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421a Changes Increase Property Taxes

By Joel R. Marcus, Esq. as published in Real Estate New York, December 2007

The new law also curtails exemption benefits for as-of-right areas

"The new law, however, greatly expanded the exclusion zones throughout the city to include all of Manhattan and most of Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope, Sunset Park and Downtown Brooklyn; along with parts of Long Island City, Astoria, Woodside, Jackson Heights and Willets Point in Queens."

On Aug. 24, Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed into law three bills that dramatically revamped New York City's 421a exemption program. The program was created in 1971 to encourage the construction of new multifamily dwellings by granting a partial exemption from increases in real estate taxes resulting from the new residential construction.

The new law compared to the old law. The previous law covered only projects commend prior to July 1,2008 and made 421a benefits available in any area of the city, except for those areas identified as geographical exclusion areas. The areas not classified as exclusion areas are commonly called "as-of-right' areas. The exclusion areas generally included portions of Manhattan between 14th and 96 th streets and the Williamsburg-Greenpoint areas of Brooklyn. Projects qualified for benefits in the exclusion zones if at least 20% of the units were created as affordable housing or if the developer purchased negotiable certificates for creation of affordable housing units off-site.

The new law, however, greatly expanded the exclusion zones throughout the city to include all of Manhattan and most of Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope, Sunset Park and Downtown Brooklyn; along with parts of Long Island City, Astoria, Woodside, Jackson Heights and Willets Point in Queens. Projects started between July 1,2008 and Dec. 27,2010 in these areas qualify for benefits only if at least 20% of the building's units are affordable to families whose income at initial occupancy doesn't exceed 60% of the area median income.

The new law reduces 421a benefits outside the exclusion zones. The controversy surrounding the new citywide exclusion zones may obscure the fact that the new law dramatically curtails 421a exemption benefits for as-of-right areas.

Under the old law, all assessment increases in excess of the pre-construction assessment, commonly known as the mini-tax, were exempt. Under the new law, benefits for as-of right projects are restricted to the first $65,000 in assessed valuation per dwelling unit. The cap increases by 3% each year, beginning in 2009/10. For the current tax year, the cap is equal to $7,750 in actual taxes per unit ($65,000 x 11.928%).

The new law also dramatically reduces tax benefits for nonresidential space in new multifamily dwellings. Under the old law, up to 12% of the building area could be used for commercial purposes, without loss of exemption. Developers often incorporated valuable retail space in their buildings to lease at market rates while enjoying full 421a exemption benefits. Under the new law, all commercial space in a building is considered one unit and is subject to the $65,000 exemption cap, greatly reducing the tax break for commercial space.

To demonstrate the effect of the exemption cap, consider a new 100,000-sf condominium building with 100 dwelling units and one retail unit constructed in an as-of-right area. The building includes 12,000 sf of retail space and carries a $100,000 mini-tax. The completed building is assessed for $1 5 million. Under both the old and new laws, the project would qualify for a 15-year exemption benefit.

Under the old law, taxes during the construction period and for the first 11 years after completion equaled the mini-tax multiplied by the tax rate. Assuming that the 2007/08 tax rate of 11.928% remains in effect, annual taxes for the entire building would equal $1 1,9280 approximately $118 per residential and retail unit. The exemption would not be affected by the retail space as it does not exceed 12% of the building's floor area. Under the new law, taxes for the entire building, including the retail space, would still be the same mini-tax ($100,000) each year during construction. However, for the first 11 years after construction is completed, the 101 - unit building would be subject to the exemption cap, as adjusted. For the first year, only $6,565,000 (101 units x $65,000) of the building's $15-million assessment qualifies for exemption. Taxes for the fiat year of the benefit period would exceed $1 million for the building or approximately $9,960 per residential and retail unit, a 1,000% increase. The new law will likely affect the feasibility and pricing of all new projects.

MarcusPhoto290Joel R. Marcus is a partner at the law firm of Marcus & Pollack LLP: a member of American Property Tax Counsel, an affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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