Westchester attorney Lisa Fantino thinks taxpayers sitting on potential tax windfall despite plummeting home values.

Ok, after reading that headline, you are probably thinking that I am crazy in this economic climate. It is true that a house that was worth $1.2 million in Hartsdale in January 2006 is now worth about $600,000 – a 50% percent reduction in three years. It is also true that the property taxes on that house are still assessed at approximately $22,000. Yes, you heard me right, $22,000. Hartsdale, the poor step-sister of its affluent next door neighbor, Scarsdale, has one of the highest tax rates and the weakest school districts in Westchester County.

Westchester homeowner are plagued with high property tax rates that are out of whack with the current housing market.  Their relief may lie in tax grievance procedures.  For homeowners in the Towns, that filing deadline is usually the third Tuesday in June while the deadline for the Villages is generally the third Tuesday in February (this year February 16, 2010).

Tax certioraris are the legal process by which a homeowner can challenge the assessed value of a property with the hope of getting a reduction in property taxes. However, not many attorneys know how to file them and fewer homeowners take advantage of them. Often, what will happen is that a homeowner will receive a marketing pitch in the mail from an agency offering to reduce their taxes for no cost unless they win a reduction.

It is a relatively painless procedure but there is a certain time frame when the assessor of your municipality will accept such cert applications. Once it is filed, it will be reviewed. The good news is that you can only benefit from it. Your taxes will not increase as a result and it is possible that you will not only get a refund for over-payments but you will also receive a reduction going forward. Further, the attorney will likely only charge you a fee contingent on your refund and/or reduction; therefore, there is little or no cost to you, except the filing fee (if any) and for an appraisal of the property.

The toughest part about a tax cert proceeding in this economy is finding comparable properties (houses of similar worth as determined by an appraiser). The cert application must include recent comp sales to support your application for a reduction. In this market, houses are not selling. Therefore, it may be that cert applications will now be based solely on the word of a qualified independent appraiser.

New York State’s Office of Real Property Services has a FAQ section worth checking out but it is always best to consult an attorney. Why not try it – you have nothing to lose and perhaps a windfall to gain.

Just be aware that thousands of homeowner in the Towns appealed their property taxes this June and nearly all of them were denied at the local level, forcing the homeowners to file appeals in State Supreme Court.  The Court has been inundated with 6,000 such SCAR (Small Claims Assessment Review) application this year.

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2 thoughts on “Westchester attorney Lisa Fantino thinks taxpayers sitting on potential tax windfall despite plummeting home values.

  1. Tax Certiorari (property tax appeals, both commercial and residential) are certainly a valuable tool for homeowners. However, it is important to realize that just because your property’s value has gone down does not mean that you have a strong case to reduce your tax basis (unfortunately). A lot will depend on your specific property and the municipality where your property is located – and most importantly, there are certain years where you will have a better chance than others to save. The fact is that it is important to speak to someone who understands 100% of the process because there is nuance and subtlety to evaluating your specific case and your opportunity to save money.

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