Tackling Taxes in Westchester

Owning property in Westchester comes with a pretty steep price. The purchase price is just the beginning of sticker shock for most homeowners in the County but the escalating cost of property taxes adds to that ongoing burden. Grieving your taxes is the only way to possibly get some relief and initiating the process the correct way from the start increases your chances of winning a reduction.

That being said, the tax grievance landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years with Mamaroneck and Scarsdale undertaking revaluations and Yonkers, Greenburgh and Ossining undergoing the process as of this writing. The municipalities had a two-fold goal: level the property tax playing field, which had not been adjusted in decades, and reduce the number of tax grievance applications which had swamped the assessors’ offices for the past few years.

Westchester Tax GrievanceThe revaluations have resulted in a seismic shift with lower tax bills for some and shockingly higher assessments for others.  As a Westchester attorney who has practiced in tax grievances for more than a decade, my experience has shown me that many lower-to-mid-range homes ($400-650K) are now assessed just where they should be in the current housing market, while many mega mansions are over-assessed, depending on location. The reality is that other than the rare exception, your property’s assessed value is now closer to the realized market value, especially if your town has just undergone a revaluation.

Each year, your municipality is required to send you a Notice of Assessment when it publishes its tentative tax roll. That gives property owners a chance to determine if they want to challenge the assessment by filing a tax grievance. Deadlines for filing are all over the map, literally, and I refer you here to the New York State website to see when your municipal deadline occurs.

More to come as we get closer to the Village (February) and Town (June) deadlines next spring.

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Spring into Tax Savings

Spring has sprung and so has tax grievance season in Westchester.  That’s when homeowners come out of the woodwork with dreams of reducing their property taxes.  While the filing deadline has passed for the villages, the deadline for the towns and most cities in Westchester is just a few short months away on June 16, 2015.

Westchester Tax Grievance

Yet, the landscape is different this year and commonplace reductions will not be as easily won as in past years.  The reason is that many municipalities undertook market re-assessment projects in recent years:  Mamaroneck in 2013; Scarsdale in 2014; and Ossining this year for the first time in 43 years.  The revaluations have resulted in a seismic shift with lower tax bills for some and shockingly higher assessments for others.  The reality is that other than the rare exception, your property’s assessed value is now closer to the realized market value if your town has just undergone the reassessment process.

The process is easy and costs minimal compared to the savings which are often realized.  To file at the local level costs nothing.  Tax grievance attorneys generally charge a contingency fee, meaning that you pay nothing if your taxes are not reduced.  The only initial expense is the appraisal which must be done, generally less than $600 depending on your location.

Many homeowners try to employ self-help in filing the grievance application, but it’s worth retaining an attorney from the start.  If your application is denied then the tax grievance attorney will file a court appeal on your behalf if he or she is already on board.

It is also important to keep in mind that most municipalities in Westchester base your taxes on the prior year’s assessment, so if your town’s grievance deadline is June 16th for the 2015 tax roll, any reduction will not be realized until your 2016 taxes.  Therefore, don’t delay because prospective savings are still a year away.

Your taxes will not increase simply because you file a grievance application and lower property taxes can be a great asset if trying to sell your house in Westchester or anywhere else in the New York market.

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Westchester attorney Lisa Fantino says spring into lowering taxes

Here’s something to put the “spring” back in your step – maybe more money in your pocket.  It is no secret that property taxes in Westchester County are among some of the highest in the nation and the wave to lower them started happening in earnest about two years ago.  Many homeowners began filing tax grievance applications. The movement began as a low whisper and has turned into a deafening roar, as each municipality is now receiving hundreds of applications per year.

Image: Renjith Krishnan/www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a Westchester attorney who practices in this area, I have noticed more and more local assessors cringing under the weight of the applications and the reality that full market value is generally much lower than their tax roll.  Many properties are worth 50% less than they were just four or five years ago.  So what does that mean for you?  2010 was the first year the municipalities realized the tax rolls were over-inflated and began granting a reduction in property taxes to many property owners who filed tax grievance applications.  Not everyone received the full requested reduction but many received close to it.

Filing a tax grievance application is a relatively simple process and is worth the small appraisal fee for most homeowners, generally between $450-$600.  Further, while many homeowners try to exercise self-help in filing the grievance application, it is worth retaining an attorney to help you from the start.  The attorney’s fee is contingent on a reduction or refund received; therefore, there is no professional fee upfront.  When you are turned down, you will need to go to court and while you can act pro se if you must appeal, you will need to appear in court 2 – 3 times before the SCAR Part hears your case and you must present expert testimony.  Do you really want to be Perry Mason with yourself as a client?  The only upfront fees to appeal are filing and process fees with the attorney’s fee again being contingent.  Also, there is no downside to filing the application because the municipality will not raise your assessment just because you filed the application.

It is important to keep in mind that most municipalities in Westchester base your taxes on the prior year’s assessment, so if your town’s grievance deadline is mid-May or June 21, 2011 for the 2011 tax roll, any reduction will not be realized until your 2012 taxes.  Therefore, don’t delay because prospective savings are still a year away.  Municipal summaries are available online or by calling your local assessor’s office for important filing deadlines and assessment figures.