Bills offer new hope for co-op owners 1

Assemblyman Ed Braunstein, center, discusses proposed legislation that would help co-op and condo owners. With him are Warren Schreiber, left, a co-op owner; state Sen. Toby Stavisky; James Goldstick, managing agent for a co-op; and Bay Terrace co-op owners Susan Rotenberg and Janet Wolf.

Relief for co-op owners is the purpose of two bills recently introduced by Queens lawmakers in Albany.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) gathered with co-op owners in Bay Terrace Friday to discuss the bills. One would protect co-op and condominium residents from excessive legal fees when successfully challenging an inaccurate city tax assessment and the other bill would stabilize assessments for two years following a successful challenge.

The impetus for the legislation was last year’s initial, sometimes large, increases in tax assessments for co-ops primarily in the northern Queens area. Some ran as high as 147 percent more than the previous year. After much hue and cry, the city Department of Finance eventually admitted there had been some glitches in the system and capped the increases at 10 percent.

Braunstein said many of his constituents have repeatedly experienced problems with “erroneous and unfair” assessments. “It is outrageous that Northeast Queens residents not only have been hit with monstrous assessment hikes during this difficult fiscal period,” he said, “but that they also have to continue to bear the burden of inaccurate decisions made by the DOF.”

A tax certiorari is the legal proceeding a property owner can use to challenge an assessment. Co-op boards that engage in such a proceeding must pay high legal fees. If the boards are successful, the next assessment will also be subject to a challenge.

Under one of the state bills, a co-op would pay only 75 percent of its legal fees in a successful suit and the city the rest. Now the city pays nothing. In the second bill, co-ops would have two years whereby assessment increases would be capped at 3 percent to prevent another legal challenge.

Stavisky stressed that it’s important to treat both sides fairly. “Co-op shareholders deserve the right to have their day in court,” she said. “These bills will allow meritorious challenges and help ease the fear of inconsistent and inaccurate assessments.”

James Goldstick, managing agent for Bay Terrace Section 8 Co-op, said his board had to spend $37,000 in legal fees last year to fight the city’s assessment. “How can the city agree in a tax certiorari settlement that the market value of a property is worth $11.8 million on Oct. 1, 2011 and then increase it to $15.3 million three months later?” Goldstick asked.

He believes it’s unfair of the city to “arbitrarily ignore the settlement [while] we have to pay enormous legal fees.”

Warren Schreiber, who also lives in a Bay Terrace co-op and is president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, called the attorneys’ fees “punitive in nature.”

Schreiber believes the proposed legislation “will level the playing field and ease a heavy financial burden on the shoulders of middle class residents living in cooperatives and condominiums.”

Also supporting the measures were residents of Bay Terrace Section 8, including Susan Rosenbaum, Susan Rotenberg, Janet Wolf and Janet Feldberg, board co-president.

Rotenberg noted that most of the residents represent an aging population living on fixed incomes. “We feel the pinch every year,” Rotenberg said of the increased assessments.

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