Bill Morris in Legal/Financial on June 8, 2023
When shareholders at the 162-unit Greenwood Arms co-op in Howard Beach, Queens, failed to get their assorted tax abatements and exemptions from the city government, board president Sheila Insler got an earful.
“We couldn’t get a report from the Department of Finance (DOF) that tells us what each shareholder got from the Star, senior citizen and veteran exemptions or the property tax abatement,” Insler says. “The city was unresponsive, and the shareholders were screaming.”
The co-op had switched property management companies in March 2022, bringing in the Lovett Group. Insler speculates that the DOF report may have gotten lost in the management transition, but Richard Llanos, senior property accountant at the Lovett Group, believes the problem goes deeper.
“It’s an ongoing issue,” Llanos says. “A lot of co-op shareholders and condo unit-owners are being dropped off abatement lists without us being notified.”
Management companies file for tax exemption and abatement eligibility by February 15 for the upcoming July-to-June tax year. Those filings state if the unit is an owner-occupied primary residence — a requirement for the co-op and condo property tax abatement. In April or May, the DOF releases lists of people who qualify for the various forms of tax relief. Invariably, there are errors.
“The biggest issue is the wait time to get that list corrected,” Llanos says. “In the past, four months was normal. Now there’s a backup. I have tickets to amend the abatement list for the 2022-23 tax year that were submitted in December that still haven’t been addressed.”
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When the Greenwood Arms abatement report was not forthcoming, Insler contacted the office of her City Councilmember, Joann Ariola (R-Queens), who assigned the case to staffer Alex Leguisamo. His first step was to get in touch with the co-op board and its management company.
“Once I had a clear understanding of the situation, I reached out to my contacts at the Department of Finance and delivered the request to the unit where it was supposed to go,” Leguisamo says. “It is not always easy for someone to navigate their way through all of the channels within the Department of Finance, and even for someone with my experience, it still took several emails and phone calls to find the right people to get in touch with. It took a few days to put all of the pieces together and get that report, but in the end we got the result that we wanted.”
Dealing with the Department of Finance wasn’t always so complicated.
“In the past,” Leguisamo says, “there was a dedicated contact who would work with each City Council office, and that would have probably sped the process up for us. There has been a restructuring within the Department of Finance as a result of staffing issues, however, and now it’s more difficult to track people down as we don’t have any single dedicated point of contact.”
Llanos wholeheartedly agrees with that assessment. There are more than 20,000 unfilled positions across all city government agencies, and, Llano notes, “there’s no direct phone line for these abatement issues. The city says they’re backed up, and they’ll get to it when they get to it.”
Dawn Lombardo, controller at the Ferrara Management Group, says the backup began during the COVID pandemic. “Now,” she says, “the abatement process is complicated because the Department of Finance has fallen behind.”
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