Tag Archives: DOF

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.



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.”

City scofflaws to face the boot

| aaltman@queenscourier.com


Motorists with multiple parking tickets might soon find a pesky boot anchored to their car wheel as the city revs up to roll out its wheel lock program.

The initiative, set to begin in north Brooklyn on Monday, June 25 and spread to the outer boroughs over the summer, targets scofflaw vehicles – those with an exorbitant amount of unpaid fines against them. City marshals, currently responsible for towing cars with outstanding tickets totaling over $350 will continue to operate separately from Paylock, the new-program proliferators.

Paylock was selected by the Bloomberg administration for the no-bid pilot program, expected to rake in $70 million for the city. Employees from the New Jersey based business can scan for cars with unpaid fines using automated license-plate-reading software, sweeping blocks in seconds. Once they get a hit, workers strap a lock to the whip’s wheel. Motorists must call the company and fork over their fines via credit card. Paylock then gives the driver a pin number to be entered into the boot’s keypad, releasing the contraption.

The motorist is responsible for paying a $180 boot fee, $70 to the city and a five percent surcharge, as well as all acquired ticket fines. Along with the Paylock-administered fees, the driver must return the boot within 24 hours or otherwise face additional charges of $25 every day until it is brought back to a designated location.

A spokesperson from the Department of Finances (DOF) called the program “a more efficient, more customer friendly method of collecting outstanding parking fines,” mainly because it erases the confusion and worry incited upon discovering your car has been towed.

The spokesperson claimed that a motorist whose car has been towed pays an average of $306 to reclaim their vehicle, not including parking fines incurred prior to towing. With a booting program, the spokesperson alleged, drivers will owe about seven percent less on average in fees to have the boot removed.

As the city gears up to reboot the plan, tow truck companies and their contractors fear they may be flattened by the monopoly of the program’s city-picked proprietor.

John Hughes, an Astoria resident who works for a city Marshall Program, fears the new initiative will leave contractors like him out of a job, estimating that around 200 people will be forced out of work.

“They’ll do business exclusively with one tow-truck company,” said Hughes. “You’ll pay $600 to $1000 more for something that costs nothing except for your tickets.”

Hughes fears the program could cause public safety issues, arguing when more than one car on a street is booted, it could prohibit a fire truck or ambulance from accessing a place or person in need.

He added that western Queens will struggle the most with this, predominantly due to previously present parking problems.

– Additional reporting by Phil Hertling


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.


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.


Whitestone property a blight

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Annoyed at the eyesore, local officials are finally addressing an abandoned Whitestone property – located at 24-19 Francis Lewis Boulevard – in the hopes of rousing the city’s Department of Finances (DOF) into taking action.

Senator Tony Avella and the North East Flushing Civic Association want to convert the dumping ground into a contributing entity of the community.

According to Avella’s representatives, the unidentified owner has failed to pay property taxes since October of 2009, therefore including the property under a list of tax liens – meaning three years has lapsed since the last tax payment was received, so the DOF can now put the property up for sale. Avella’s representatives alleged that the DOF received a check on the final day of payment for $9,772.11 from the property owner on August 3, 2011, removing this property from the 2011 list of tax liens. It was later discovered, according to Avella, that the check bounced.

“Shady things are going on there,” said Avella’s spokesperson Edward Fleming of the area, now consumed by graffiti and garbage. “We all want something put there because it’s an eyesore.”

Avella, who claims he is unsure of the property’s owner, wants to put pressure on the city, particularly the DOF, in hopes they will make changes to what he calls “a classic case of things falling through the cracks.” On Saturday January 14, Avella and Peter Brancazio, President of the North East Flushing Civic Association, gathered at the abandoned lot to bring awareness.

“We’re fortunate that in Queens people keep up their properties,” said Avella. “They shouldn’t have to live next to those eyesores for a decade.”

Avella claims he is committed to doing anything necessary to clean up this abandoned lot, which he says has been a problem for over 10 years. He also said that he hopes to spark legislation stemming from this incident, mandating that property owner’s checks need to be guaranteed.