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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021




Pols Join Fight Against “Discriminatory” Property Taxes

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Tax Lawsuit

One of the Park Slope buildings owned by Mayor Bill de Blasio (the red building, center) is worth $1.5 million but has a $3,500 tax assessment (image via Google Maps) 

Nov. 17, 2017

Five city council members, claiming to represent nearly 800,000 New Yorkers in their districts, have filed a “friend of the court” brief in state Supreme Court, seeking to join Tax Equity Now New York in its lawsuit claiming that the city’s arcane property tax system is unfair and racially discriminatory, the New York Times reports.

The racial discrimination charge stems from the current property tax system’s caps on assessment increases – at 6 percent per year and 20 percent over five years. As property values have soared in predominantly white neighborhoods such as Brooklyn’s Park Slope, the caps have kept property taxes artificially low. (Mayor Bill de Blasio owns two row houses in Park Slope.) In neighborhoods with large minority populations and lower property values, the taxes are proportionally much higher.

De Blasio, who campaigned in 2012 on a promise to reform the lopsided tax system, made no reforms during his first term – but promised to tackle the thorny issue if re-elected. A week after the mayor won re-election, city lawyers were in court arguing that the City Charter designates the corporation counsel as the attorney for the city and every agency — meaning that the council members could file a brief as citizens, but not in their official roles. “The case law is very clear,” Joshua Sivin, senior counsel at the Law Department, said in court on Wednesday. “The city should speak with one voice.”

Attorney Noreen Anne Kelly, a partner with McGuire Woods who is representing the five council members in their brief, replied, “The legislature is not an agency of city government.” And councilman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, one of the five in the “friend of the court” brief, added, “The notion that the council has no ability to take a position on a lawsuit without the blessing of the mayor strikes me as an extraordinary claim. City agencies do not control us.”

For the many co-op and condo residents disgruntled with the city’s property tax system, the question remains: will the mayor make good on his campaign promise the second time around?

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