My Tax Watch story on the tax-break granted condominium sparked a response on Sunday’s editorial page by Daniel Finger, associate counsel to the Building and Realty Institute of Westchester, and its Cooperative and Condominium Council. That’s the group representing the region’s condominium complexes, which continues to fight to preserve the right to have their homes valued under the fiction that they are actually rental apartments.
They helped convince the Mamaroneck Town Board to maintain the tax break, as I reported in late February.
I’ve argued that the tax break is unfair because the property-tax system is based on value – the amount of tax you pay is based on a percentage of what your property is worth in the open market. But condominiums are assessed as if they were rental apartments instead of what they fetch in the open housing market. That valuation approach can cut a condo owner’s tax liability by up to two-thirds, with the higher priced condos receiving the biggest tax breaks.
A number of Mr. Finger’s points, which he uses to support his argument, require further exploration.
Mr. Finger states: “Condominiums are one of the last and few sources of affordable housing available in our communities.” I beg to differ. Rental apartments happen to be the housing type of choice for people in search of affordable housing. There are a few affordable options for those who want to buy, but I find it hard to agree that condominiums would be considered “affordable housing.” The median value of a condo in Mamaroneck is $505,000.
My column pointed out that during the revaluation process, the town of Mamaroneck could chose the homestead option, which would allow condos to be valued as single family homes. Under the proposal before the town, it would have increased condo assessments by 68 percent. The median condo would be valued at $505,000, compared to $299,000 under the current system.
Mr. Finger maintains what would be unfair. He claims condos deserve a tax break because they don’t use community services to the same degree as single-family homes. The example he cites is garbage collection, which he says takes less effort with a condo.
But the tax-system isn’t based on usage. There is no service meter attached to properties. Families with 10 children don’t pay higher taxes than those without children, if they live in similarly valued homes. Taxes are levied on homes, based on their value, not on who lives in them, and how much they use in public services.
Mr. Finger also argues that adopting homestead would “yield virtually no benefit to the single-family home.” In Mamaroneck, there are 650 condo owners who would come under homestead. According to the town’s calculation, its 6,000 single-family homeowners would save $200 each if homestead provision was enacted.
It wasn’t, so the condo owners breathed a sigh of relief, with their home ownership choice subsidized by the single-family owners who pay based on what they property is – a single-family home. The condo owners, meanwhile, keep their tax-break because their homes are assessed for what they are not: a rental apartment.
Photo: Sweetwater condominium in Mamaroneck. Photo/Tania Savayan