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Ask Habitat: Must My Building Report Cell-Phone Antenna Income?

New York City

July 28, 2014

HABITAT ANSWERS:  Co-op and condo buildings that aren't reporting income from the cell-phone antennas on their property may be facing increased scrutiny, following a report by then City Comptroller John C. Liu and State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli saying New York City had missed 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 2012 report explained that owners of large apartment buildings must report income from cell antennas to the Department of Finance (DOF). This income increases the assessed value of the property, which helps determine property taxes.

Admitting Shortfall

The DOF admitted it fell short of collecting all the tax it should have, but put the figure at $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 report also suggested 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 when you think you've found some property that didn't report.

Making Assumptions

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 $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.

What should a condo or co-op board do? Well, report that income, obviously, minus whatever roof 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 have antennas, that the department isn't overestimating your income from it.


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