The Landing Homeowners Association (HOA) wants to be reimbursed about $2.2 million in property taxes paid since it applied to change the status of its 103 units from single-family homes to condominiums two years ago.
If it succeeds, the HOA would be reimbursed about $750,000 from the Dobbs Ferry School District, $250,000 from the Village of Dobbs Ferry, and $100,000 from the Town of Greenburgh, for both 2018 and 2019, according to Greenburgh Town Attorney Tim Lewis. The Town of Greenburgh serves as the taxing authority for the Village of Dobbs Ferry and the Dobbs Ferry School District.
Referring to itself as “The Landing on The Water at Dobbs Ferry Condominium,” the HOA filed a note of issue with the Westchester County Clerk on Sept. 14, requesting a trial without jury — a tax certiorari proceeding — in Westchester County Supreme Court in White Plains. The notice also cites the school district as a respondent.
“The Real Property Tax Law requires that when a property owner, such as The Landing, files a petition against the Town, as the assessing unit, it is required to also mail a copy to the school district and the Village,” Dobbs Ferry Schools Superintendent Lisa Brady explained. “The school district then has the right, if it chooses, to intervene in the proceeding and become a party. That’s what the school district did in this case and thus it became a respondent.”
Andrew Schriever of Cuddy & Feder LLP in White Plains represents The Landing. Greenburgh is represented by Town Deputy Attorney Joseph Danko and the school district by Marc Sharff of Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert, LLP in Poughkeepsie.
“The petitions do not include the potential dollar amounts of refunds,” Sharff stated. “They state what the assessment currently is and they think it should be reduced to. The potential refunds are then calculated based on the tax rates for each year for each taxing authority.”
Statewide, taxes are assessed differently for single-family dwellings than for condos. Single-family homes are assessed at current market value; condos are classified as commercial properties, assessed based on potential rental income.
If The Landing units are reclassified as condos, then homeowners there could pay 40-50 percent less in taxes. To compensate for that decrease, taxes would increase among other property owners. In 2018, when the HOA challenged its assessment, its units were priced from $800,000 to $1.2 million.
The school board has been monitoring the ongoing litigation. On June 23, the board passed a resolution establishing an ad hoc subcommittee on real property tax and related matters for the 2020-21 school year. Board members Tracy Baron, Jean Lucasey, and Shannon Stringer are tasked with the review of real property tax and related matters affecting district revenues, to help prepare for the next school year’s budget proceedings.
If The Landing prevails, Brady elaborated, the financial impact on the district would be twofold: “retroactive and prospective. If The Landing is successful, the school district will owe refunds of approximately $750,000 for each assessment year in which The Landing paid taxes on the property as if it were an HOA, not a condominium. Second, in all subsequent years, that approximate $750,000 loss will have to be made up each year by the other taxpayers. This is an average of $350 per taxpayer.”
The Landing considers itself a condominium because it filed a condominium conversion declaration on April 30, 2018; the deadline for the 2018 tax rolls was May 1. However, the Town does not recognize that status. According to Lewis, the paperwork the HOA filed on April 30 is insufficient for the Town to change the designation of the property, and a town law passed on June 13, 2018 doesn’t permit the conversion from single-family homes to condos. The HOA contends that the paperwork it submitted in 2018 is sufficient.
Lewis stated that there are separate ongoing lawsuits. “One legal dispute arose in 2018 when The Landing sought to convert its property from a single-family residential form of ownership to a condominium form of ownership,” he said.
“Another legal dispute is whether The Landing is entitled to tax refunds for 2018 and 2019 for overpayments of taxes irrespective of the ownership status of the property… Any ruling will ultimately turn on the ownership status of the property, which The Landing is contesting.”
Before a ruling on tax refunds can be handed down, the parties to the suit must present property appraisals, all avenues of settlement discussions must be exhausted, and the status of the property determined.
On Oct. 1, lawyers for all parties, with Clinton Smith of McCarthy Fingar, LLP, representing the Village, participated in a conference call with Judge Bruce Tolbert’s law secretary (Tolbert is assigned to the case).
“Each of the attorneys was given the opportunity to discuss the issues in the case from each party’s perspective, after which the law secretary directed that we all return for another conference in three weeks,” Sharff related. “In the interim, we were told to try to make progress toward a settlement, if possible.”
There’s no deadline for reaching a settlement or going to trial; that is the court’s decision.
Lewis opined that it might be in everyone’s best interests to resolve the issues without trial. “Does the Town or The Landing want to take the risk of a judge making the decision if you can’t settle? Often when a judge decides, both sides are unhappy.”
The Landing’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.