Ossining group proposes homestead option, tax hike for condos

By Aleesia Forni

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Seeing an inequity in the way single-family homes and condominiums are taxed in the town of Ossining, a group is proposing the town board consider an option that would increase property tax rates for condo owners.

Jerry Gershner, Salvatore Carrera and Mark Seiden, representatives of the Ossining Committee for Fair Taxation, have proposed that the town implement the state’s Homestead Tax Option, which would assess condominiums on their market value, like single-family homes.

The Ossining Committee for Fair Taxation proposes a five-to-seven-year phase-in of the homestead option to keep the increases in taxes from overwhelming condominium owners, something that would require legislation from Albany.

“We’re not looking to suddenly do something and (say), ‘Forget what Albany says, let’s just get the condo people to suddenly go from $8,000 to $15,000 in taxes,’” said Seiden, owner of Briarcliff Manor-based Mark Seiden Real Estate Team. “We really want to make sure that it is fair.”

Seiden said the phasing-in of the tax increase would mitigate any effects on the condominium’s market values.

Jerry Gershner, Salvatore Carrera and Mark Seiden. Photo by Aleesia Forni.

“While real estate taxes are one of the many factors that a buyer will take into account when making a decision where to live, it is far from the only deciding factor,” he said.

Lynn Farrell, a resident of Fox Hill Condominiums in Ossining and member of the Town of Ossining Condominium Association, disagrees.

“Common sense would tell you that (the homestead option) will have a definite impact on resale value of the condos,” she said. “Why would you buy a condo in Ossining if the taxes were the same as a private home? Why would you pay taxes for garbage, roads and lighting and then pay for them again in your monthly common charges?

“If you wanted to live in a condo, you would buy in another community where the taxes reflected the services you received,” Farrell said.

A state law passed in 1981 established the Homestead Tax Option, which prevents any large shift of the property tax burden to residential owners after a revaluation.

Ossining completed the $1.8 million revaluation of its 10,138 properties in 2016, the first such reassessment in 40 years. The project aimed to estimate fair market value for all residential, apartment and commercial properties within the town.

“Now we’re at a point where everyone is at full market value, with the exception of the condominiums, but that’s by law,” said Gershner, who is also president of Gershner Realty Associates. “No one gave them a break. The law dictates how condominiums are to be assessed, but they’re assessed as commercial property, not residential property. That’s what complicates things.”

According to Ossining Assessor Fernando Gonzalez, there are approximately 1,850 condominium units in Ossining and 6,800 single-family homes. The homestead option’s implementation would decrease homeowners’ yearly property taxes by about 8 percent on average, Gonzalez said, while taxes for condominium owners could jump between 40 to 60 percent.

“We have the opportunity to make certain adjustments to those properties which are underassessed by law, particularly the condominiums, and we’re proposing that that be adjusted and that everyone pay their fair share,” Gershner said.

Gershner said that homeowners are subsidizing condominium owners by paying an increased real estate tax to make up for a condominium assessment valuation shortfall.

“The condominiums are probably taxed at about 40 percent less than a single-family home, and that’s pretty substantial,” Seiden said.

This is not the first time the idea of reassessing condominiums has come up in the town. In 2015, Ossining chose to move forward with its property revaluation without implementing the homestead option.

“The town board made a decision that the benefit to the individual homeowners was not so great as to outweigh the detriment to folks that own condos,” Farrell said.

Scarsdale, Mamaroneck and the towns of Carmel and Greenburgh decided against implementing the tax option following their respective revaluations in recent years, while Sleepy Hollow and the towns of Rye and Pelham have each adopted the homestead option.

In her 2015 campaign, Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg said she was opposed to the homestead rule.

“Everyone up for election last year said they were not in favor of homestead,” Farrell said.

Carrera, an independent real estate broker and former director of the county’s departments of real estate and economic development, feels community sentiment may be different this time around.

“What the homeowners did not get the information on during the reassessment, and (led to) the board not moving forward with the homestead act, is that no one explained to them the amount of savings on a yearly basis the average homeowner would save,” Carrera said.

“This board was elected to serve and represent everyone, not just condo owners, and I think that’s a very important fact that has to be brought to the attention of homeowners, because there are a lot of condominium owners with associations that come forward and speak their piece,” Carrera said. “We don’t have that as the individual homeowners, which we will do as we move forward, depending on what this board does.”

Levenberg said the town board plans to gather additional information and schedule a work session or town hall meeting regarding the issue.

“We will have more on that in the near future,” she said.

The town could move forward with the homestead option during a ratio analysis it plans to complete later this year, Gonzalez said. Requests for comment to the Department of Taxation and Finance were not returned at press time.

The Ossining Committee for Fair Taxation hopes the board will open the issue up to a town referendum “to be voted by the people who are going to be paying these taxes,” Seiden said.

“This is not a war against condo owners,” Gershner said. “It’s just an opportunity to correct the inequality.”

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About the author

Aleesia Forni
Aleesia Forni covers transportation, tourism, nonprofits and residential real estate for the Westchester County Business Journal. She previously worked as a financial reporter for the online newsletter Prospect News. She started with the Westchester County Business Journal in April 2016.

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