “certiorari” process, but they said it is often costly and incurs “excessive legal fees.”

“As a co-op shareholder, I understand this problem firsthand,” Stavisky said. “Inaccurate assessments and the high taxes they bring can cause serious problems for co-op boards and residents.”

That’s why the pair introduced legislation that, if passed, could see co-ops paying only 75 percent of their legal fees in a successful certiorari suit. The law would also stabilize assessments for two years following a successful challenge, capping spikes at 3 percent to prevent the necessity of an additional proceeding, officials said.

“Co-op shareholders deserve the right to have their day in court,” Stavisky said. “These bills will allow meritorious challenges and help ease the fear of inconsistent and inaccurate assessments. This legislation would encourage the city to be more careful when preparing projected assessments by having them pay 25 percent of the legal fees in a successful challenge. That change will have a tremendous impact on the quality of life in New York’s co-ops.”

Taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners this year, according to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF). Last year, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent, and according to civic leaders in northeast Queens, some properties in the area — including Deepdale Gardens and Alley Pond — continue to suffer high double-digit spikes and some increases by more than 50 percent again this year.

“Many cooperatives and condominiums pay up to 35 percent of the savings gained through certiorari in fees to attorneys. There is no doubt that the fees are punitive in nature,” said Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance. “Certiorari filings not only appeal property valuations, they seek to correct assessment errors made by the city’s DOF. This legislation will level the playing field and ease what is already a heavy financial burden placed upon the shoulders of middle class residents living in cooperatives and condominiums.”

According to James Goldstick, managing agent for Bay Terrace Section 8, some co-ops will spend up to $35,000 in legal fees this year after shelling out close to $37,000 during last year’s tax certiorari settlements.

“It is outrageous that northeast Queens residents not only have been hit with monstrous assessment hikes during this difficult fiscal period, but that they also have to continue to bear the burden of inaccurate decisions made by the DOF,” Braunstein said.

The property tax increases are slated to take effect in July. Councilmember Dan Halloran called on the city to extend the March 1 deadline to contest valuations to March 15. However, DOF officials did not confirm whether or not the additional two weeks were granted.

 

Pols against property tax hikes


| smosco@queenscourier.com


When the taxman calls, you’d better answer.

And city elected officials are answering to the latest property tax assessments by the Department of Finance (DOF) — assessments which call for hikes among residential houses, co-ops and businesses.

“These latest assessments are a red flag for businesses and residential property owners alike that the administration of New York City’s property tax system by the Department of Finance is flawed,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “Businesses looking to come to New York City need to know that city agencies can administer taxes in a way that is correct and fair.”

According to the DOF’s assessments, the total market value for property in Queens rose an average of 2.2 percent to $207.5 billion. A single-family homeowner in Queens will owe another 2.9 percent in property taxes, bringing the average bill to $3,995. For co-op owners, the average bill will increase 4.1 percent to $2,460.83, while the average condo bill will go down 7.8 percent to $2,083.10.

Citywide, however, condo bills will go up along with residences and co-ops. The deadline for homeowners to file challenges to these assessments is March 19 for small homeowners and March 5 for everyone else.

Councilmember Mark Weprin said that city homeowners should not have to be worry about these assessments constantly raising their property taxes.

“This system is out of control and we’re going to have to make fundamental changes,” he said. “Property owners throughout the city should not be blindsided each year by ridiculous assessments. We need a consistent system free of computer glitches that yields no surprises.”

Speaker Quinn said that any spike in property taxes could also be detrimental to city business. She cited that the value of Google’s property in Chelsea increased 40 percent last year to $816.6 million. That tax bill will now skyrocket by $3.9 million to $26.4 million.

“The council and administration helped bring Google, the mecca of all tech companies, to New York City,” she said. “Google made a long-term commitment to the city, and the very next year their property tax assessments jumped dramatically. Changes like this do not inspire confidence in the system.”