Queens co-op owners are feeling picked on again by the city and state Sen. Tony Avella wants to do something about it.
First it was property tax assessments that in some cases were set to jump more than 100 percent from the previous year in 2011. Now co-op owners are complaining that they are treated differently those living in one-, two- and three-family homes when it comes to sidewalk repairs.
Under existing city policy, sidewalks that are damaged by city trees can be repaired by the city at no cost to the homeowner, but the practice does not apply to co-ops, condominiums and houses of worship.
At a press conference Friday outside Glen Oaks Village, a co-op, Avella (D-Bayside) was joined by two owners to complain about the double standard.
The senator has proposed legislation to force the city to also pay for repairs at co-ops, condos and religious buildings.
“It’s about fairness,” Avella said. “City trees cause the problems, and the trees and sidewalk program protects pedestrians from injury due to damaged sidewalks and improves tree health without unfairly burdening property owners with the significant cost of repairs.”
Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance and president of Bay Terrace Co-op Section 1, said Avella’s legislation “would finally level the playing field between co-ops, condos and private homeowners when it comes to sidewalk repair damages caused by trees.”
Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village, said last year a city inspector looked over one block there and found hairline cracks and what the co-op owner described as marginal damage. The co-op had to pay $59,000 for the repairs.
“It’s not equitable,” Friedrich said of the sidewalk repair costs. “We pay the same taxes and we should be treated the same.”
Schreiber called the policy “an unfunded mandate,” saying, “If someone falls, they sue us and that’s expensive.” He added that Avella’s legislation would provide a safety net for all property owners.
When asked why he was taking up a city issue, the state senator said it would cause the mayor to discuss the matter. He is optimistic his measure will clear Albany, although he says it may require a home rule measure from the City Council too. “But it gets people talking,” Avella added.
Home rule grants the city the power to govern in certain areas. But New York State can pre-empt New York City legislation.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), who was not invited to the press conference but was contacted later, said it would be great to expand the trees and sidewalk program but that it’s not realistic. “The program is so woefully underfunded,” Weprin said. “There is a waiting list to get the sidewalks fixed.”
He said he has complained for years about the underfunding and that “at the moment there’s not enough money to expand it to include co-ops.”
Avella suggested that the mayor cut back on his push for more bike paths to save $100 million that could then pay for more sidewalk fixes. “People don’t want them and the city needs to protect its infrastructure and get back to basics.”
A spokesman for the Parks Department, which regulates the trees and sidewalk program, issued the following statement: “Parks’ trees and sidewalks program is a free program to help owners of one-, two-, and three-family homes repair sidewalks damaged by curbside trees. Since the program began in 2005, more than $18 million has been spent fixing more than 9,200 trees and sidewalks throughout the city, including nearly $9 million for 4,200 locations in Queens.
“In the case of larger buildings, condominiums and co-ops, the program does not currently apply.”