Reader Mail: The Reassess Mess, Cont’d
15 Jan, 2012
By Loop Reader
Larchmont resident Ralph Engel writes again about his own and others’ frustrations navigating the current Town of Mamaroneck property reassessment process.
To the Editor:
The upcoming Mamaroneck Town reassessment includes every property in the “Unincorporated Area”, every property in the Village of Larchmont and every property in the portion of the Village of Mamaroneck which is in the Town of Mamaroneck.
An example of how well everything is being handled is the letter, dated December 30, 2011, that the Town Council members sent to us, the one that we received last week. It told us that we could watch a replay of the reassessment Workshops, on LMC-TV, “everyday[sic] from Thursday, December 22, to Friday, January 6….” The letter was mailed by the Town on January 6th (the date is on the postmark)–so that no one received the letter in time to see any of the touted broadcasts.
In the letter the Town did respond to some of the issues that have been raised. (see Will You Let the Assessors into your Home?)
The Town’s letter states, in pertinent part, that “a basement with a less than legal height would not be considered a useable area….” The questionnaire the Town sent us, dated November 14, 2011, defined “Basement Type” as pier/slab, crawl, partial and full, and defined the latter two as “an area 6 feet or more in height….” The questionnaire also asked for “Finished Basement Size”, and defined “Finished Basement” as “basement area finished for use as living area.”
Both the questionnaire and the letter, however, ignore New York State law as to what is a “habitable” basement, which, I believe, most people would consider as the same as “finished for use as living area.” Under New York law such a basement has to be “6 feet or more in height”, but if ducts, pipes, etc. under which people walk are lower than that the basement may not be considered “6 feet or more in height” and thus may not be legally habitable. Furthermore, unless it has two (repeat, two) or more means of egress it is not considered habitable, and one may not legally permit anyone to live there which, I suggest, is what most people would consider a “living” area.
The Town’s letter also states that, if a Town property owner made improvements which are discovered, or disclosed, as part of the reassessment process, presumably because the property owner let the reassessment people into his/her house or onto his/her property (so that the reassessment people may peer into the windows and see what they can see), and if the property owner made improvements “without obtaining proper permits [the] Town will require these property owners to file for a permit, but the Town will not charge a permit fee….” Thus, if you live in the Unincorporated Area of the Town, made improvements and got a Town permit, which required you to pay a permit fee, should you not get a refund? Live in the Town, obey the law, get a permit and pay the fee; live in the Town, ignore the law, skip the permit, skip the fee and your Town Council lets you avoid the entire fee, as well as all “violation charges….” “Fair and equitable”?
The Town’s letter goes on to tell us to “remember that property information maintained in the Town Assessor’s Office [has] always been public information.” How many people do you know who have been to the Town Assessor’s Office and looked up any property information? Now, however, the Town plans to post everything online. Not the same, to my mind–is it to yours?
The Town’s letter continues: “The condition of a house or special circumstances such as a basement that floods is not GENERALLY available on-line [emphasis added].” That statement gave me great comfort; did it do the same for you?
The next paragraph of the Town’s letter begins: “According to GAR Associates [the reassessment company], most property owners permit exterior inspections.” From that one might reasonably assume that most do not permit interior inspections (in fact, a Town resident who attended one of the Workshops told me that, in response to a question, the GAR representative said that only about 20% do, which means that about 80% do not). I wonder how one precludes an exterior inspection anyway, since, although one may tell GAR to stay off one’s property, and many Town and Village residents have done so, there is almost no way to prevent GAR from doing an “exterior inspection” of every single property, from the street and the air (think Google).
Want to know when the GAR people will be in your area? Don’t count on GAR or the Town to send you a note or an email, or to give you a call, to tell you: “GAR Associates will post on the Town website the locations where the collectors are working and will update it bi-weekly.”
So, once again, the burden is on you, and me.
One last item, for now, anyway: the letter, mailed January 6th, that I received was addressed to “Owner Name and Mailing Address”, but it was addressed only to me, even though my wife is as much an owner of our house as I am (the Town knows this, since it lists us both on the tax bills it sends us). They can’t even get that right.
Ralph M. Engel
editor: this was originally published as a comment