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State Extends Green-Roof Tax Break, Adds Provisions to Ease Installation

Frank Lovece in Green Ideas on January 17, 2014

New York City

Green-Roof Tax Break Extended

Jan. 17, 2014 — To paraphrase J.D. Salinger, raise high the green roof, carpenters: New York State has just expanded and extended the duration of the property-tax abatement for buildings that install an environmentally friendly "green roof" — one with plant life that helps provide energy-saving insulation and other eco-benefits. Amending the original 2008 law, it doubles the previous maximum benefit of $100,000, adds new plant species to the list of those applicable for the tax break and allows new drainage and other structural provisions to make installation easier.

The green-roof abatement program had expired last March. The legislation renewing it extends the application deadline to March 15, 2018, for tax years beginning this July 1 and ending June 30, 2019. The amount of the abatement increases from $4.50 to $5.23 per square foot of a green roof, up to $200,000 or the total tax liability of the building for the year in which the abatement is taken, whichever is lesser.

"We're Number Four! We're Number Four!"

A green roof is one containing vegetation planted in soil that covers a watertight roof membrane. The Zeckendorf Towers condominium in Union Square, with its 14,000 square-foot green roof, is perhaps the city's best known, and as early as 2007, Brooklyn was #4 on the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities' square-footage list of top-10 green-roof municipalities.

The benefits are widely documented, including a limited thermal-insulation property, mostly during summer; storm-water retention, which minimizes run-off that pollutes waterways; noise-dampening; a lessening of the heat-island effect that makes cities hotter than the countryside; and increased roof longevity, by preventing UV-ray exposure and temperature swings that help create seam failure.

Under New York State law, a green roof must cover at least 50 percent of a building's eligible rooftop space, with vegetation on 80 percent of that. It also must include: a weatherproof and waterproof roofing membrane; insulation, drainage and root-barrier layers; and at least two inches of natural or simulated soil. If the soil is under three inches, you also need a separate water-holding layer to prevent the vegetation from drying out, unless the roof is certified not to need regular irrigation to maintain live plants.

That last provision, which reduces the minimum depth by an inch, is new to the law and allows lighter soil loads and possibly lowers installation expense. As well, the law also now allows you to use, in addition to sedum "or equally drought-resistant and hardy plant species," any native plants or agricultural (as opposed to ornamental) plants. Wheat or barley, anyone?

New York City's Cobweb

The new state law, which went into effect immediately upon passing on Dec. 18, 2013, doesn't seem to have made it entirely into the New York City government website. The City's main green-roofs page still erroneously says the program has expired, and it still links to the now-defunct old law and to the old, outdated fact-sheet. This means that you'll likely need a board attorney or a consultant to advise on any City requirements in addition to the State requirements.

But that's bureaucratic business as usual — and hopefully won't deter anyone who is interested in planting the green, green grass of home.

 

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Photo: The Garland Company

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