The Taxman Comet

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The city has once again started sending out last-call notices to the owners of about 300 dilapidated tax-delinquent buildings citywide: pay up, or your property will be taken away from you within the year. It’s happening very quietly, without pronouncements or press conferences, but it’s the first time since 1995 that the city has moved to punish the deadbeat landlords of distressed buildings. These buildings are some of the most neglected and debt-ridden in the city, and some carry truly stunning tax debts–up to $4 million on one Riverside Drive property.

Up until the mid 1990s, the city used to seize properties from tax deadbeats, a policy that left the housing department holding thousands of broken-down buildings. So since 1996, the city’s official policy has been instead to use a “third-party transfer” system to give dilapidated, tax-delinquent buildings over to specially chosen owners with management experience.

But the legally complex program has been slow getting off the ground: Although 174 properties were originally included in the pilot last year, only 27 buildings went through the full transfer process, 13 of them vacant. Many owners, realizing the city was serious about the foreclosure process, decided to work out payment arrangements rather than lose their land.

Housing advocates cautiously welcomed the move. “If it’s done right, and if it’s done on the scale that the city used to vest buildings, it will be a tremendous opportunity to deal with affordable housing issues,” says Irene Baldwin of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.