Threatening a lawsuit against the city, area co-op and condominium owners, with the support of elected officials, are playing hard- ball on what they call inflated assessment rates that in some cases are topping 100 percent more than last year.
In separate meetings last week in northern Queens, residents and legislators refused to be cowed by the new tentative valuations placed on their properties and are planning their strategy. On Feb. 22, a session was held with Department of Finance Commissioner David Frankel and a day later the largest gathering of co-op and condo board presidents met in Bayside to discuss their options.
Earlier this month, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) organized a press conference with state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) outside a Bayside co-op to discuss what they called outrageous hikes planned by the DOF on the value of such properties. Stavisky pointed to co-op valuations at Cryder Point in Whitestone — where she lives — that went up 147 percent from last year; Mitchell Gardens in Flushing with an increase of more than 113 percent; and Georgetown Mews in Kew Gardens Hills, which rose 58 percent.
She noted that it’s not easy to challenge the DOF, and it ends up costing the owners high legal fees. Stavisky also pointed out that higher assessments cause higher taxes, which are passed on to owners.
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) set up the meeting with Frankel in his district office. “Frankel is concerned,” said Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op. “He did commit to review all co-op assessed valuations in the area, and we are hoping for a massive reduction.”
But Friedrich noted time is of the essence since the new rates go into effect in July and the deadline to appeal was March 1. “Frankel believes Queens was undervalued in the past, but we disagree,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense; there is no economic reality for this.”
If enacted, the jump will be 86 percent at Glen Oaks, which Friedrich said and would cause a 28 percent increase per month on maintenance fees for residents there.
The Glen Oaks co-op president and Stavisky are calling the uprising “a Queens tax revolt” with Democratic and Republican officials both supporting the effort.
Two weeks ago, Friedrich and other co-op presidents threatened a lawsuit against the city and a decision whether to proceed is expected within three weeks. It would be based on what they deem the arbitrary and capricious action taken by the city and that one group of taxpayers is being treated differently than others, he said.
Frankel said at the meeting that the average yearly assessment increase for co-ops is 7 percent and that single-family homes are capped at 6 percent per year. “That shows the co-op rates are completely out of sync here,” Friedrich said.
The Feb. 23 meeting was organized by Stavisky and included the co-op and condo board presidents as well as all area elected officials or their aides. “For our assessed market values to skyrocket like this is absolutely shocking, and even the Finance Department seems unable to explain why,” she said. “It is simply unfair to raise the assessment, and consequently the property taxes, in some cases more than 100 percent on co-ops when the sale prices on these units are actually going down.”
The elected officials at the meeting decided to look into legislation that will cap assessments for co-ops in the same way as is done for one- to three-family houses; create a new tax class for co-ops; and to expand the appeals process for members who still may object, so that the assessed market value would not automatically return to the higher original estimated value.
Friedrich noted that co-ops are valued differently than houses. “It’s very complicated but it’s like rental property and I believe it’s used inappropriately,” he said.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Hollis), who previously served as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, said that he believes co-op and condo owners are being targeted unfairly. “Many residents of co-op buildings are lower-income seniors and working families who cannot afford these inflated tax assessments,” Weprin said.
Halloran called the increase “just another tax on hardworking middle-class New Yorkers” and said, “it has to stop.” He added that co-ops “are the last bastion of the middle class in the city,” but that they are paying waterfront mansion-style property taxes.
Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing) said that co-ops and condos are not income-producing properties for landlords. “It is high time that co-op and condo owners be treated like what they are, homeowners,” Mayersohn said.