The number of tax certiorari proceedings filed in 2012 in Westchester County (9th Judicial District) dipped below the level of the previous year, and reversed the steady annual increase that had been occurring since at least 2006. Figures for 2013 are not yet available.
Certiorari filings went from 3,288 in 2006 to 4,268 in 2011, an overall increase of nearly 30%. The 2012 figure was marginally down to 4,067, a one-year drop of 4.7%. Westchester County Clerk Timothy C. Idoni was quoted as saying, “As our local economy struggled, many businesses looked at this process as a way to take advantage of declining property values and to save money.”
The vast majority of properties that are the subject of these proceedings are commercial, although multifamily, including condos and coops, as well as the occasional single family residence, are included in these figures. Most owner-occupied, single-family residences are addressed in a separate part of the Supreme Court.
While there is no definitive way to determine the cause of the gradual increase and the recent decline, it is at least quite likely that a correlation exists between the real estate market for the period from 2008 through 2011 and the number of owners who saw fit to appeal their tax assessment. Perhaps the minor recovery of the market in 2012, or at least a general perception of a recovery, explains the dip in the numbers more recently. The market might also be responsible for increased filings in 2006 and 2007 to the extent that assessors were more aggressively increasing tax values as they read the news of a real estate market that seemed to be on fire.
Nonetheless, it is difficult to read too much into the figures; for example, it is quite possible that the increases in filings over most of the period from 2006 to 2012 is even more significant than may appear on their face due to changes in the County Clerk rules concerning the venue in which Article 7 proceedings could be filed. Historically, a property owner’s attorney was permitted to file a tax certiorari proceeding with the Westchester County Clerk even if the property was physically located in another county within the 9th Judicial District (Orange, Rockland, Dutchess, Putnam), because the Tax Certiorari Part was based in White Plains. A fairly recent rule change that was implemented just a few years ago discontinued this practice and now requires that tax certiorari proceedings be filed in the county in which the property is located. As such, these proceedings may no longer be filed with the Westchester Clerk, and yet the overall Westchester certiorari filings either increased or experienced only a minor decline. This can have no other explanation than that the “true” number of Westchester property-based certioraris increased even more significantly over the period at issue than indicated by the numbers released by the Westchester County Clerk, since those that are out-of-county have been removed from the figures.
The number of certiorari filings in Westchester since the time Mr. Idoni took office as County Clerk are as follows:
Considering the number of commercial tax parcels in all of Westchester County and the general lack of assessment equity, one might contend that some 4,000 appeals per year is surprisingly low.