Homeowners sue over real estate assessment practices

October 26, 2004

Allege property valuation is unbalanced

By Glenn Roberts Jr.
Inman News

A real estate lawyer who also owns a mortgage company is representing a group of about 50 homeowners in a lawsuit against a town in New York, alleging unfair and illegal property assessments.

Cynthia Crispen Mangiardi, the lawyer representing the homeowners of Canaan, N.Y., is also a party in the lawsuit, which alleges that "the method of real property tax assessment of the town of Canaan is invalid and unconstitutional," and asks for the court to "declare the entire 2004 tax roll of the town illegal." The lawsuit was filed earlier this month with the Columbia County Supreme Court of New York.

The way in which the assessed value has been set is not at all consistent, and some homeowners are paying more than their fair share of property tax assessments, Mangiardi said, and the problem may be bigger than the town of Canaan.

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>>More The housing boom, characterized by rapid home-price appreciation and rising assessed values in many communities across the nation, has led some homeowners to question the equity of methods employed by municipalities to estimate property values.

"People throughout this system said this needs to be pursued beyond our town – I have to take care of them first," Mangiardi said. Some towns in New York may have wildly different assessed values compared to actual market value, she said, and it may be time to revisit state laws governing property assessments.

There are six lawyers, a former town supervisor, a Realtor and the owner of a real estate brokerage among the group of homeowners who are suing, she said. The lawsuit names the town, its assessor, town board members and assessment review board members, and local boards of education and fire districts that benefit from property tax assessments in Canaan.

Data gathered in preparation of the lawsuit found that as many as 378 owners of residential property in Canaan have been "over-assessed and repeatedly reassessed over the past 10 years," and some property owners have seen an average increase in assessments of about 175 percent over the past decade and have been reassessed an average of 4.67 times in that period. Meanwhile, another group of residents in Canaan "were seldom reassessed," and several property owners in this group actually experienced a decrease in assessments over the past decade.

On average, the assessed value of homes in Canaan is about 74.5 percent of the current market value of those homes, according to data from the New York state Office of Real Property Services Sales Information System, which is based on information from the 2002-03 tax year.

New York state law "requires all properties in each municipality (except in New York City and Nassau County) to be assessed at a uniform percentage of market value each year. This means that all taxable properties in your city, town or village must be assessed at market value or all at the same uniform percentage of market value each year."

The lawsuit also charges that in 2004 about 164 residential real properties out of 944 residential real properties experienced a change in assessments and alleges that in the past decade "the assessor never once completed one full, fair and comprehensive revaluation of the town." Mangiardi said there are about 1,500 residents and 1,500 taxable parcels in Canaan, which is near the Massachusetts border.

Earlier this year, Mangiardi filed a separate lawsuit over assessments on behalf of one property owner, and she said she has requested that the two cases be consolidated. While Mangiardi is not seeking class-action status for the assessment lawsuits, she said it is possible that more homeowners will be added as parties in the case.

Lois Phillips, town attorney for Canaan; Gary Flaherty, town supervisor; and Craig Surprise, town assessor, could not be reached for comment about the town's assessment practices or the lawsuit.

The Independent, a local newspaper, reported that "there has not been a town-wide reassessment in more than 10 years," according to Flaherty, and the town is reportedly planning to complete a town-wide reassessment by 2005. The newspaper also reported that Flaherty said the town has raised assessments for properties in which owners made improvements, and for recently sold properties that had assessments that were "not in line with the rest of the town."

The Independent quotes Flaherty: "We're taking this seriously. No matter who's wrong, we want to make it right. Otherwise, we wouldn't be serving the community."

Mangiardi said, "I fully expect the town will fight us as hard and as long as they can."

Copyright 2004 Inman News

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