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Judge Tosses Lawsuit Against City’s Property Tax System

New York City

TENNY Lawsuit
March 2, 2020

New York City’s system of property taxes may be riddled with “unfairness” and “illogic,” in the words of a state Supreme Court judge, but it does not violate equal protections guaranteed by the Constitution. For this reason, Judge Cynthia Kern has dismissed the lawsuit seeking to overhaul the system, brought by the coalition of homeowners, real-estate interests and civil rights activists called Tax Equity Now New York (TENNY).

“In reaching this conclusion, we recognize that the property tax system does, in many respects, result in unfairness,” Kern writes in her 12-page decision. But, she adds, “it is not within the province of the judiciary” to remove that unfairness. “It is up to the legislature to implement a fair and equitable property tax system. The grievances plaintiff raises are more appropriately addressed by that branch of government.”

Her decision is a victory for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has argued that city and state legislators – not judges – are the right people to reform the city’s widely reviled property tax system. Alas, reform has eluded politicians for nearly four decades. To end that logjam, de Blasio appointed the Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform in 2018, which recently produced a list of 10 proposals that must be approved by the city council, the state legislature and the governor. Among those proposals is assessing cooperatives and condominiums on their market value – instead of in comparison to rental properties, as they are assessed under the current system – and doing away with the caps on annual tax increases, which have benefited homeowners in neighborhoods where values are rising sharply.

TENNY has announced it plans to appeal Judge Kern’s ruling. The group’s lawsuit against the city and the state argues that the current system disproportionately burdens black and Hispanic homeowners  while benefiting wealthy, white residents.

A spokesperson said the city is “pleased with this ruling.”

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