Frank Lovece in Legal/Financial on June 29, 2012
We'll get to that, but first some background. The June 27 report, a joint audit by City Comptroller John C. Liu and State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, explains that owners of large apartment buildings must report income from cell antennas to the DOF. This income increases the assessed value of the property, which helps determine property taxes.
The report said the DOF has failed to collect an estimated $24 million in property taxes because it didn't use all available resources to identify buildings that don't report income from cell antennas. The DOF admits it fell short of collecting all the tax it should have, but put the figure at just $10.5 million, not $24 million. The report counters that this was only because the DOF counted just 843 properties that didn't report income, whereas the comptrollers said they identified about twice that number: 1,711.
The DOF countered that the report covered years 2009 and 2010, and that in 2011 the DOF "prioritized the accurate valuation of cell sites" and therefore "much of the Audit Report is outdated."
Returning volley, the report said, basically, "Nyuh uh," and that it had found properties ""by using data matching not employed by DOF."
Whatever. So what does the report say the DOF should do? First, compare records of property owners who reported call-antenna income with those on the Department of Buildings' Cell Antenna Record (on the DOB website) and with those on the Real Estate of Utility Corporation list that the DOF itself compiles (and which is not online).
They're Gonna Assume WHAT?
All well and good. But the report also suggests that the DOF "ascribe cell-site income when it identifies and verifies additional properties that are cell sites and were not reported." Translation: Make up an income figure out of thin air when you think you've found some property that didn't report.
How does the DOF derive those figures? According to the report, the department "adds a preset amount to the property's income and adjusts the assessed value." For properties north of 125th Street in Manhattan and in the outer boroughs, the DOF assumes $2,000 a month per cell carrier that leases space. South of 125th Street, it assumes estimated $4,000 per month.
That's right: From one side of the street to the other it doubles – and apparently a building in a low-income area of The Bronx or in the hinterlands of Staten Island earns as much from leasing cell-tower space as one in a wealthy Brooklyn neighborhood. Really?
(The Federal Communications Commission doesn't require every antenna structure to be registered, in case you're wondering, and some carriers sell their tower assets to third-party companies, making antenna location a bit harder to pin down.)
What should a condo or co-op board do? Well, report that income, obviously, minus whatever wear-and-tear or other deductions your accountant may find. And secondly, keep an eye out to make sure the DOF isn't ascribing cell-antenna income to you if you don't have any cell antennas, or, if you do, that the department isn't overestimating your income from it.
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