Gotham Gazette

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When Owners Neglect Buildings and Don’t Pay Taxes, Tenants Suffer – The City Can Help

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(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office)

As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, "in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." This is true for property owners who maintain their buildings and pay their property taxes in full each year, but for the few who do not, there can be consequences, including foreclosure.

Often, the failure to pay taxes is indicative of a litany of issues, such as physical deterioration of the building. Imagine being a resident of a tax-delinquent building: you've worked hard to pay your rent, and you learn that your landlord hasn't paid their taxes, and now, on top of caring for your family, you’re terrified of losing your home, uprooting your kids' lives. Or you are a renter in a struggling co-op who sees your rent go up dramatically even while conditions in the building worsen. What if you can’t find another affordable place to live? Do you have to leave New York City? How is it fair that you've played by the rules and now have to bear the brunt of your building owner’s actions?

Decades ago, the City launched the Third Party Transfer (TPT) program, which is one of the ways that we hold building owners accountable while protecting residents by transferring tax-delinquent properties to an affordable housing developer to keep people in their homes with robust rent stabilization and other affordability protections. And it works: since 1996, we've provided stability and improved living conditions for nearly 15,000 New Yorkers.

The de Blasio Administration has spent five years marshaling resources to build and preserve affordable housing across the city, and increase enforcement and other protections to keep residents in their homes.  We believe that anyone who wants to raise a family and work in the city should be able to live here.  

I want to be very clear because there has been rampant speculation and misinformation about the Third Party Transfer program. Ownership creates stability for families and neighborhoods, and the opportunity to build equity that can be passed along to future generations. Our primary goal is to assist struggling owners with repairs and unpaid taxes and violations, which is why we do significant outreach over several years and offer numerous resources to help. More than 80% of the 420 properties included in the last round of Third Party Transfer successfully addressed their municipal arrears and were removed from the foreclosure action.

As an administration, we can look the other way and allow buildings to fall further into debt and eventually disrepair or we can proactively work with owners to keep their hard-earned slice of the city. So we’re going to do more to find new ways to address how the city's housing landscape has changed over the past 20 years. Working with City Council Member Robert Cornegy, the chair of the Council's Housing and Buildings Committee, and other stakeholders, we are launching a new working group to recommend changes to address concerns and make the program better.

The City is committed to making the process as transparent and effective as possible and helping homeowners avoid the spiral of financial and physical deterioration that puts properties at risk in the first place. But as New Yorkers face ever-rising rents and become more vulnerable to displacement, ending the program outright would be a disservice to tenants left to suffer the consequences when building owners can't or won’t address their financial issues.

Louise Carroll is the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. On Twitter @NYCHousing.

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