Bill Morris in Legal/Financial on December 16, 2021
Co-op and condo advocates can look back on 2021, with justifiable pride, as a year when they marshalled their political muscle to win impressive legislative victories. In recent days, those advocates added three significant legislative triumphs to their trophy case.
First came a breakthrough that was years in the making. On Dec. 1, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law that will enable co-op shareholders 62 and older to tap into their home equity through reverse mortgages, a tool that will allow many cash-strapped older shareholders to age in their homes. The Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums (CNYC) was a major force in the fight, and after the victory, the council’s executive director, Mary Ann Rothman said, “I’m very, very, very pleased. This law sustains communities and doesn’t take from the public trough.”
Then, on the eve of its last scheduled meeting of the year, the New York City Council made an abrupt about-face and shelved the Fair Chance for Housing bill, which had been expected to pass. The bill would have prevented landlords and co-op and condo boards from running criminal background checks on potential renters or apartment buyers. It was vigorously opposed by the CNYC, which urged its members to join a letter-writing campaign sponsored by the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a landlord group. The letters opposing the bill were sent to appropriate members of the City Council — and apparently helped turn the tide.
The bill’s sponsor, Councilman Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, acknowledged that the groundswell of opposition had an effect. “The Fair Chance for Housing bill would ensure that the tens of thousands of New Yorkers that have had some experience with the criminal justice system are not penalized for life by not being able to have a roof over their head,” Levin told NY1. “We made significant changes to the bill to accommodate concerns, such as allowing the sex offender registry to be referenced. But there continue to be those that are stoking fear rather than engaging on the legislation.”
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In a statement, the RSA said, “In just six days, RSA members sent over 1,300 new messages to various council members through our VoterVoice campaign and also contacted their district offices, urging them to withdraw any support of this dangerous bill.” It worked.
And finally, at its last meeting of the year, the City Council responded to a strong push from co-op and condo advocates and voted, by a 45-3 margin, to renew J-51 tax abatements through June 30, 2022. The abatements, which had lapsed in 2020, help moderate-income co-ops and condos defray the cost of capital improvements by freezing the property’s tax assessment at the level it was before the improvements were made. The result is a lower property tax bill – and a physically improved property. The renewal will make the tax breaks available to buildings with an average per-unit assessment up to $40,000, an increase from the previous limit of $35,000. (The assessed value is part of the formula that determines a property’s tax bill; it is a percentage of the market value.)
As the year draws to a close, co-op and condo advocates have reason to feel some cheer. Geoffrey Mazel, a partner at the law firm Hankin & Mazel and counsel to the Presidents Council of Co-ops and Condominiums, was especially heartened by the extension of the J-51 tax breaks. “This is a game changer,” he says. “This will bring a lot of buildings back into the program, and it keeps the program alive. Next year we’re going to try to get something more permanent in place.”
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